I came across this tweet today while scouring Reddit, and something about it struck a nerve. Over the last three or four years, I’ve noticed a strange, and nasty cultural war brewing in Western society. They say each generation rebels against their parents’ generation, but the commentary between Baby Boomers and Millennials has been especially vicious. What makes it so pronounced is that their hatred of one another exists virtually context free. Neither side considers the actions and opinions of the other with regards to experience, socio-political climate, or historical positioning. That is a dangerous position to base your opinions upon.
Baby Boomers, for all their flaws, grew up watching The Greatest Generation suffer silently for decades through toxic relationships without any catharsis. Once you married, you stuck with it. “Come hell or high water,” or “Rub some dirt on it”, or some similar sentiment. So Baby Boomers developed anecdotal humor laced with irony as rebellion against their parents. No one in the Boomer generation is sticking it out; their divorce rates are historically high compared to surrounding generations.
Jokes like these don’t actually come from people who hate their spouses. Years of marriage have taught me that I can adore my partner, but I can also be really, really angry with her too, and it’s that kind of commiseration that these jokes intend. We check our humanity against one another, and vent negative emotion as humor.
Millennial humor is also laced with irony. No one really thinks you’re that depressed, living in a constant state of ennui. I imagine it’s hard to know what to believe in when so many of the social constructs that surround us are crumbling, revealed to have had negative foundations all along. So your Twitter post isn’t really about suicide, it’s an attempt to understand hypocrisy while making clear that you will not be a part of it. Kudos. It’s a very intelligent brand of humor.
I’m a Generation Xer, and I find both kinds of jokes funny. I’ll admit, I’ve even made jokes about my marriage to friends and co-workers. I love my wife. It’s not about that. It’s just nice to be able to vent frustration outside your home. That’s all either kind of joke is, an attempt to connect to like-minded people.
But here’s the thing: the viciousness has to stop. Millennials are in a tough spot, and yes, fifty years of bad domestic policy has caused that. But hindsight is 20/20. It’s not always easy to see your generation’s faults while they are happening. While it’s not ok to call millennials spoiled and stupid, it’s not ok to be equally disrespectful to the Baby Boomer generation either. They experienced an unprecedented social revolution, which shattered generational norms in our country. In their youth, they fought many of the same fights you are fighting today. Fierce battles against sexism, racism, and corporate greed. The turbulence of their era much resembles the turbulence of our current day political climate. They did the best they could with a rapidly changing world, and for every achievement there are ten failures. But they speak from a position of experience that both Millenials and Generation Xers don’t have. The same way as I speak from experience that Millennials don’t have. When engaging in polemics like these, that’s a point that should be taken into account.
I’ll leave younger readers with this: what will your children say about my generation? That we were slackers who embraced moral relativism? That we failed to adapt to the rapid globalization that the internet brought us? And Millennials, what do you think they will say about you?
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