The editorial staff at NJBIZ has become dominated by millennials in the recent months. Realizing this, our editor challenged us in July with the task of creating a themed issue. It was to look at millennials and the impact they would have on the workforce.
We spent the following months conducting research and formulating ideas in addition to our regular editorial schedule. By Aug. 14, we’d collected a series of stories we felt to be representative and sent it to our publisher.
The next day, The New York Times posted an editorial by Sam Tanenhaus. It would be published in print the following Sunday.
Our reaction to the piece was mixed. It was partly validating as “young” journalists: a lot of the same topics we’d found in our research — prior to and independent of this piece — we’re covered. We’d apparently done a decent job of finding and contributing to the conversation while remaining within our single-state jurisdiction of New Jersey.
But that appreciation required a second reading, because the introductory paragraph made a few assertions that I could not reconcile. In a way, they were indicative of an entire generation’s misplaced animosity toward millennials.
In it, Tanenhaus describes millennials as “Coddled and helicoptered, catered to by 24-hour TV cable networks, fussed over by marketers and college recruiters, dissected by psychologists, demographers and trend-spotters, the millennial generation has come fully into its own.”
There’s something really clever about that sentence. The subject (the noun doing the action) of the first clauses aren’t stated but implied, as are the objects (the noun being acted upon; millennials). The clauses identifying their subjects (“marketers,” “psychologists,” etc.) are sandwiched in the middle. Then he ends the sentence with a clause in which the millennials are shifted from the object to the subject.
What’s clever about this sentence is that it hides an important fact by sliding in the subjects, only ambiguously identifying them, and ending by switching millennials from object to subject: It subjectifies his point by ignoring the fact that it’s baby boomers who were the ones coddling and dissecting.
Reading this, it’s hard not to imagine baby boomers as Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, having created a monster they perceived they could control. They find out during a performance of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” they don’t understand it quite like they thought they did. Now that millennials have entered the workforce, boomers have locked themselves in the room with us and told everyone not to let them out, no matter how terribly they scream.
But it isn’t all negative, even if Tanenhaus remains dismissive about the “do-goodish pitch” aimed at millennials: organic, vegan, environmental. To his credit, he’s not willing the wave the flag of the common argument saying these trends represent a narcissistic generation. He’s willing to accept that we might actually be caring people. “The Nice Generation.”
Still, even in his conclusion, he continues with his lack of self-awareness as he cautions millennials that “cultural transformations are seldom cost-free. And they’re not always permanent. A new generation, as yet unnamed, is growing up in the world the millennials have made and may already be working on its own revision of the nation’s moral life.”
But, really, millennials just want to be heard. We’ve spent our lives being talked at and we simply want to be a part of the conversation. So, in a sign of good faith, I’d like to take a little bit of Tanenhaus’ advice and say to the new, emerging generation to grow up in the world we millennials create and say:
“Hello there, handsome!”