The Roaring Millennials?

Lately, it seems like the media has been caught up with the lives of millennials.  We’re starting our careers, getting ready to graduate from college or just starting our college careers, but journalists and researchers already have a lot to say about our lifestyles and futures.

"The Great Gatsby" (Warner Bros., 2012). Used for educational purposes only.

“The Great Gatsby” (Warner Bros., 2012). Used for educational purposes only.

I was thinking about this as we read The Great Gatsby, the story of a group of young adults living lavishly and completely abandoning the American Dream in exchange for money and materialism.

Before I proceed I want to say that I don’t entirely agree with the ideas of the articles I’m about to site. Rather, they create an interesting connection between us and the characters of the novel.

Last May, Time Magazine called us “The ME ME ME Generation” on their cover, and a few months earlier the New York Times asked, “Do Millennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?”, comparing Gen Y’s lifestyle to those who survived the Great Depression.

In the New York Times article, Annie Lowrey sites a Pew Research Center survey that asked different generations what made them unique.  According to the results, most baby boomers gave answers related to “work ethic,” while the millennials gave “clothes.”

In the article published in Time Magazine, journalist Joel Stein argues that those of us born between the 1980s and the early 2000s are “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.” He goes on to say that people in their 20s now are three times more likely to experience narcissistic personality disorder than our grandparents’ generation.

Sound familiar?

The Great Gatsby takes place in the 1920s just before the Great Depression and portrays the people of the time living luxuriously: parties every night, expensive champagne, casual haute couture and not a lot of work to earn it all. Nick Carraway might be making his way in the bonds business in New York, however it is hardly mentioned in the book and probably carries the smallest amount of significance. Nick states that his family was “prominent, well-to-do people in the Middle Western city for three generations” and that his father is funding his summer escapades in New York (3).

This brings me to my main point: How different are we from the characters of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel? Basing our collective knowledge of millennials off of what is reported in the media, both groups are incredibly narcissistic, living off of the fortune and hard work of their predecessors, and trading foundational emotions for material items.

While hopefully we do not have another Great Depression in our near futures, I think the similarities are interesting.

In case you were wondering, the Pew Research Center has a fun and thought-provoking quiz that tells you on a scale from 0-100 just how millennial you are. I’m at 86.  You can access the quiz with this link: http://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/how-millennial-are-you/

– Mollie O.

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11 thoughts on “The Roaring Millennials?

  1. I actually thought about this a lot too as I read the book. I don’t necessarily think we are a direct reflection of the characters, but the book resembles just how materialistic our world is now. I kind of see it as an exaggerated version of what our mindsets are. Our generation is so blindly concerned with materials, yes, but it is also one of (if not) the smartest generations to date. It’s a give and take thing. We are probably not as book-smart or connected with the natural world as well as previous generations, but our access to obtain and absorb information is incredible now.

    This is slightly off topic from your direct question but I think it’s still important to acknowledge. It’s not just our generation that has a materialistic issue. Obviously Fitzgerald thought his generation/the one after that also struggled with these superficial issues. That’s just a human quality. It’s always about outdoing the ones around you in hopes that you can be put on some materialistic pedestal. I think the question is whether or not this living style is detrimental to us. People like Daisy are oblivious to just how superficial they are, but is that bad. In this case, wouldn’t ignorance really just bring you the most bliss? Idk just some thoughts.

  2. This is such an interesting blog post! It’s really cool how many connections we can still make to this book even today. My comment I was going to make sounds really similar to Christian’s above. I really think the millennial ‘problem’ really just depends on how you look at it. Sure, there are plenty of young adults today who live in their parents basements and play expensive video games all day. But there are also plenty of people our age who are using our new technologies and opportunities to make a name for themselves and do important things for others. I’m thinking of countless examples of people who use social media to create organizations, charities, or businesses.
    Also, I took the Millennial quiz you posted. Some of the questions were entertaining, like thinking about how many text messages I have received in the past 24 hours, and some seemed irrelevant, like the one about piercings. I guess I didn’t realize that that is such a ‘millennial’ thing, although now that I think about it, it makes sense. I scored a 93, which surprised me a lot!

