If you’re twenty-something and you’re not ready to be over yourself just yet and just reading Thought Catalog on the daily isn’t giving you the emotional support you need, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Almost every aspect of Millennial angst —or, its manic side, wild optimism—has or is about to have its own television show. While this list isn’t inclusive, there’s Girls, of course, 2 Broke Girls, and Underemployed. F*uck I’m in My Twenties will apparently show up on NBC (laugh track included). Then there’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley. This last show is particularly intriguing since its front person is one Randi Zuckerberg, age 30—yes, big sister to the geeky- techie poster boy of the Millennial generation—and it promises to deliver equal doses of pleasure and schadenfreude to all those liberal arts majors out there who were wishing they had considered STEM. Of course, the truth is (the channel being Bravo) that Start-Ups will bear as much relationship to actually working at a start-up in Silicon Valley as The Real Housewives of New York City does to living in Manhattan.
The Millennials aren’t, of course, the first generation of young people to be self-referential. Their parents were too, as witness the movie which summed it up forty-five years ago, The Graduate. One iconic bit of dialogue from that movie got me thinking. Just graduated from college, Benjamin Braddock is freaked out about his future and one of his parents’ friends pulls him aside to give him advice that rang true to every stripe of Baby Boomer:
Mr. McGuire: “ I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.”
Benjamin: “Yes, sir.”
Mr. McGuire: “Are you listening?”
Benjamin: “Yes. I am.”
Mr. McGuire: “Plastics.”
Benjamin: “Exactly what do you mean?”
Mr. McGuire: “There’s a great future in plastics.”
Of course, then at least, the word “plastics” connoted everything from Holden Caulfield’s “phony” to smug pro-war adults to Madison Avenue and guys in suits “selling out,” and everything else worth rejecting, not to mention the absurd notion of settling down to an adult life in “plastics.”
What would the word be today if we were to recast the scene? Would it be “social media” the buzzword du jour that is a necessary skill for every aspiring Millennial? Would it be “start-up?” Given the job market for lawyers, it’s certainly not going to be“law school.” If we were to continue the irony of “plastics,” it would have to be “Wall Street.”
Leaving aside the word that best captures the Millennial future, what words best sum up Millennial angst? Is it really “single,” as one twenty-four-year female suggests to me, in a world which proclaims The End of Men, when every girl out there is still looking for her Christian Grey, and drawing sustenance from that post on Thought Catalogue by Amanda Crute that being single “isn’t your fault.” Is it “sex” as in all the predictable crummy sex that lies ahead in the hook-up scene, the guys in bars lying about their girlfriends or wives at home? Or is it the “Facebook” universe where your relationship status says volumes and you can see whether your former boyfriend or girlfriend has replaced you and with whom? (Emma Koenig has a funny bit in F*ck I’m in My Twenties which details the pain the “People You May Know” feature may inflict on the unwary, along with the remembrance of things past best forgotten.)
As an observer, I’d say that the most angst-laden word is “debt,” and, from my point of view at least, what separates one Millennial from another in terms of angst and a sense of possibility is the absence or presence of debt. Yes, there are some Millennials who are back in their childhood bedrooms because they haven’t looked hard enough for work or aren’t able to suck it up, as I suggested in my last blog. But then, there are those with debt — bone-crushing, back-breaking debt—and they’re making hard choices like living at home even if they don’t want to because they simply don’t make enough to pay those debts and their own bills at once. Television doesn’t tackle this, of course. What fun would it be watching someone deal with debt? How could you write a plot that kept it funny or snarky — taking into account why that person went into debt in the first place and then walked out into a workplace that has over 13% unemployment and all of that? Bummer and real angst makes for lousy television. And besides, I’m guessing the Millennials able to blog and create this stuff either have no debt or very little or are still living at home.
Whatever was messing with Ben Braddock’s head wasn’t debt. Remember his cute little Alfa Romeo?