In her recent comedy special, Iliza: Elder Millennial, comedian Iliza Shleisenger describes herself as “elder millennial” since she was born right at the cut off of the millennial birth cohort (which PEW recently designated as 1981-1996). Although Iliza’s jokes are well-received throughout the special, there is noticeable silence when she describes herself as a millennial. Why is that? Are most people not sure if they are millennials? Are we embarrassed to define ourselves as millennials? I would argue that our reluctance to embrace being millennials is the whole point of generational propaganda.
By defining us before we are even born and shaping our idea of millennials and other generations through political and corporate propaganda, the information business industry has done a phenomenal job at instilling self-doubt and embarrassment in us when it comes to our generational identity.
This has caused many of those who fall into the birth cohort to reject the millennial label altogether or categorize themselves as Young Millennials, Old Millennials, Xennials, etc. The result? A public with fractured generational consciousnesses that is easy to control and hard to mobilize from the bottom-up.
Generational propaganda is best illustrated by the context in which corporate media places stories on millennials. Recently, media outlets used Michael Rotondo, a 30-year-old man who lives with his parents and refuses to leave, as an example of an entitled millennial.
“What is up with this millennial generation that you guys seem so entitled?” a CNN host asked Michael, who subsequently denied even being a millennial (although he clearly fits the label). You can watch the exchange below:
The exchange sums up most discussions on generations projected on corporate media. They start with a predetermined diagnose/stereotype (millennials are “x”), usually with little to no evidence or data to back their claim, and only then they give millennials an opportunity to “respond.” It’s a classic propaganda move which allows pundits to define and set the limits of discussions on issues, even if those limits are based on the outlandish claim that tens of millions of people are entitled because “many people are talking about it.”
This isn’t a new development—since its coining, the millennial generational label has been tirelessly used to preemptively define and sensationalize the millennial generation. Often, the narrative set by media conglomerates and their employees directly contradicts data about the causes of millennial hardships.
For example, we know that the average student loan borrower has $37,172 in student loans, a $20,000 increase from 13 years ago. According to an AARP study, Millennials: The Emerging Generation of Family Caregivers, “millennials spend 21 hours per week on caregiving duties (i.e., just over half the time that constitutes a full-time work week) and nearly three quarters of them (73 percent) do it while also working a job.”
While this information is readily available to the public, it doesn’t seem to interest media corporations which, after all, are looking for ratings and products to sell. This is why most articles on millennials read like voyeuristic press releases from the financial sector:
“How To Reach And Engage The Millennial Customer Audience”
“Millennials prefer cash investment over stock market, new survey finds”
“Fickle millennials may not turn out for midterms, helping the GOP, new poll says”
How do you think the millions of millennials who are deeply in debt and care for their parents would react to stories about how all millennials are entitled? They’d probably ignore, reject, and/or distance themselves from the label and thus from their own generational identity. This is how the label is often used as a tool to divide and control, rather than to share and embrace generational knowledge.