Talking ‘Bout My Generation


Last night was the book club meeting to discuss the novel Super Sad True Love Story (I mentioned my intense hatred of the book last week), and I was, almost, the only one that hated the book. Only one other woman disliked it.

Until my sole fellow hater arrived, there was some speculation in the group about a possible generational difference. Perhaps it was that the other women and I were simply of different generations and therefore had different perspectives on the characters and the action… or lack thereof. As an example, my biggest problem with the novel was the main character’s seeming inability to make and defend a decision. Most of the other women felt that the main character’s apathy was a sign that he was a regular, everyday Joe (so to speak). To me though, apathy isn’t ordinary.

You see, I am absolutely the youngest woman in my book club (I’m 28, in case you were wondering) and there is a 12 year age range covered in the group. After some discussion, I suggested that perhaps part of my dislike of the novel stemmed from a perception that the author was disparaging my generation. The apathy that seemed to define the main character (and which annoyed me beyond belief) seems to be how the author perceives my generation’s general attitude… or lack thereof. I argued that part of my problem with the book was that “apathetic” is one of the last words I would use to describe my generation.

I see my fellow Millennials as passionate and engaged. These are all generalizations, obviously, but all around me there are people in their twenties following their passions and making their dreams marketable. We’re carving new paths that work for us- changing (or attempting to change) the nature of work, career, family and community. Not all of us are rolling in dough, but most are doing a job they feel drawn to do. So many are starting non-profits or starting for-profit businesses with a social conscience. Most not only follow politics but feel strongly about their political convictions- and act on them! A poll done by the Pew Research Center says that Millenials both vote and volunteer at higher rates than previous generations (according to this article from USA Today). The same research suggests that we will be the most educated generation to date. Right before I left for book club, I read a NY Times article (brought to my attention by Lindsay, of Linz Loves You fame) about Millenials and our peculiar youth culture. Apparently we’re affable and entrepreneurial. Besides all of that, it is my generation that has born the brunt of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (small though the percentage of citizens serving in the military may be) and it is my generation that has come of age in a post 9-11 world. So far no signs point to apathy.

Volunteering in a time of war is not exactly apathy

Obviously I’m biased because of my age, but I feel really strongly about this. I felt offended for my entire generation for the length of my car ride home and beyond. I’m still thinking about it now.

My guess is that every generation feels misinterpreted. And maybe I’m still young enough to be holding on to the idealism that goes hand-in-hand with being young. So I’m asking all of you:

Do you think of Generation Y/Millennials/whatever-you-want-to-call-current-20-somethings are apathetic? How would you describe this generation? Feel free to tell me that I’m wrong because I love a lively discussion. After all, as I mentioned last night, my 4th grade teacher didn’t nickname me “Ms. Righteous Indignation” for nothing.

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  1. Trust me, 20 years ago, all of us Generation Xers felt misrepresented. And all of that stuff that you shared, that’s the kind of press that we trotted out to showcase our potential. Ex. Teach for America was founded by a Gen Xer–challenging the myth that we were all slacker grunge. The first Iraq War was fought largely by Gen X volunteers. This of course this all ran counter to “Shampoo Planet,” “Singles,” and “Slackers.” Talk about a negative label being slapped on generation… slackers?

    I don’t like to make broad sweeping generalizations, so I won’t pin the apathy on all Millenials. I do, however, know that the human brain doesn’t completely mature until age 26. So I know each generation has a “who are we/who am I” period that shakes out and settles down when the majority of them are in their 30s or so. I think it comes down to a difference of biology rather than a generational divide. And I think good literature can allow us to hold up a mirror to our present or our past and see our shortcomings AND our potential. When it’s uncomfortable or stirs up strong emotions, it can be the most revealing. But it’s also just fiction…

    • You make a lot of good points. I’m not saying that the exuberance and idealism of youth won’t necessarily wear off over the next decade or so, I just didn’t think that it was a foregone conclusion. And I don’t think that someone could look at the generation that’s in their twenties now and associate it with apathy. Misguided? Idealistic? Self-centered? All of those things I could see.
      I hated the book because I hated the characters, the possible generational divide was just something that came up in the conversation.
      Thanks for pointing out some things I hadn’t considered!

  2. I’m at an interesting point, I’m smack in the middle of Generation X and the Millennials.

    Being in this position has shown me that each generation looks at the one after it the same way. I remember all the same stuff being said about Generation X by the baby boomers, and now the Gen Xers are saying it about the Millennials.

    It also means I feel like I’m floating without a generation to really define myself with. The Xers are mostly older than me, and the Millennials are mostly younger. Those of us born in 1980 really don’t fit in anywhere, lol!

  3. Interesting, Meghann.

    Oh, and re: apathy, I think that’s code for “these kids today don’t agree with and want what we want so they are apathetic to our cause.” =)

  4. I do think every generation feels misunderstood. Partly because it’s hard to take generalizations and apply them to yourself. And in every generation there are the same socioeconomic divisions that define people’s path much more than the generation they were born in does.

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