Being born in 1996, I am unarguable of the millennial generation (or Y Generation, if you will) – which encompasses all born between 1982 and 2000. The term “millennial” when referred to in the sense of the generation often connotes more than it denotes. The denotative (or literal) meaning is a person born within this 18-year period. However, the connotative (or culturally appointed) meaning is the most dominant reading of the people within this generation. Often times, millennials’ are stereotyped as lazy, narcissistic people with an obsession with all things technical and the inability/unwillingness to hold traditional work standards. As far as media is concerned, “millennial” is a word concerned with work ethic, not a date of birth.
Let’s face it: how we understand different people and diversity (race, sex, age, orientation, whatever) is from what we see in the media. This is not a new idea; it’s actually one of the most consistent parts of media across the board. So, just like any select group, the general consensus of what makes a millennial a millennial is learned through what we see. The problem lies in whose lens we are looking through.
Generally speaking, millennials are not a minority. Actually, the are a majority since their generation is the largest living generation. But, what makes a difference is the age of those who produce the media. Since the average Hollywood screenwriter is of the X Generation, the majority of millennial characters being written are written through the perception of gen-x and not gen-y. In short, yes, millennials are the majority population but, they are the minority power population; which means they have the least amount of say in how they are represented.
If you really dig into the films based off of “generation culture clash” prototype, it’s actually pretty obvious to tell that these millennials were created by someone outside of the generation. A lot (if not all) of these “generation culture clash” films are set in a workplace. The workplace is modern, cool and tech-oriented. The Gen-X protagonists are put into an internship role (read: young, and inexperienced) in which they are mocked at by millennials for their lack of skills for the coming century. In the end, the Gen-Xers are proving victorious; as the millennials (who lack total social skills and own a terrible work ethic) are taught how to live by their older mentors. Stick a young Hollywood and old Hollywood actor and you literally have at least two movies.
This makes sense, as the Gen-X writers main connection with millennials is their fear of these youngins’ taking their jobs. The message in these films is that millennials are unable to succeed without guidance, which then reinforces Gen-X job stability.
Think of the 2013 film “The Internship“, written by and starring Vince Vaughn (with Owen Wilson). Wilson and Vaughn play two sales workers of the X-generation who just lost their job due to technology. Desperate, they apply for the internship program at Google (where only one team will be offered employment), to which they get accepted and are paired up with a stereotypical clan of millennials. The all-encompassing millennial – Stuart (played by actor Dylan O’Brien) – is the creme de la creme of stereotypes. By the odd chance that he does look up from his phone, it’s for the purpose of making a sarcastic remark at somebody else’s cost. Eventually, the millennial misfits’ (Stuart especially) are shown the right way of life and are lead to victory and win jobs thanks to the guidance of Vaughn and Wilson, despite their repeated lack of knowledge in the technical field. The millennials were allowed to succeed once they submitted to their elders.
Speaking of elders, why don’t we move on to another movie that follows essentially the exact same storyline? In the 2015 film “The Intern” (are we noticing a trend in titles at all here, folks?) the generational paradigm is switched to the Baby Boomers – written and directed by Nancy Meyers (Baby Boomer) and starring Robert De Niro (Baby Boomer). Here, Robert De Niro is a 70-year-old widow who has been accepted into a senior intern program at the headquarters of an online shopping site. De Niro sticks out like a sore thumb, with an admirable work ethic, patience, punctuality and way with women, he soon becomes his millennial coworker’s mentors. He forms an unlikely bond with the company founder and CEO – Jules Ostin (played by Anne Hathaway) – whose personal and professional lives’ are moments from falling apart. Ostin is “suggested” to step down as CEO and hire a more seasoned leader. Through the bonding of De Niro and Hathaway, Ostin realizes her full potential and remains as company CEO. The millennial was allowed to succeed once they submitted to their elders.
All stereotypes are seen connotatively instead of denotatively. If women were simply seen as having to sit down while pee we’d be getting paid equally by now. If a black man was seen as someone with a different pigment in their skin, they wouldn’t have been sold to other people. Stereotypes feed off what the culture accepts, and what we accept is other people presenting a stereotype that they have no experience in.
Are millennials bitter? Yes, most people are. Are millennials sarcastic? Yes, most people are. Does the term “millennial” refer to a date of birth instead of a work ethic? Yes, yes it does? Is that how we are presented?