By Robert Romano
Having been born in 1980, I could not help but to click on a Washington Examiner article entitled “We hated millennials well before ‘Girls’ came along,” by columnist Emily Jashinsky.
Jashinsky, ironically a millennial herself, describing it as “our generation” later in the review, contended that, “‘Millennials’ and their reputations, for better or worse, are permanently hitched to [HBO show ‘Girls’] depiction of inordinately ambitious, overprivileged, socially conscious narcissists struggling to cope with the darker realities of adult life in a politically-charged environment.”
Never mind that only about 4 million or so viewers — let alone millennials who number more than 80 million — even regularly watched “Girls” according to industry viewing figures, which includes international audiences. Did American millennials, defined by Gallup as those born between 1980 and 1996, know their entire generation was defined by a television show relatively few of them even watched?
Let’s also leave aside the obvious, that Baby Boomers were criticized and painted with the same broad brush by social commentators in the 1960s and 1970s. Those stereotypes even inspired The Who to pen “My Generation,” wherein the lyrics read, “People try to put us down, Talkin’ ’bout my generation. Just because we get around, Talkin’ ’bout my generation.”
To Jashinsky’s credit, she does identify these traits as stereotypes that the comedy itself exploited, but then goes on to embrace them: “But for all the ways the show was novel, it cannot claim credit for creating, or even meaningfully contributing to, society’s reflexive hatred of millennials. For that, you’ll have to thank millennials themselves. The Hannahs at Thanksgiving dinners around the country, the Marnies at neighborhood bars, the Jessas in line at the DMV.”
Jashinsky concluded, “As ambassadors to the world, armed with social media and an obsessive penchant for using it, we are all the voices of our generation. After all, isn’t that why ‘Girls’ was funny?”
As if millennials alone had a monopoly on smart phone and social media addictions — or promiscuity or inappropriate behavior, for that matter.
But let’s just take social media usage. A quick glance at my Facebook friends anecdotally reveals a plethora of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and others who utilize the same service. A broader look at the Facebook Insights of our Americans for Limited Government page reveals the broad majority of our likes, 67 percent, are over the age of 45.
A 2016 study by Pew Research found that older Americans are making greater use of social media as well. 72 percent of Internet-using 50 to 64 year olds and 62 percent of Internet-using seniors reported using Facebook. Apparently, you don’t need to have been born after 1980 to figure out how to log into a smart phone app or to share pictures.
What I found most objectionable, though, was this notion that there is something fundamentally wrong with millennials that can be gleaned simply by watching “Girls.”
That is not to take a shot at the comedy or its creators. Here, it is the commentary, not the show, that is really portraying millennials rather monolithically. The show focused on the lives of hipster urbanites in New York City. Jashinsky overstates their importance, as if its depiction were to be etched in time and stand as a scarlet letter for all millennials to bear. Sure, some millennials embrace that bit of subculture.
But other millennials embrace other parts of the culture, too. Say, faith. Or, sports. Or, sci-fi and comic books. Or, music festivals. Or, outdoors activities. Or, cooking gourmet foods. That is to say, they are as diverse a generation as has existed in the past.
Millennials have also fought for their country, many having served and died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Girls” portrays young people working as actors, artists and writers who never seem to settle down — typical of the genre of 20 and 30 somethings living in the big city, dating back to “Friends” and its predecessors.
But this ignores the reality that although millennials are tending to wait longer to get married, per research from Gallup, that trend actually began with Gen Xers, those born between 1965 and 1979, and besides, there are millions of millennials who are actually married and are actively raising families. In other words, the trends transcend generations.
Looking deeper, lower marriage and birth rates might be attributed as much to longer term economic trends such as recently declining labor participation, slower growth and lower income expectations. There is also higher female labor participation compared to the earlier 20th Century to consider that coincided with those trends. And socially there is also the relatively high divorce rate among Baby Boomers that may have helped shape subsequent generations’ views on marriage.
Of course, Jashinsky and other commentators might be forgiven for the broad brushstrokes, if only because they are so common when conducting generational analysis, even with statistics. I just made more than a few generalizations myself if even to note certain nuances. I based them on research, but there you have it.
Even in the political science field, the liberal leanings for example of millennials is taken as gospel, even when citing statistics. Consider these headlines in 2016. “Only 1 in 5 Millennials Lean Republican, Poll Finds,” from Time.com. Or, “New poll of millennial voters shows clear shift toward Democrats, away from Trump,” from the LA Times.
Yet in swing states like Michigan, in 2016 President Donald Trump still proved competitive among millennials, overperforming particularly among older millennials. In Michigan, Trump actually won narrowly among 30 to 39 year olds, 46 percent to 45 percent according to the CNN exit poll.
In Pennsylvania, although Trump lost the millennial vote, he still garnered 44 percent of 18-24 year olds and 40 percent of 30-39 year olds.
Those are not insignificant numbers. They may have been attracted to Trump’s economic message on trade, or his relative to Hillary Clinton non-interventionist campaign stance on foreign affairs. Whatever it was, without those millennial votes, Trump would not be the President today.
Which leads to another point. Age might be a better predicter of behavior than generational identity. Trump performed better amongst older Americans. Millennials are aging, too. So, when conservatives write about millennials, they should keep in mind that they are not simply a static entity, neither culturally nor politically. Millennials are just as much an audience that is persuadable as any other.
Also, at over 80 million, millennials are the largest plurality generation in the country — now bigger than the Baby Boomers. With that in mind, how does hating on millennials from a conservative-leaning publication such as the Washington Examiner — the emphasis of the commentary is on widespread hatred of millennials — help to advance the GOP’s cause?
Generational warfare could yield short-term gains but long-term could be a big loser for conservatives. Sadly, as Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation die off, Republicans if they have any hopes of achieving majorities must focus on the pool of potential voters that is there. That future coalition must include millennials.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.