  3. This blog post did make me think a lot too! It is interesting how most of the characters n the novel are hardly seen working, but I feel like the dynamic is what made The Great Gatsby work so well. The fact that he was seen as “new money” got Gatsby looked down upon. He could have worked hard to get to where he was in the world, and then when business got good he just sat back and watched money flow. The fact that he wasn’t truly a part of the higher class society he surrounded himself with got attacked by Tom and eventually led to Gatsby’s downfall. The fact that Gatsby acted like he was born into wealth was something that added to so much of his mystery. It caused most people at his parties to question who he really was and where he came from. Anyways I think this aspect of the book ended up adding to the character of Gatsby more than making a statement about everyone who lived at that time.

    On the other hand I do kind of agree that the modern day world makes everything more accessible, which increases narcissism and deteriorates foundational emotions. It makes people lazier because everything is a click away. However, this doesn’t mean people don’t have to work. There are still people all over who work hard. College students are a great example. The internet and increased ability in modern machinery have caused people to have to work less (like emailing a paper instead of printing it and walking to turn it in or checking grades online). This is physical, while people still must do the mental work associated with the paper or tests they take. There are a lot of arguments for and against this kind of increase in laziness, but I don’t think millennial babies will experience a great depression, because the increase in consumer purchases will benefit the economy. This does come from the material want of a lavish lifestyle imposed by the “American dream.” It’s interesting how the material wants haven’t deviated over the time since The Great Gatsby was written. Hopefully we don’t end up like the characters in that novel, but I guess only time will tell.

  4. I took the quiz and got an 80, just noting. I see a great deal of parallels between our culture and the roaring 20s, we just have more technology. When we are taking up close pictures of our faces, or snapshots of our Starbucks, or letting our followers know that we are going to sleep- are we not echoing Daisy? I think we see the world around us, is our world. It is all about us, and that is quite a stark contrast from other generations. We are blowing money we don’t have on credit cards while our grandparents generation was still afraid to trust banks. I do agree that I hope we don’t have a Great Depression in our future, it can’t entirely be ruled out.

  5. This is hardly the first time, or I doubt the last time I will hear about what people think about Generation Y, and how we compare to those who came before us. What struck me about your post was actually something you said in the first sentence. Journalists and Researchers have a lot to say about our generation’s lifestyle and future when we haven’t truly started to live it. My parents are considered apart of the Baby Boomer generation (although they barely make the cut), and they were far from established and productive in their early 20’s. My dad was off traveling the world, moving from Israeli to Paris to London, living off of whatever money he could make overseas. Eventually, he came back found a partner and started his own business, one that he knows how to run and has the connections to run because of his time traveling. My point is how can these journalists and researchers judge us so early in our lives. Everyone is more carefree at our age; we are trying to figure everything out, just like they did.

    Also, I took the How Millennial Are You? Quiz, and got a score of 53. Which according to the graph places me directly between Generation X and Generation Y. I’m curious what do my results mean, and what does it mean for how they are scoring their questions. Born in 1992, there is no question I have been raised as a part of the Millennial generation yet my score brings up the fact the individually it may not matter.

  6. There was an interesting opinion piece entitled “Millennial Searchers” published in the New York Times on Nov. 30th by Emily Esfahani Smith (editor for a Hoover Institution journal) and Jennifer L. Aaker (professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business) that speaks directly to the question you pose about what truly motivates Gen Y/Millennials and whether another “Great Depression” will affect the seemingly narcissistic moral bent of our generation.

    In the article, Smith and Aaker divide millennials into pre- and post-2008 economic downturn groups. They pinpoint the credit crisis of 2008 as a turning point in millennial mindsets, labeling the event “The Great Recession.” In a way, your question about whether we need another Great Depression to change the mindset of millenials has essentially occurred. The authors say that older millennials are driven by a desire to find happiness, which can reflect a “taker” or “materialistic” mindset. Millennials who “came of age during the Great Recession started reporting more concern for others and less interest in material goods.” This new generation of millennials has seen first hand the uncertainty of financial stability, the growing burden of student debt, the crash and slow recovery of the housing market, and a growing disparity in health care accessibility. Instead of taking their situation for granted, the authors argue that millennials are rethinking what it means to live a “successful life.”

