The last thing any Old Media organization wants to do these days is alienate Gen Y. Love us, hate us, or write condescending think-pieces about us, we’re going to have discretionary incomes someday, hard-earned dollars we’re increasingly less likely to drop five or six of on a magazine. Presumably, this means any big-name title that’s already known for having a readership several decades north of 30 should be hustling as hard as it can to convince those of us who came of age after the Soviet Union collapsed that its staff is Hip With the Kids. Which is why I was actually surprised (though I probably shouldn’t have been) to come across Rolling Stone‘s list of “50 Things Millennials Have Never Heard Of,” better titled “50 Things Millennials Are More Than Capable of Finding Out About Through the Internet, or Maybe Even Books.”
The intro breaks it down for us: everyone’s favorite nebulously defined group of young people are, like every generation that’s come before and will come after us, more socially liberal than our parents. But because baby boomers and Gen Xers have gotta feel superior to their kids/grandkids/baby siblings somehow, Rolling Stone‘s compiled the world’s lamest 50-item consolation prize. Among the notables that leave people born after 1980 — or is it 1970? maybe 1990? no one seems to know anymore — “clueless”: Mikhail Gorbachev; Choose Your Own Adventure books; and the ancient practice of taking pictures using a mysterious substance the author calls “film.”
In the interest of time and sanity, I’ll skip going down the list and checking off the names that I and the vast majority of my peers are very familiar with, thankyouverymuch. Some of them I don’t know; most of them I do (even ’90s kids weren’t spared the horrors of the floppy disk). The reality, of course, is that thanks to the fantastically varied and individual nature of the human experience, every reader’s acquainted with a different combination of late-20th-century cultural artifacts, no matter their age. It also does. Not. Matter.
I was born in 1993, after Boyz II Men’s debut album and before OutKast’s. I was barely a conscious human being when Kurt Cobain committed suicide, and I chose my own adventure in the pages of used copies from my local library, not fresh off the shelves of the local bookstore that Barnes & Noble had long since put out of business. But here’s the crazy part: thanks to the potent combination of that local library, the living room television set, and most importantly, the Internet, people aren’t restricted to enjoying only what they’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to experience firsthand. Humans have been capable of passing knowledge from generation to generation since always, and this one is no different.
The irony of targeting “millennials,” a term I refuse to give enough credit to use without quotation marks, as culturally ignorant is that we’re better equipped than any age group in history to know movies, television, music, and other pop culture ephemera inside and out. We’ve got Spotify, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Pandora, and any number of resources for discovering and accessing the weird, wonderful crap that the Internet preserves in digital amber — and that’s just counting the legal stuff. And thanks to Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, and whatever next week’s hot social network may be, it’s easier to disseminate those video clips and sound bites to thousands of our closest acquaintances than ever. The truth is that it’s far more likely a Rolling Stone senior editor hasn’t heard of the Shibe meme than someone my age doesn’t know Mark Knopfler.
No one’s completely up to date with everything that’s worth talking about, no matter how in the know. Take my dad, a boomer music geek from Francophone Montreal who’d never heard of Serge Gainsbourg until two months ago. I’m thus dubious of any article that gets its clickbait status from assuring readers that their pop culture geekery makes them part of some exclusive club to which people with more time on their hands can never gain entry. But Rolling Stone‘s list takes the already gross institution of I’ve-heard-of-this-you-haven’t cultural elitism and turns it into an excuse for yet another round of “millennial” bashing, transforming it into the even grosser practice of throwing down the intergenerational gauntlet. Does RS really think its readers need to hear that today’s teens will never know Carmen Sandiego like they do to feel better about themselves?
Considering that the editor of RollingStone.com is a whopping three years older than me, one would think Gus Wenner would want better for his site than patting its readers on the back for knowing Mark Wahlberg from his Marky Mark days. It needs better, frankly, unless its strategy for competing with Pitchfork is keeping boomers entertained and hoping for the best when “clueless” 20-somethings start to outnumber them a few years down the road. That is, if we’re not too busy feeling old when our children haven’t heard of Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”