Joel Stein Doesn’t Get It

Joel Stein, in Time Magazine, calls us the Me Me Me Generation; he’s missing the point. To echo an idea I explored in my first blog post, Millennials are probably the most studied, discussed, and analyzed generation in history. This is not a product of us being particular unique, but a product of the explosion of content creators and content consumption in our culture. People, of all ages, want to read about and share information about generational differences, it feeds into a natural urge we all have to find patterns and group people together. The old have always looked at the young with trepidation and skepticism, the young consume such – weird/loud/obnoxious/talentless/insert your adjective – music, movies, food. The young are so – selfish/entitled/narcissistic/spoiled – and they’re bringing down our society.

The original Time Magazine cover

The original Time Magazine cover

This happens like clockwork with each subsequent generation. I think part of the way we informally and anecdotally separate generations is by gauging the demarcation-line for where old people see a problem. And as generations go by these, either real or created, distinctions will become a self-fulfilling prophecy due to just the sheer amount of content about generational differences. Over the past two decades there has been a real push to get data on generations to move from purely anecdotal evidence to actual evidence. This has been a relatively small endeavor because there have existed some significant constraints on generational studies.


The first constraint is that prior to the 1980s there really wasn’t much legitimate empirical data available on generations. The second constraint is that defining a generation is a difficult task because it’s such an ethereal concept; I’m not yet sure if this is an inherent fault or a fixable one. The only way to find out is to gather as much data as possible on Millennials (the most studied and written about generation yet) and compare that data with subsequent generations. Generational studies requires longitudinal data as well.

This isn’t necessarily a constraint; but rather a problem with generational commentary in general, the skewed sample sizes that most commentators use is problematic. I’m not an exception to this, as my opinions are based off of a small, non-representative sample of millennials as well. I base most of my opinion on my experience (as every writer does), and most of my information comes from highly educated, mostly NYC-based, mostly white, mostly upper-middle class people. That’s afterall, the environment and the circle I grew up with.

Given all of that, Joel Stein is partially correct in saying that a particular sub-group of Millennials are the “me me me generation.” Although, I’d even be cautious about labeling the highly educated, NYC-based, and affluent Millennials as especially narcissistic compared to people from the same background of previous generations; because you still run into the same constraints discussed above.

This Atlantic piece offers a great rebuttal to the standard argument against millennials, whose newest iteration takes the form of the Time article. I’ve been blogging against these common misconceptions of millennials for months, and I’m just one of dozens of millennial bloggers and writers who are telling our own stories.

One common theme that comes up in millennial circles is the idea of heightened expectations and a non-reflective double-standard from our elders. This is not a new story, strife between generations; but never before has a generation been so heavily discussed and criticized. I think the question many people of my generation have is quite simply, to quote Nas – “most of our elders failed us, how could they judge us…?”

Boomers failed us on 9/11, they failed us by leading this country into an unnecessary war in Iraq, they failed us by extending our stay in Afghanistan, they brought our country and the world economy to its’ knees, and they’ve ignored climate change. Boomers want to blame millennials for possessing a selfish attitude about the world when they’ve been a significant part of the era that saw income inequality grow to record levels.


One of the many parody covers found around the interwebs

And now, millennials are left with this bag of goodies to deal with. The veterans who fought the Boomers’ wars are mostly millennials – you would have thought the Boomers would have been more sensitive to sending young people to war given their experience with Vietnam. Climate change has reached the tipping point under Boomer watch and millennials will be left to address it and deal with its’ symptoms. The economy is still in recession for the vast majority of people, and under Boomer watch the few jobs that are being created are low wage.

What I can’t wrap my head around is why Boomers don’t seem to understand that helping millennials is in their own self interest. As the largest generation since the Boomers it will fall upon us to pay their social security, and support them as they retire. There is obviously the political and ideological divide to understanding why job-creation has been entirely dropped from the national conversation in both the media and in Congress. But there is also the generational divide that can be looked at as a reason for a non-existent jobs program. The Boomers have largely washed their hands of us in terms of policy and politics because this isn’t a problem that affects them directly – except when their adult children have to move back home because they can’t find work.

Solving the problems of youth unemployment, underemployment, and student debt is not about selfish millennials, it’s about the health of the entire country, and by extension the world. Having said all that, just because there are more outlets for us to gripe doesn’t mean we won’t get to the business of fixing the mess Boomers left us with. We will fix it because we have to.

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6 thoughts on “Joel Stein Doesn’t Get It

  1. I completely agree that “older” generations benefit when younger generations do well. I’m of the mind that instead of lamenting and harping on what we see lacking in any particular group of people we should embrace their strengths and try to capitalize on them. Millennials have a particular set of know-how, socioemotional skills and ways of thinking that set them apart and will make them powerful leaders in the future. Why not run with that?

    I was part of the train of bloggers writing about this TIME article and tried to likewise pull the good from the article, rather than the bad. Am I hopeless optimist? I don’t think so. But I do believe in a strengths-based approach to life.

  2. Rachel Gall says:

    “Boomers want to blame millennials for possessing a selfish attitude about the world when they’ve been a significant part of the era that saw income inequality grow to record levels.” I agree with that, although I think you mean it in a very broad term. Not all Boomers are like that, many are actually very sympathetic to Millennials. I agree with your statement above that we’re getting all this criticism, and we’ve barely arrived on the scene. It’s like when we were younger it was all “you’re sooo awesome and special!” and as soon as we enter the real world it’s like “who do YOU think you are? get back to your corner, and get to work!” Geez.

  3. Good rhetoric, Mark. However, I’m wary to do so much finger-wagging at Boomers, when we’re trying to defend against millennial whining.

    I’ve heard a lot of people wonder why millennials aren’t being known as the “Great Generation” when in actuality we haven’t faced the same level of hardships our grandparents did. Our economic depression is not on par with theirs nor are our wars.

    As for Boomers, they also came of age in a significantly different world than we have and fought incredibly different battles, both literally and figuratively. I’m sure the Boomers felt the same way towards their elders for handing them Civil Rights issues and the Vietnam war as we do about the economy and the War on Terror.

    • Thanks for the response Erin! Those are all fair points and certainly Boomers grew up in a very turbulent era. Given that, I feel like maybe us millennials are in the unique position of defending against critiques from our elders. The flip-side of the industry growth of millennial-analysis, is that we can publish our rebuttals just as easily.

      But don’t worry, I do have a pro-Boomer post in the pipeline. Stay tuned 🙂

  4. Great post Marc-Anthony! I don’t like how people say that we are a “me, me, me” generation. I do need to read the Times article. I think one thing for certain is that the Boomers do put some of the blame on us, but we also cannot be completely mad at them.

    I think the problem lies that people are putting too much blame on one certain generation and not trying to solve the problems at hand. We need to stop playing the blame game and start solving problems.

    • Thanks for the response Michelle! I think it’s true we should be working to solve the problems of our era, but I just get defensive when I hear older people criticizing us when all we’re trying to do is find out footing in this world.

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