William Deresiewicz, critic and famed author of Excellent Sheep (Free Press, 2014), published in 2011 a landmark op-ed in New York Times called Generation Sell. In it, he argued that the Millennial generation (which, at the time, was only starting to be defined) is essentially entrepreneurial at its core and, in contrast to the countercultures of previous generations, sorely lacking in attitude and rebellion. “The self today is an entrepreneurial self, a self that’s packaged to be sold,” he said, noting the “food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet.” Millennials treated themselves “like little businesses, something to be managed and promoted.” He continued: “It’s striking. Forty years ago, even 20 years ago, a young person’s first thought, or even second or third thought, was certainly not to start a business. That was selling out—an idea that has rather tellingly disappeared from our vocabulary.” The op-ed spawned a flurry of retorts and other op-eds, causing even Deresiewicz himself to later criticize his theory. The first to pounce, however, were those good readers who left comments on the original article the day it came out. While their comments may not have necessarily defined a generation, they generated the discourse on how the generation might be defined.
This piece is constructed from those comments. Each block is an excerpt from an individual comment; their order, and the line breaks and punctuation thereof, have been altered.
All these long-gone
rebellion movements you glorify—
we are growing up in the ashes of their failure. Our institutions
social and familial
are universally rotten.
So once you’ve tuned out, dropped out, and given up—
what’s to do?
start building from the ground up.
When the current generation of leaders leaves the scene
the entire country
will have to be rebuilt. What we’re doing now
—it’s a warmup.
Does every three- to fifteen-year “generation” need to be packaged?
It’s possible to think about
generations of previous social rebellion
as coping mechanisms for economic inequality.
“We aren’t wealthy, but we don’t need it. We find fulfillment in life’s experiences.”
“We aren’t wealthy, but we don’t need it. Love will get us through.”
“We aren’t wealthy, but we don’t [want to be].”
“We aren’t wealthy, and we don’t care.”
“We aren’t wealthy, but we know someone who got there from nothing. Maybe there’s hope.”
And now today.
What precisely is wrong
with turning what you love
into a sustainable way to make a living? In this economy
all of my peers
are hanging onto adult “success”—
which your generation helped define, by the way
—by our fingernails.
People are starting
their own businesses
because there are no jobs. Baby boomers could
graduate with a degree and a pulse
and get a nice entry level position somewhere.
The milennials [sic]
have figured out young
that the world doesn’t owe them a living
and ultimately, they will benefit
and thrive from that realization.
I ended up teaching
Business at Berkeley. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
and the commercially-acceptable facade
we Millennials put on
is an act of desperation. We must be
there is no such thing as job security
there is so much competition; in short
we know that any boon we get
is bound to be temporary
and liable to be ripped away at any moment.
It really boils down to:
“It’s the economy, stupid.”
You can publish and market your own book
record and sell your own CD
and win online voting contests
you can almost instantly
become a legend
in your own mind. Creating
your own reality
was never easier.
is the perfect metaphor for today’s hipsters.
bland and boring.
What you describe
in your article
is not a healthy interest in, or growth of,
small business. It’s just a new way of trying to strike gold
without ever having to leave your apartment.
An apartment that is most likely
being paid for by their [sic] parents.
Their voice reads like Facebook or Yelp!
As if everyone’s opinion
is worth the same weight.
Read the reviews of Thai restaurants. They are all good
because all the reviewers think they know real Thai food
even when they are given
cellphone or computer
promises that you can speak up and be counted
it’s just a kind of navel gazing.
Their affability and inoffensiveness
is the result
in the most conflict-averse country
not the result
of some sort of generational mission.
Catch us on Facebook at MIX and at MIX Marketplace!
the amount of time people do
Anyone who believes
all of the tattooed kids in Portland
are the same people
who see Steve Jobs as a deity
knows nothing about either group.
The ones who are emblematic of our generation?
I wouldn’t say there is any one group
because that’s what I think our generation is about:
specialization. We have realized
that making a very big difference
in a very small corner of the world
may have much greater effects
than trying to fight for a monolithic cause with a monolithic institution.
Those of us who care
about world poverty
are focused on a small task
female education in conservative Islamic societies
and not on joining UNICEF.
If there is any one thing
that defines our generation
it is that no matter what task you can imagine
one of us, somewhere, is working on it. The one thing that defines us
is that no one thing defines us.
The older I get, the more alike we look.
A few years ago
I started to talk to my parents
about what is broadly referred to as “youth culture.”
My dad was born in 1932 and my mom in 1938.
My one grandfather was an upholsterer
and the other was a taxi driver. I give this biographical background
to illustrate what happened next.
To say that they emphatically disagreed
that the countercultural movement of the sixties
was representative of the “youth” of their generation
would be a great understatement.
They made it clear
that what most people of their age were doing back then
As in, “tune in, turn on, drop out”
was for the folks who didn’t have to work.
The rest of them? They were working
or more probably like everyone between 18-25 or 26
trying to find the work from which they would make a career
and with it a base upon which to build a family.
And I think of that conversation with every discussion of “youth culture”—
participating in youth culture
is a luxury.
We have now been launched back
into a time
that more closely resembles the 1910’s:
With deep class divisions
and antagonisms. In such a time
counterculture is irrelevant
as people live in vastly different worlds
of which each knows very little.
Every time I’ve mentioned
to my upper middle class friends
they’ve all responded
with the exact same question:
The generation you vilify here
had our pensions stripped in our twenties
and half have been part-timed
Gee, is this really what you call “pursuit of happiness”?
Such a high level of generalization
about large groups of people
is likely to stem from either prejudice or projection.
Consider that their behavior
is a rebellion after all, but one that is
different than any before it.
JFK passed on a torch
to my generation
and it’s time for us
to pass it on to the next generation. The torch
is an implied agreement
between germinations [sic]
to try making this world a better place. The job
will never be finished, but to try
is to keep the torch buying [sic].
Melissa Mesku is a software engineer, editor and writer in NYC.