Monday, January 23, 2006
On Generational Change
Generations are fictions. Or so someone said once.
Marketers find them first. That's basically what Howe and Strauss, with their "Generations" framework and consulting business, do--they make loads of loot drawing lines around populations for companies that sell snowboards and spaghetti-strap tops and yellow plastic wristbands and stuff. So unlock the malls, because here come The Millennials.
Howe and Strauss surveyed 600 students at high schools in upper-middle-class Fairfax County, Virginia, to generate insights into young'ns that they then resell to multinationals. Their big finding? Young'ns prefer being called Millennials to "Generation Y".
Pssssh. Who wouldn't?
And who decided on these damn names anyway?
And hold on wait a minute, just what does a survey of seniors in Fairfax County--67% white, by the way--have to say about a generation of kids growing up in Richmond, California? Or Richmond, Virginia, for that matter? Can I vote for "not as much as you think"?
This weekend the NY Times ran an extensive piece on The Millennials, focusing primarily on their use of media (80% of you read blogs), their clique-ishness ("They are very bound to ethics and values. But in a funny sort of way, it prevents some of them from developing as individuals," says one concerned doctor), and whether or not companies will succeed in attracting them ("Downloading is the poor man's Tivo", says one broke Millennial).
It's the same thing old folks (the ones now called "The Greatest Generation") used to say about their Spock-coddled Baby Boomers, minus the hysterical alarm.
It's too bad the alarm still hasn't stopped ringing about that old scapegoat, "Generation X". And by extension, the old straw-men--the ones blamed for conformity and greed in all the old manifestos--are now called "The Greatest". Amazing how a fat inheritance can change a perception.
According to Howe and Strauss, even the Millennials know the deal: "By a five-to-one margin, they agreed that the elderly G.I. Generation had a "mainly positive" reputation. By the two-to-one margin, they agreed that Generation X has a "mainly negative" reputation." Oh yeah? Well fuck you!
The thing to point out about all this quackery is that Howe and Strauss are, you guessed it, Baby Boomers. Everything is colored by their kaleidoscope eyes. Indeed, the dominant discourse in American life about generational change is still framed by Boomers.
Interestingly, a lot of Boomers themselves don't believe the hype anymore.
"The Aging of Aquarius" is a barbed-wire gem by Jamie Malanowski on Boomer navel-gazing. If Brokaw projects all his guilt on his parents, and Howe and Strauss project all their happy feelings onto the Millennials--who just happen to be the age of their children--well, American University professor Leonard Steinhorn only has to look in the mirror to declare all is good.
Before going there with Dr. Steinhorn, Malanowski addresses that uniquely Boomer gumption epitomized in Tom Brokaw, yes, he of the "Greatest Generation" fame:
Readers will recall that it was Tom Brokaw's great good luck as a journalist, as a reporter of news, to uncover that back in the 1930s and 1940s, a large mass of young Americans had to suffer, a) the trials and deprivations of the Great Depression, then b) fight a terrible war —a “world war” in the parlance of the time—against countries bent on global domination. Not only did Brokaw have the courage to bring to light this virtually hidden chapter of our history, but he or an associate had the marketing savvy to title the book The Greatest Generation, an irresistibly flattering phrase which sustained the book through many printings and multiple sequels.
This article is a must-read, so I really don't want to spoil Malanowski's killer close.
But just to say that if generations are created to scapegoat, there have to be generations to honor. The thing is, history doesn't always help. I found this, what, every single fucking day I was working on this damn book. For like 10+ years! Maybe I still got a chip on my shoulder, hell, a rock. Rather than grouse any more--which I am told I wont to do as a Gen X-er, trapped with a name he never made in a world he never made--I guess I'll just take a cue from Howe and Strauss and say buy my damn book already.
ADDENDUM 1/24/06: Scratch that last sentence. Buy this book instead: Letters From Young Activists. Now. What are you waiting for?
posted by Zentronix @ 6:11 PM
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