Millennials, my generation, get a bad rap. A lot of it is completely deserved, we’re certainly selfish and spoiled but who spoiled us? Our parents generation may have had it rough, but we’re also having a tough time in this recession. A couple years ago a bunch of studies came out showing that Millenials are the first American generation to do worse than their parents. Our parents had pressures and stresses, but of a completely different kind than ours. Many (or maybe most?) parents of Millenials in the Boomer generation were forced into jobs and roles they weren’t ‘suited’ to. The idea wasn’t to be happy, but to be working. But my generation grew up with the idea that we should find something that makes us happy, aren’t we lucky? But with this privilege comes the responsibility to actually be happy; easier said than done.
The existential crisis of the Millennial generation won’t be middle aged men finding themselves in jobs they don’t enjoy and women having Friedan-like awakenings. We had the pressure to like Joseph Campbell, ‘Follow Your Bliss’ and probably picked job we were suited for (we probably didn’t go for the money, because chances are we’re not gonna make enough in any job). As a result we have to deal with the guilt of being unhappy in a job we ‘should’ be happy in. This pressure is immense.
As I struggle with this responsibility myself and go back to grad school I’ve noticed other characters asking the same questions about privilege and class and responsibility to be happy. In Doris Lessing’s the Golden Notebook, Tommy Portmain, the protagonist’s twenty-something son struggles to find himself. As the son of a bohemian mother and a wealthy businessman father he tries to decide whether to be poor and fulfilled or rich and empty (like I said, our generation is probably going to be poor anyway, so we might as well be fulfilled). He envies the milkman with no education, “he hasn’t any choice at all. He’s got a scholarship, and if he fails to make the exam, he’ll spend his life delivering milk with his father. But if he passes, and he will, he’ll be up in the middle-class with us.” “A hundred things to do, but only one thing to be,” he said, obstinately. “But perhaps I don’t feel myself worthy of such a wealth of opportunity?”
It’s similar to Matt Damon’s character in School Ties, who envies Brendan Frasier’s character, “Cause if you get what you want, you’ll deserve it. And if you don’t…you’ll manage. You don’t have to live up to anyone else’s expectations.”
Brendan Frasier and the Milkman’s son can always blame their unhappiness on their circumstance, but how do the privileged justify their malaise, or even their bad days? They’re struggling with the responsibility of their wealth and privilege but also with the pressure of being happy.
their crisis subsides as they grow up. Tommy find contentment in disability, SPOILER ALERT – after a botched suicide attempt leaves him blind, he marries well and lives off a disability check. He never had to sell his soul for money (always having been a supporter of the government teet) and he gets to read and write and love and travel. Matt Damon’s character doesn’t get an epilogue but according to his own predictions, he’ll end up at Harvard, becoming a businessman like his family. More importantly to the plot of the movies he’ll still be an asshole. In our society it’s hard to sympathize for those who come from privilege so raw and explicit. As well it probably should be, but that isn’t to say that life isn’t difficult.