Fusion’s Patrick Hogan counted 47 institutions and industries that millennials have been accused of destroying so far, including credit, car culture, the American Dream, relationships, and golf. Of course, in each of these cases, there is a real story to be told: Yes, young people are buying less on credit; yes, car sales are down; and, not surprisingly, 48 percent of economically squeezed under-30s don’t buy into the uplift of the American Dream, according to one poll. But the language of these articles tells another story on top of those, one that isn’t backed up by any evidence at all: that millennials are ‘killing’ those things, choosing to eliminate them from our shared life. That’s a deeply frustrating story to keep reading, when headlines of ‘Millennials are killing the X industry’ could just as easily read ‘Millennials are locked out of the X industry.’ There’s nothing like being told precarity is actually your cool lifestyle choice.
The Myth of the Millennial as Cultural Rebel | Laura Marsh. This is right, and right in an important way. Now, by way of full disclosure: I think pretty much all generational characterizations are bullshit. But the blame-the-millennials narrative is one of the most pernicious.
However: I want to say something about that last sentence I quote. I know dozens and dozens of young people who could have boring 9-5 jobs in their home towns, or in other places lacking evident cultural amenities, but who have decided instead to live in New York or Austin or Chicago or L.A. in order to pursue certain intellectual and artistic aspirations which they believe they can only seriously pursue in such environments. To seek the way of life they want, they piece together temporary and poorly-paying work in the gig economy, they live in sketchy or downright dangerous neighborhoods, and they typically do without health insurance.
You can argue that the decision to live this way is a reasonable one, given these young people’s temnperaments and hopes. You can argue that in a well-ordered society people wouldn’t have to make choices like that. But you can’t say that these particular people haven’t made choices. They could have social and financial stability, or at least a lot more of it than they currently have, because in the places they come from they’re among the best and brightest; they’re desirable commodities. But they’ve chosen the risks of precarity because there are certain goods they believe they can only get access to by doing so.
The question I want to ask is: Do they really have to make that trade-off? Is it really impossible to pursue their aspirations in towns and cities other than the handful that seem, to them, to burn always with a gem-like flame?