  7. The aforementioned piece that Cody alludes to goes on to discuss the difference between “happiness” and “meaning.” According to the article, the term happiness is usually associated with being more self-oriented, being a “taker,” while a more meaningful life see themselves as other-oriented, or being a “giver.” After several research studies and various polls, the author’s concluded that the Millennial generation heavily identifies with the “giver” profile. Certainly we can draw parallels between these terms and the characteristics of Fitzgerald’s fictional figures.

    Gatsby seems to be a clear figurehead for the “taker” figure, taking what he want’s trying to fill the void in his life with materialistic facades, searching for happiness in things that he cannot have. But does that necessarily solidify his position outside the boundaries of the “giver” personality? He genuinely seems to believe that Daisy is the only person that can truly make him happy, convincing himself to do whatever is necessary to fulfill his dreams, no matter the cost. Who are we to say what demotes meaning in one person’s life? Life’s meaning continues to elude the most intelligent philosophers of the world, each trying in vain to carve out a meaning from amongst the chaos, searching for a truth they hope will bring serenity and happiness. Why can’t it be clothes?

  8. I took the quiz and scored 90 which I suppose isn’t surprising. However, it’s difficult for everyone in this generation not to feel a bit victimized by claims saying we are lazy and materialistic. Can we really be blamed for the selfish qualities that seem to come with our generation? I feel like I’m in a unique position as my parents were born very early on in the Baby Boom generation, which I would think suggests that I’d have the values of a somewhat-older generation. According to my quiz score, though, that is not the case. Therefore, it must not be our parents that influence this “Me Me Me Generation,” and since we obviously can’t change the fact that technology surrounds every aspect of our lives, what is to blame? Perhaps the influence of the media and advertising is what first jumpstarted this materialistic mindset which then turned into a situation of social conformity and wanting to have what everyone does. Whatever it is, I think our generation is different from the characters in “Gatsby” in that our motives don’t center as much around proving our wealth and status through materialism, but to almost conform to societal standards and stay connected, especially in terms of technology.

  9. We as millennials are negatively talked about so much in media today and, I just want to say, it kind of drives me nuts. That being said, I think it is important to see parallels between us and the characters of the Great Gatsby, as utterly materialistic as they seem. I think it’s also noteworthy to see that true relationship can still be found in Fitzgerald’s book, between his two main characters, though one might not call it a healthy one. All in all, this book can be a warning sign to us living in the 20th century to know when we’ve gone too far into ourselves.

  10. We as millennials are negatively talked about so much in media today and, I just want to say, it kind of drives me nuts. That being said, I think it is important to see parallels between us and the characters of the Great Gatsby, as utterly materialistic as they seem. I think it’s also noteworthy to see that true relationship can still be found in Fitzgerald’s book, between his two main characters, though one might not call it a healthy one. All in all, this book can be a warning sign to us living in the 20th century to know when we’ve gone too far into ourselves.

  11. Interesting post! I’ve also heard that millennials are often seen as lazy, technology dependent, and generally have it a little too easy. It reminds me of this youtube video I saw recently entitled “Millennials: We Suck and We’re Sorry” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4IjTUxZORE). In the video, millennials satirically point out that we have our own generational challenges to face, largely due to the choices of the generation before us. Although we’re the most educated generation to date, college costs “600% more” than it did for our parents, and we average $30,000 in student debt. We’re entering into a scarce job market, the after-effects of the housing bubble and foreign wars, and left with an “environmentally devastated planet”.

    The Great Gatsby generation seemed to face their own challenges too. While they’re living luxuriously, there is also a sense of disillusionment and unhappiness in the novel. It’s also important to note that in terms of racial and socioeconomic equality, we’ve arguably come a long way! It’s definitely interesting to note our similarities, but I think that demonizing or praising any specific generation is not a good idea. The “roaring twenties” and our own millennial generation are most definitely imperfect, but generally overall quality of life is improving in the U.S., and no one really knows yet what our generation will contribute.

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