The New Age of Nice: MTV Says So Long to Generation X


Somewhere in Manhattan David Denby is smiling. When his book Snark came out last winter, the response online was a little, well, snarky. Cut to Meredith Bryan’s cultural trend piece in this week’s New York Observer which looks at the “New Nice” in internet culture, and the trickle down effect on culture at large. While I’m not sure that I agree that an overflowing Best Picture category at this year’s Oscars has anything to do with Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook (products she rightfully points outs are “designed to manipulate us into niceness”), there does seem to be a shift in the works — call it the rise of the millennials.

A quote in Bryan’s article from literary publicist Lauren Cerand, herself a borderline millennial, does a good job of contextualizing this kinder, gentler Internet:

“People sometimes will get bent about something and put it on Facebook or Twitter and realize that’s just not the tone anymore. That very cynical voice worked really well from 2003 to 2006… really negative people, they don’t have a lot of friends.”

All of the above seems like a fitting lead-in to this recent announcement from MTV Networks president Van Toffler:

“We’re pushing Generation X out. We’re slaves to our different audiences, for MTV that’s millennials, who are vastly different than Generation X; they’re definitely less cynical — they’re more civic minded… Millennials are really about authentic reality and family.”

I’m a little confused about what Jersey Shore — which has become the network’s flagship program — has to do with “authentic reality” or being “civic minded” but at the same time, I was born in 1981. I’m on the Gen-X/Millennial cusp. Regardless of whether the network’s programming matches its ideals, Toffler’s way of thinking is good business. There are roughly 78 million millennials. Generation X only has around 46 million members. If you couple that fact with the generalization that Gen-Xers are both less consumer-minded than their peers and much harder to fool, then it becomes downright surprising that MTV waited this long to shift their focus to greener pastures.

So what are the real ramifications, if any?

Well, we’ve already seen the words “music television” get unceremoniously ditched from the company logo. Based on the fact that most millennials probably can’t remember a time when MTV aired more videos than original programming, this makes sense. At least they’ll never have to deal with the pain of watching to TLC’s “Waterfalls” on heavy rotation.

There will never ever be another sarcastic show about being a teenage girl like Daria. There will probably be many more earnest shows about being a teenage girl like My Life as Liz .

Kurt Loder will finally be forced to retire. Gideon Yago will return to the network to play the role of kind-of-old-but-in-an-authoritative-way newscaster.

Execs will decide that The Real World is too Gen-X and needs a face lift. It makes more sense to stick seven strangers who are 16 and pregnant in a house where they’ll work together and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start having babies.

Sorry Beyoncé, but Taylor Swift will always win.

After all of this talk, do you find yourself wondering just how millennial you are? Take this quiz from the Pew Research Center. I got an 85, which makes me a total millennial. As someone who wanted to be Janeane Garofalo when I grew up, I’d always assumed I had a little more Gen-Xer in me.