Image Source: Time via Flavorwire.
By now, anyone who follows generational issues will have heard about Joel Stein's Time cover article (here) on how the Millennials will save the world. Joel Stein is a Gen Xer, and he should know better than to indulge in the same generational stereotyping that Time magazine used to condemn his own age group. Did his bosses put him up to it? For an overview of how Time cover articles have perpetuated generational myths, see JenX67's response to Stein here. This is the worst kind of social propaganda and it deserves full condemnation.
If Stein had made broad generalizations about races instead of age groups in his Time article, there would be outcry across the MSM. Even when the message is positive, age stereotyping is no different than racism. Stein's article depends on two Boomer-generated narratives which depend on one another: 'Gen X is the anti-Boomer generation that failed'; 'Gen Y is the generation that will bear the Boomer mantle and save us.' This shows that Boomers, in their quest to build an immortal legacy, made age stereotyping and discrimination socially and professionally acceptable. The fact that Boomers now suffer from age discrimination themselves does not change the origin of the labels and their negative effects.
We need a new language to discuss generational matters and a new way to understand society that bridges age differences. Mr. Stein's unfortunate example aside, Generation X has become known (or rather: not known) for communicating about social experience in non-collective way. As a result, Boomers and Millennials often seem to think that Generation X has not accomplished, and is not accomplishing, anything. Where are Gen Xers, anyway? Why can't you google 'generation X' and come across ten national and international lobby groups and central hubs belching forth Propaganda on the Generation X Self? Where are the trumpeted announcements? Where are the big high profile articles in national magazines? Where are the Gurus and Big Leaders who associate themselves publicly with Gen X? Have you seen a Gen-X-labeled TV show lately? Where are the signposts which point to what Jeff Gordinier called the generational "kitsch" known as 'GENERATION X'? Gen X does not often speak the same language that Boomers and Millennials do. Like the so-called 'Silent Generation,' Gen Xers do not associate their successes with their generational identity. But that does not mean their successes do not exist.
Boomers and Gen Y cannot and will not 'change the world' until they abandon the mass-marketed illusions of ego-enclosed micro-societies and consider the behaviour of the Silent Generation and of Generation X. There are ways of functioning in society other than through self-definition and advancement at the expense of other age groups. The problems we face require consensus, cooperation, mutual respect and humility - and the smashing of generational stereotypes. We must abandon the promotion of the 'ego' as the ultimate source of virtue, power, strength, prosperity and success.
Consider what Millennials would be 'expecting' now, what they would be saying about themselves, and how they would be behaving, if they had been fed a different story from birth, a story that did not involve a grand manifest destiny for their collective Self. What if that story had simply said that they are all different, even though they share some cultural experiences with others their age? What if it had said that they have something to contribute, just as other people of other age groups do. Nor will their contributions constitute the sum total of success or accomplishment of civilization. It will be just another brick in the wall, another drop in the bucket. And yes, they have to defer to those with greater knowledge and experience, usually (but not always) a function of age. Similarly, those who follow them will have to defer to them, because in time, Millennials will know more than their successors.
For decades, youth-oriented marketing has peddled the idea that an explosive, 'fresh outlook' is the silver bullet in every circumstance, that brand new approaches are the best way to solve age-old problems. Usually, technology is mentioned as the game-changer. High tech has transformed age old problems into completely different issues, and Millennial brains are needed to grasp uniquely novel circumstances. It simply is not true.
Millennials who cling to the myths they were sold as children and teens in the 1990s will discover that they have been duped into supporting a very old school power structure. In that structure, the will not only not be leaders, they will be at the bottom of the pile. This Boomer-led establishment will tell Millennials any flattering lie about Gen Y's identity in order to retain power. If members of Gen Y continue to believe mistakenly in the marketing labels they are fed - and even if they believe anti-marketing which is supposed to be more credible but delivers the same myth in different packaging - they will find that their real world circumstances continually and increasingly do not match the world they were told they would find. That discrepancy should be their biggest warning sign to wake up. The last thing in the world they should do is get on that train, and start labeling others and themselves.