Does anyone even know what a millennial is any more? | Jack Bernhardt

Apparently, millennials have killed democracy, marmalade, and now recycling. Can anyone else smell a lazy stereotype, asks comedy writer Jack Bernhardt

Bad news, everyone: those pesky millennials have killed another industry. I know, just when you thought those bloodthirsty market-murderers couldnt top topping the marmalade industry, the motorcycle industry, and the restaurants where you get to stare at the waitresses breasts industry, theyve struck again, like the serial killer in the movie Se7en (and we cant even name the actor in that now because snowflake millennials have killed the sexual abusers in Hollywood industry).

This time, in a slightly leftfield move, theyre killing recycling an area long assumed to be a pillar of the tedious millennial stereotype, along with quinoa, talking about inclusivity and not wanting to be shot at school. According to a British Science Association survey, a fifth of all millennials find recycling too time-consuming, compared with just 6% of over-55s. Its one of those facts that makes you do a double take, like the fact that Emmanuel Macron is just three years older than Macaulay Culkin. Have we got it wrong all these years? Are millennials killing the planet?

Its tempting to create a narrative about disenfranchised and apathetic millennials, losing faith in the world around them, to the point that they cant even be bothered to recycle. Brexit is looming, no one can afford a house, the biggest film of 2018 is probably going to be Ready Player One theres a lot of terrible news about. Who cares whether or not this tuna can is totally clean when youve got the threat of nuclear war, the chance of a terrorist attack or the prospect of watching Piers Morgan interview Jim Davidson?


What is a millennial?

Although precise definitions differ, broadly speaking millennials are those people born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. They are so called because they turned 18 in or after 2000. They are also collectively known as Generation Y

On the flip side, theres the argument that millennials are too socially conscious to bother with recycling any more when you have to think about whether youre destroying the rainforest by buying chocolate bars with palm oil in them, whether or not youre funding Murdoch-owned propaganda by buying a Now TV subscription package, do you really have the energy to sort the papers from the plastics?

But before the Daily Mail starts frothing at the mouth and writing pieces such as Hero pensioners protect Mother Earth from heartless millennials and also its Lily Allens fault probably somehow, we need a few caveats. First, the word millennials is not a synonym for young people. This survey defined them as 25- to 34-year-olds, which is accurate, but in most representations in the (mostly middle-aged) media, theyre university students or young adults, albeit ones still listening to music that the (mostly middle-aged) media considers young, like Dizzee Rascal and Rizzle Kicks. The real young people (16-24) are technically called Generation Z (or the iGeneration if you work for Apple and/or are Just Terrible), and I couldnt find any information in the survey about how they recycled unless were talking about how theyre recycling fashion trends from the 1990s (thats right, Generation Z, season one of Friends called and it wants its high waistlines and baggy shirts back).

Second, is it really useful to lump together everyone born between 1984 and 1993 into one group? I was born in 1989 (yes, yes, I am peak millennial, I came out of the womb holding an avocado trying to get a <a href=”” title=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>discount on a train ticket). I tried to talk to a colleague born in 1993 recently about Snapchat, and before she finished explaining how the new update had ruined the story function, my bones had turned to dust like the Nazi in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I dont necessarily feel a sense of millennial solidarity, except when millennials are being attacked by tabloids for being too sensitive (ie showing a level of compassion for people who dont look like them).

The cynic in me thinks that thats why these news stories about recycling are framed that way people are more likely to pay attention to a survey about whether plastics can go in the blue bin if you can stoke up some inter-generational warfare between boomers and millennials at the same time.

Millennials are not a singular group the people who arent recycling probably arent the same people who are protesting about palm oil, who probably arent the same people who are killing the marmalade industry. Were encouraged to see disparate groups of people as a monolith, to lump them all together and blame them for societys ills, because thats easier than actually tackling issues. I know I do it subconsciously with older people, and Im sure older people do it with millennials.

So if this news story doesnt work with your understanding of the millennial stereotype, maybe we dont need to invent a narrative to make it fit. Maybe we just need a more nuanced stereotype or, better, no stereotype at all.

Jack Bernhardt is a comedy writer and occasional performer

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