“The Latest Must-Have for Millennials? Fancy Debit Cards” (Fortune)
“Study: Millennials Are More Likely To Ask Family To Borrow Money” (Forbes)
“Millennial Buyers Face Tough Housing Market” (Huff Po)
If you set a Google Alert of the term “millennial” you will likely see a variation of the headlines above peppered with other studies, opinions, and proclamations about the nearly 80 million people in the millennial birth cohort. The theme of content on “the millennial generation” typically revolves around politics, finance, and culture; the authors of such articles frequently use the results of one-time polls taken by those born between 1981-1996 to justify their claims.
Often, those claims are used to further a political or a corporate talking point. For example, a commentator might use data that young people are having less babies to argue that millennials are destroying marriage. Or a pundit might take data of millennial lack of support for a political candidate and blame the entire millennial cohort for the politician’s loss.
Thus, the voice of millennials is often reduced to pre-defined answers to surveys which are then applied to the entire generation.
Similarly to other news coming from the information business industry, content about millennials often analyzes members of the generation with no regard to intersectionality. This is how commentators and pundits are able to use the millennial label to either sensationalize and manipulate our perception of the generation (“A bunch of millennials didn’t vote for Hillary? You can blame the millennial generation for her loss!”), or undermine political movements by pinning them on “demographics” (“A millennial democratic socialist won an election? It’s an isolated incident…and we are capitalist“).
Recent efforts to undermine millennial support for Occupy and the political movement inspired by Bernie Sanders exemplify how the U.S. media elite use propaganda to influence public perception about the generation. Whereas previous content about millennials, written before many of us were even born, meant to prophesize our “collective identity” and preemptively define who we are, current efforts aim to undermine demands held by large segments of the millennial cohort.
Once we step away from for-profit, self-serving narratives about millennials, we see that content about the millennial and other generations is primarily a question of political power and representation. After all, Neil Howe, one of the coiners of the label, worked with “deficit hawk” billionaire Peter Peterson and Trump’s chief propagandist Steve Bannon.
The “products” created in partnership with Peterson and Bannon—a book vilifying government programs and a propagandist movie blaming “the left”—exemplify how the label has been used in the highest corridors of power since its very creation. This is often achieved through placing the millennial and other generational labels in the context of system-supportive propaganda, similarly to how the pro-union voice, the anti-war voice, the climate change voice, the working class voice and other perspectives are routinely censored or subverted in the information business industry.
What would happen if those in the millennial cohort generated and shared knowledge independently of financial polls and corporate talking points? To truly answer this question, we need to support independent millennial publications, as well as writers and media creators who approach millennial issues from the standpoint of understanding, rather than exploitation.
There are a number of “millennial” publications which are leveling the field when it comes to portraying the reality experienced by many millennials. To uncover those stories and perspectives we have to ignore the dog whistles coming from the information market, and forge a path toward a vision of humanity that is bigger than any single demographic.
This doesn’t mean rejecting the millennial identity or continuously redefining who millennials actually are, but using our shared experiences to learn from each other and create content about millennials that is more engaging and authnetic than historical prophecies and press releases from the financial industry.