Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times’ humor columnist Chris Erskine created a millennial firestorm on the internet with his pieces on “The Millennial Pledge.”
Through a list in his Saturday “Middle Ages” column, Erskine addressed a few of his beliefs about millennials while also peppering in some jokes, you know, because he’s a humor columnist. Millennial backlash was swift. Then Erskine wrote a rebuttal in which he presented other people’s responses. By curating the responses, his general point was “You kids still need to grow up a little, but calm down, this was humor.”
Reading over the pieces I’d agree: He’s attempting to be humorous, but within that he’s revealing some strong beliefs about millennials. It’s a common column trick: the list that has some truth to it while presenting plenty of over-the-top points.
Anyway, he’s not completely off base, much as millennials want to believe he is. Yes, millennials should drive and eat without texting. They should make more eye contact with people. They should hug loved ones regularly.
They should leave phones in other rooms during important meals and family get-togethers. They should attempt to save earnings, even if it’s difficult because they don’t make much money anyway. And of course, they should do nice things and sleep and live each day.
There are real concerns in there, but there are also some aspects of millennial lifestyle that Erskine probably overthinks. For one, I’m pretty sure millennials know cilantro is an herb and shouldn’t count as a vegetable, much as we do love cilantro. And while business commentators like to espouse narrative about millennials interviewing in casual clothing, I guarantee that millennials aren’t the only generation to do this. Taking vodka and towels from our parents’ house when moving out? That’s a reach. And anyway, we love whiskey more.
And then there are pure jokes that I won’t even consider as serious, like that we would name a kid Uber. People from all generations often give children questionable names. We’re not the first. We won’t be the last.
Most of Erskine’s column revolves around the central theme of millennials being entitled. While no, it’s not an original theme, it’s easy to claim because it’s partly true.
Millennials were born into a world of rapidly changing consumerism and technology. We’ve reaped the benefits of this changing landscape with tools that offer us the ability to network with anyone, anytime. We also are generally wealthier and healthier than generations past. That said, our disillusion is pretty high. That wealth gets us little in real connection and happiness. That health has a caveat: American health care is a tangled and gluttonous existence.
Moreover, and this is important: We’ve been told since birth that the world is ours. We can have the American Dream if we want it. Does that mean we’re entitled, or does it mean America – and leaders like Ronald Reagan especially – sold lies that our parents believed and passed down to us? Millennials are finding themselves in a world that needs to be simplified, and some of them know this. So right now we’re trying to embrace life and understand the value of ourselves. If that means we’re entitled, then so be it.
But at some point millennials will need to pivot and start changing the world. That’s the key. I’m afraid we’re not going down the right path, but even so, I try to spin positive, looking for the opportunities in the mess. Columns like Chris Erskine’s can hurt because they’re exuding negativity alone. The closing bit: that millennials are only entitled to do nice things, live and sleep … that’s actually correct. But the aura is “I’m the old guy who doesn’t like these kids a lot, so here, do this, like we did.”
That doesn’t help.
And that’s why millennials reacted so angrily.
He wrote this in his rebuttal Sunday:
Look, I get it. We haven’t handed the millennials a world in mint condition. No parents ever do. But we’ve spread democracy, reduced Communism, virtually eliminated the constant threat of nuclear elimination.
Has any single one of you punks been drafted?
The oceans are cleaner, the roads safer, the economy more diverse. And, oh yeah, it was boomers who invented your precious iPhones and personal computers.
The crux of his rebuttal is that baby boomers have done great things, and during a time of massive fear.
But aside from saying a reader’s positive spin on millennials is “fair,” he alone doesn’t say anything good about millennials.
That’s the point.
He even leads the rebuttal with a joke about millennials not reading newspapers. But nowhere in either of his pieces does he, in his voice, say “But you know, millennials do this well” or “Continue doing this.” If you want us to succeed, work with us. Don’t just tell us what we do wrong and expect us to listen and converse with understanding.
Instead, he says millennials were “frightfully smug and humorless” over his columns.
To me, this is what you get when you raise an entire generation without spanking.
At least these hit columns against millennials are pretty strong spankings.