What the Hell is ‘Generation Y’?

(it probably stands for ‘Y are you writing two posts in one day, James?’ as I am doing now)

Having read The Guardian’s humorous Passnotes article about Generation Y, perhaps the only time a newspaper-encouraged piece of youth anarchy has been reported on in a non-condescending way by that very newspaper, I started wondering what the Hell is this Generation Y malarkey all about and, more importantly, why aren’t I involved?

‘Generation Y’ would appear to refer to The Guardian’s G2 magazine – a Guardian spin-off series in which the main characters of News, Sport and Politics have been replaced with their quirky cousins who got great ratings in that pilot episode, Comment, Features and Arts – and the fact that it is being run by ten young journalists for this week, starting today.

This is a, frankly, excellent idea: despite all of the headline rainbow-colouring of The Guardian, young people have been generally unrepresented in (basically all of) society – see the recent axing of BBC Three, which may not affect young people themselves too much, as we all watch stuff on iPlayer anyway, but it does suggest that things aimed directly at young people are somehow undeserving of a place alongside media aimed at older viewers. And I don’t think this is an issue of content, it’s an issue of age, with BBC Three reaching 26.3% of young adults (16-34) in 2008, and not having particularly more immature content than you see on Top Gear on the ‘respectable BBC Two.

And it’s encouraging to see young people involved in mainstream news as well, showing how we can be involved in current affairs beyond causing national panic by burning a bus or breaking some shop windows; The Guardian are suggesting that young people can critically and intelligently engage with the world around them – Wilde’s assertion that ‘any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it’ is pretty relevant in the world of journalism too.

Furthermore, these are the words of the young people in question, not misleading interviews conducted with drunk-looking YouTubers, to present the youth as some alien species with little grasp on reality or tasteful haircuts; instead of asking the question ‘Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?’, The Guardian is now flipping the issue to read ‘Here are some young Japanese people on not having sex’.

However, as the black background to this blog, which is indicative of mourning at the slow death of everything tangible and theoretical on this planet, would suggest, I’m not entirely optimistic about this Generation Y week: first of all, where the Hell did this generation come from?

I might just be particularly ignorant, but suddenly, all people born between the 1980s and the early 00s are part of this group that I don’ think anyone’s ever heard of; The Guardian uses the term alongside the ‘millennials’ and ‘the baby boomers’, well-known terms that might have been unexpected when first conceived of, but at least were named after an actual event, like the post-war increase in birth rate or the year 2000. The current ‘Generation Y’ is a crappy, almost patronising name that would appear to have copied the Pokémon school of naming (a series that seriously renamed a baby duck ‘Ducklett’).

Also, the supposed demographic of Generation Y makes no sense; the youngest of the ten journalists is 24, suggesting they were born in 1990, and so an entire decade of Generation Y is not represented in this initiative; I understand that representing every conceivable person is practically impossible, and risks caricaturising the journalists into upholders of generic and demeaning ideals, but considering the introductory page on The Guardian boasts up the fact that they ‘have ten different backgrounds, have lived in 18 countries … and speak 10 languages’ would suggest a focus on representing as many people as possible, which is inconsistent with the age of the journalists.

The age of these journalists is even more problematic in their use of the Doge meme in declaring ’Such content, many wow.’ It’s a nice touch to include the meme-of-the-minute in an article about young people, but I feel it is a little patronising; the Doge meme is a very recent addition to the Pantheon of online gods, and so to associate the youth with ti suggests our values and ideas are equally temporary and impressionable; if these people really are part of Generation Y, surely they would try to use some classic memes (All your base are belong to us, anyone?), to assert a sense of history and legitimacy to online culture, that it is about the spread of ideas over time, not photshopping a Sheba Innu’s head onto a colourful background and Snapchatting it to your friends.

Generation Y claims to be for those of us born around the turn of the century, but I for one dislike the painful speed and urgency of the Internet to come up with something new every four seconds; if The Guardian is trying to get people of my age interested in this Generation Y thing, they should do so in a way that celebrated the Internet as the legitimate form of employment and art that older teenagers know it to be, not just a source of funny animal pictures.

And this is the real problem with Generation Y: who the Hell is invited to this great party of youthful Doge-retweeting and idealistic society-fixing? The individual focus of The Guardian’s introductory article, in accompanying a bio of each journalist with their own goals and ideas, places the focus on the needs and issues of those ten individuals, rather than on specific problems that all young people can identify with; one woman’s interest lies in ‘ethnic diversity in the UK media’, but that’s way too specific to the UK, ethnicity and the media industry to get me interested in a meaningful sense. I might link to an article of hers on Facebook, but that’s probably about as far as my interest would go.

This isn’t so much a criticism of the journalists, or even The Guardian, it’s an inherent problem with using individuals to express the desires of the many. However, I can criticise Generation Y through its clunky approach to these problems: there is no obvious involvement with young people beyond the ten journalists, and their inclusion of Buzzfeed editorial director Jack Shepherd only reinforces the idea of the existence of an online digerati, rather than an absence of it, and I feel that this week’s attempt to put genuine publishing power in the hands of the young will result in the same vague clichés and assumed values being presented to the mainstream media: young people like sex, they like the Internet, and they’re all ethnically diverse enough to star in a Rise Against music video.

Part of this is basic hate at a lack of emphasis on the ‘cynical bastard’ side of the Internet that I attach my flag to, but a greater part is my increasing awareness of the fact that human society is simply too big for humanity; the seven billion bipedal shaved apes that inhabit this rock, and their millions of different cultural, societal and individual values, means that no progress can be made without generalising someone, somewhere, to actually obtain the information to make a decision on something.

I’m just annoyed that the best chance young people have had so far to get our points across to the mainstream media may well be squandered, because we can put a Doge on the moon, but can’t think of an appropriately democratic system to present ourselves to the wider world.


Generation Y – Passnotes

Generation Y – The Issues

Generation Y – Home

Young People in Japan and Sex

BBC Three viewer figures

London Riots – bus-burning

London Riots – window-breaking

TomSka on Sky News

Pokemon X and Y

Moon Doge!

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