Millennials and the moments that made Us: A Cultural History of the U.S. from 1982-Present
Author: Shaun Scott
Zero Books, 2018,
Shaun Scott’s Millennials and the Moments That Made Us: A Cultural History of the U.S. from 1982-Present portraits Millennials or «Generation Y». Born sometime between 1982 and 2000, the members of this generation are characterised as being tech savvy, slow to adulthood, and easier to accept racial, ethnic and sexual diversity. The author describes the «Millennial condition» by using puzzle-like fragments of his personal biography, neoliberal economics, politics, pop culture, sports, and video games. Even if written about the USA, the book can be easily understood by Europeans, as most of us live in the same cultural and economic zone, apart from the fact that the social system in Europe is not yet totally destroyed.
Raised by TV and video games
I, the author of this review, am a Millennial, only I was not born in the USA but in the Soviet Union, which collapsed when I was seven years old. In the beginning we, the kids from the other side of the wall, wanted it all – MTV, sneakers, Barbies and colourful ice cream. Time passed and we started to be critical of the superficial consumer bubble the American culture was hypnotising us with. Fifteen years ago I visited the US for the first time and I still remember a conversation with a middle-class mom who couldn’t stop speaking about all the work she does to pay for her children’s private school. The sad thing was this mom seldom saw the children she was so overly concerned about. Her children, like the ones Shaun Scott describes in his book, were raised by surrogate parents: television and video games. The times when one working parent could support the household were over and commercial pop culture did everything to fill the gap.
Politics are Pop
However, it was not only music, films and video games that served as entertainers. The politicians participated in the same game. In the 90s, when millions of Millennials were hitting puberty, president Bill Clinton’s sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky became an entertaining reality show. Making jokes about blowjobs became a part of a youngsters everyday agenda.
With 9/11 in 2001 the game got more serious. Television played a big role to assure us that America’s collective psyche was traumatised and coded with revenge fantasy. At this time many Millennials joined the army where they could use the skills they learned as kids playing video games.
«Many of us were sceptical about this work-home-work-home model our parents lived.»
And then came 2016 with Trump, the next pop icon: «I’m going to suck all the oxygen out of the room, I know how to work the media in a way that they will never take the lights off me.» Even if mostly depicted in a negative light, Trump really got the most out of the spotlight. And this started a political farce, which had been bizarrely predicted by The Simpsons episode «Bart to the Future» in 2000.
Were Millennials to blame for Trump’s triumph? Well, partly. Most Millennials wanted Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who promised to fight Wall Street, offer free colleges, and universal health care. But Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton in pre-elections and many Millennials stayed home on Election Day. Bloomberg reports that 48% of white 18-29 years olds voted for Trump. Hillary Clinton got 43% of their votes. This can be explained by the low turnout among progressive Millennials, and high turnout among white Millennial conservatives.
News and sex in the phone
As kids, Millennials started with TV screens. As grownups, they ended up with smartphones. Facebook is definitely one of the most addictive social media platforms, but Generation Y is spending a lot of time using YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp and Tinder. These platforms serve as an alternative media, offering more radical news, portraying police brutality, protests, and gender harassment, which are often ignored by the traditional media. But Scott doesn’t pay enough attention to analysing the false information so readily available, nor does he mention that Facebook uses filter bubbles to make sure we get the information we already like. This leads to people mostly consuming political content that is similar to their views thereby missing the whole picture.
«Potential partners are seen as things – choices and options for a consumer.»
Social media also has a huge impact on the way Generation Y makes friends and finds love. Scott refers to Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance where she describes how Tinder and other digital apps have changed relationships. Potential partners are seen as things – choices and options for a consumer. When a potential girlfriend or sex partner stops answering texts, a Millennial man need only check his iPhone app to get another one.
Refusing to grow up
Millennials are the first generation poorer than their parents. The neoliberal system has created a lot of unpaid Interns, freelancers, and part-time jobs. A lot of young people are trapped with huge student debts, which they need to pay from low-wage jobs. This leads to formation of the Peter Pan generation – many young people still live with their parents, others return home in hard times, shared flats are the new reality not only for students, but also for people in their mid-30s. Yet in social networks everybody tries to shine. This creates a hyper-false reality, which leaves many depressed.
Scott blames economic instability for young Millennials postponing family and other «grown-up» activities, I would describe it as one of the reasons. At least in Eastern Europe many of us were sceptical about this work-home-work-home model our parents lived. We knew that one day we would probably settle down but before that we wanted to party, travel and discover life. And it is also not so easy for people to find a stable partner with so many choices and offers luring you on your smartphone.
Are there solutions?
Towards the end of Millennials and the Moments That Made Us, Scott suddenly turns from cultural historian to politician, offering concrete solutions to make the country better. Instead of this programme I would have wished a deeper psychological portrait of my generation. What about alt-right Millennials and their motivations? What about culture? There are a lot of snapshots from pop culture, but rapper Drake’s judgments aren’t enough to raise a generation who can think critically. Analytical information circulating in social media helps, but at the same time troll factories are flooding the internet with fake news. Trump is not only a product of bad economics but also of poor cultural education.