In Praise of Millennial Ingenuity

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The Economy Tanked, and the Kids Built a New One: In Praise of Millennial Ingenuity

Bankrupt Retail Store

Yes, the waxed moustaches are atrocious. Yes, the man-bun will soon be regarded with the same revulsion we eventually developed for bellbottoms. And yes, that garish, Grimes-style MacBook synth-pop garbage denigrates the whole of humankind’s musical endeavors. But ancillary matters of aesthetic aside, talking smack on the young is yet another predisposition of the Boomer Nightmare we’ve got to wake ourselves up from. Let’s say it plainly: Millennials are both our present and our future, and damned if we aren’t lucky for it.

We’ll begin with a bit of historical exposition. In 2001, revered corporate journalist Tom Brokaw published a popular tome about the triumphs and tragedies of the generation preceding his, titling it The Greatest Generation. The term stuck, and with excellent reason. These were the folks who’d been plopped into this world in the depths of the Great Depression, and from there, went on to fight a Nazi scourge now synonymous with industrialized, subhuman evil. And they didn’t just fight a good fight—they returned victorious. Younger readers will be excused if they’ve got a hard time imagining an America that actually wins its wars, not least of all those of global consequence. But it’s not some hero myth born of Greek lore—this country once wrought incredible things, with weathered hands just like those of your own great-grandparents. They’d known suffering and the necessity of sacrifice and, informed by their hard-lump experience, crafted something better—not just for themselves, but for the lot of us.

And speaking again to our younger readers: how much of this is chillingly reminiscent of your own life experience?

Lord knows who’s honestly got the authority to dice up entire demographics with arbitrarily chosen calendar dates. But one figures a federal report hosted on Whitehouse.gov is as good a Gold Standard as any. The above-linked “15 Economic Facts About Millennials” delineates 1980 as the year that begat the first of said generation (sorry to all those born December 31st, 1979; you’ll just have to keep listening to Alice in Chains on compact disc). This would place the eldest of them at 27 years of age when the Great Recession took root. Which is to say: just as this horrifically educated, unprecedentedly diverse, and astonishingly creative gang was poised to make its mark on the job world, our culture, our direction as a people, and the whole of the human condition—that magic carpet of opportunity was pulled from beneath their feet. Which is sort of a grand “FU” to anyone saddled with an average student debt of $29,400.

It was enough to make a person don a mask they’d seen in a Wachowski Brothers’ film and spend a few months stinking up Wall Street. Or we might look past corporate media’s spin of it and turn our gaze instead, as the Pentagon is wont to say, to “the situation on the ground.” Yes, we can of course prattle off a greatest-hits list of Impressive Millennial Capitalists like Mark Zuckerberg (and well we should; he’s kind of like a Henry Ford unconcerned with some fabled Zionist agenda). But Aaron Sorkin has yet to pen an Oscar-winning screenplay about the brilliant prevailing undercurrent of young pluck Zuckerberg represents.

Student loan name badge on jacket.2008 marked the year that our economy undeniably tanked. It was also about that time that Millennials, screwed out of a promised future they’d toiled for endlessly, decided to commandeer their own fates. Go ahead and snort haughtily when your hipster-esque friend decides to brew his own beer—consumers are consumers, at the mercy of what’s on the shelf, whereas producers produce. And yes, this speaks to a greater trend. Did you sink some bank’s fortune into your degree in fashion design, only to arrive at occupational doors slammed shut, and that guarantor of your loans reducing Ramen Noodles to a luxury expense? F that, you likely decided; at which point your mind, heart, and hands worked in tandem to put your one-of-a-kind wares on Etsy. Or you might have had enough of what outdated-model employers had to say about your useless communications degree, only to plunk down a waiter’s whole paycheck on some low-end DSLR camera and place your cinematic vision directly before the audience that matters via outlets like YouTube—and now, having torn down the gate that once barred you, you’re likely inundated with texts from potential employers who’ve only just realized: yours is a capital they’re going to sink without.

Yes, you’d said to heck with the system, and managed to make princely sums regardless. Which might be all well and good, if only crack dealers didn’t do the same. But the money’s not the point, of course—polls indicate that for you brackish young Turks, cash is only good for staying alive and granting kindred spirits the same. It’s the work itself that matters. You’re the health professionals who, forged by your witness of real human distress, would sooner spend a summer in Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders than a single weekend jaunt at Club Med. You’re the attorneys who’d sooner win drinkable water for the people of Flint than win for yourselves plush positions keeping some disgusting Monsanto or ExxonMobil afloat. And as per what’s detailed in the paragraph above: your handcrafted wares, infused with your genuine passion and skill, have given us a viable and welcome alternative to Wal-Mart disposables manufactured with Third-World tears.

Oh, and you’ve fought the wars assigned to you by idiot chickenhawk jingoists. And you’ll take that hellish experience with you when, before too long, congressional seats and presidencies are not just vacancies the young have to fill, but a means to oblige your souls. And because this piece is ostensibly about the economy: remember that Republican President General Dwight D. Eisenhower witnessed roughly the same savagery as you before becoming steward of an economic Golden Age Robert Zemekis has yet to let go of. Ted Cruz-types who’ve already sold your children to some future war they’re horny for have not seen what Ike had, or what you have. In war, and in peace, and in potential prosperity, yours is already the most trustworthy hand.

It’s a pitiful truism, but all the truer for it: hard times really do foster the best in us. Brokaw’s Greatest Generation is sadly on the way out, and in a decade’s time, so too will go the spoiled Boomer narcissists who’d nullified the progress built on their parents’ backs (and as per Generation X—there’s a reason the character “X” is accepted only in lieu of real substance). But it’s hardly the dire circumstances in which the Millennials came of age for which we laud them—it’s the brilliance with which they surmounted it, turned impossible adversity into not just a tangible reward, but into hope, a way out.

Thanks, kids. To wink impermissibly at the fourth wall—this writer is not a Millennial. But he wishes he was. Don’t let us blowhards with graying goatees get you down; we’re only jealous of your self-possession, how you do that which we had not, all these things the world needs and longs for. Wonderful, marvelous, magnificent. Now go fill up my Social Security coffers!

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