2013’s Worst Writing About Millennials


2013’s been a solid year for some lucky teens and 20-somethings: Lorde, One Direction, and Miley Cyrus topped the international pop charts; Jennifer Lawrence charmed the pants off of anyone with eyeballs; Lena Dunham scored a multimillion-dollar book deal. The rest of us, however, weren’t so lucky. The past 12 months saw more ill-founded, hysterical, condescending, and generally awful writing than ever about what so-called “millennials” are up to and why it’s ruining the country. Here are the lowlights of this year’s coverage, collected here in the hopes that 2014 will bring some slightly more nuanced accounts of young people and our problems than these.

The Cover Story

It may be tucked behind a paywall, but Joel Stein’s TIME does would-be readers a solid by laying out his thesis right off the bat: the “Me Me Me Generation” is “lazy, entitled, selfish, and shallow.” Stein claims he’s got conclusive proof that the generation that’s currently bearing the brunt of the recession is somehow more self-centered than the generation that caused it, but — spoiler alert! — he doesn’t. Flavorwire’s own Tom Hawking penned a handy takedown of the story when it hit newsstands this May, tallying up the piece’s many, many problems, but among the highlights: citing frequent texting as evidence of narcissism; generally ignoring the sins of the far more famously egocentric Baby Boomers; and, of course, reducing an entire generation to a series of lazy stereotypes.

The Article That Uses Psychotherapy Patients as Trend Piece Fodder

Props to Brooke Donatone for conceding that millennials have to deal with a cratering economy and probably aren’t clinically narcissistic. Not so many props, however, for using one of her patients to make a point about how her age group is “unable to think for themselves” and lacks “frustration tolerance.” It’s not technically a violation of doctor/patient confidentiality, but I doubt “Amy” would be too happy to find herself the subject of this Slate piece belittling her problems and using them to support yet another dubious thesis re: Gen Y. Donatone thinks helicopter parenting and instant gratification are to blame, with Amy, some depression stats, and a handful of trend pieces about bringing parents to job interviews as Exhibits A through C. I wish Amy the best, and hope she finds a therapist who’s more respectful of her privacy.

The “College Women Have Sex and the New York Times Is On It” Piece

The hookup culture trend piece is a particularly gross sub-genre of the “kids these days” hysteria game. But while Kate Taylor’s “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” certainly wasn’t the first piece to warn us all that intelligent young ladies are auctioning off their integrity via consensual sex, it was the highest-profile, with a backlash to match. The article was the product of months of on-the-ground reporting at the University of Pennsylvania, raising serious questions about how well the Times is allocating its budget. All the telltale signs of hookup hype are there: the over-reliance on anecdotal evidence; the total absence of male or non-heterosexual interview subjects; the condescending, slightly slut-shamey tone. Too bad hookup culture as Taylor describes it probably doesn’t exist.

The “Internet Generation Can’t Use the Internet” List

Forget that this particular round of youth-bashing comes from a website edited by a kid fresh out of college. Let’s instead dwell on the irony of calling a generation that supposedly can’t unglue itself from the Internet for more than two milliseconds culturally ignorant. But that didn’t stop Rolling Stone from assuming that while young’uns may be awash with information, we’re still incapable of finding out about anything that happened before we turned ten or so. That’s how knowledge works, right? It’s just like how Gen Xers have never listened to Bob Dylan, and no one reads anything published before 1990 anymore!

The Webcomic

Proving that adding a few MS Paint doodles to any poorly argued blog post is the ticket to viral success, Wait But Why’s “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” briefly took over the Internet early this fall. The gist? Kids have high expectations and low work ethic, leaving us high and dry when we end up with anything less than dream jobs. WBW makes up in unicorn graphics and stick figures what he or she lacks in actual statistics, adding up to yet another piece blaming “millennials” for their dissatisfaction with a bad economy rather than, well, the bad economy. Needless to say, we weren’t convinced.

The Elizabeth Wurtzel Dispatch

Yet another addition to the ever-growing pile of “opinions that only get published because Elizabeth Wurtzel has them,” the memoirist’s declaration that today’s youth are “The Lamest Generation” at least deserves some credit for going against the Gen Y-hating grain. Gen Y (or as she wittily dubs us, “Generation Z-for-Zero”) aren’t a bunch of self-absorbed collegiate sex maniacs, Wurtzel sorta-argues; they’re bores “wearing khaki pants and polo shirts…doing very well with tech startups in places with names like Menlo Park.” She also insists, despite nearly infinite examples to the contrary, that 20-somethings are nowhere to be found in today’s pop music or prestige TV landscape, with the exception of Lena Dunham. If only we could be more like Led Zeppelin!

The One Written By Other Millennials

Who said Boomers and Gen Xers should have all the fun? Some of the worst writing about my generation comes, unfortunately, from other members of my generation. Behold the appalling megalist that is “100 Things Every 20-Something Needs to Realize,” the sexist, boorish magnum opus of Elite Daily (a sexist, boorish blog you might recognize from The Awl’s excellent exposé). Some of my favorite tips: “In a healthy relationship, he should love you even more without makeup”; “If you can get her into bed before date 3, then you’ll get bored with her by week 2”; “If you’re using the pulling-out method, then you have a good chance of pulling out a baby in a few months.” All I can say is that “writer, philosopher, music producer and DJ” Paul Hudson does not speak for the rest of us, or even most of us.