“That’s so millennial”; the phrase making those in their late twenties to late thirties shiver in their boots. I hear this phrase more and more now and as an elder member of Gen Z (born just before 2000) it honestly makes me feel bad for my millennial peers. The phrase connotes a sense of cringe more than anything else. It perhaps epitomises a parody of washed 30- and 40-somethings who still talk about their Hogwarts houses having a ‘love a latte’ sticker on their laptop.
But how did this pivotal generation go from a dominant up-and-coming cool demographic to a synonym for cringe? And so recently too? The answer is more complicated than “millennials got old.” The internet got bigger and easier to join; algorithms determined more of what we saw and did on it; groups of people learned how to wield irony as a weapon on a macro scale; the pace at which culture evolved sped up so that only those who spent all their time online could parse through the layers.
Humour, arguably, sits at the centre of what determines the tone of an internet generation. The internet, or, more specifically, the act of consuming vast amounts of algorithmically driven content, has broken and hardened us; it has made us feel as if we are laughing at things from five or 10 or even one year ago, that means we are embarrassed and washed. The pace of the internet is now long past “imagine explaining this to a caveman”; we’re at “imagine explaining this to someone three weeks ago.” Good comedy, though, shouldn’t have to adhere to the frenetic pace at which the internet runs. Niche communities, due to TikTok and its vast yet hyper tailored algorithms, are thriving. You might build an entirely new community out of what you feel like is a niche genre of comedy, but really it was probably done 10 years ago and people forgot or grew out of it.
In regards to when the transition (from relevant to cringe) happened for millennials and I think we can blame the pandemic. Millennials began to lose ‘it’ status when the oldest turned 40 this year. While the youngest millennials are just 25, the vast majority of the generation are no longer in their 20s. A term even popped up to describe the oldest cohort, much to the internet’s chagrin: geriatric millennial.
This homeowning millennial isn’t the avocado toast-loving, Instagram-obsessed, living-with-their-parents millennial that the world has learned to love and hate. That title – at least an altered version – now goes to Gen Z with oat lattes replacing avocado toast TikTok for Instagram.
Perhaps, therefore, millennials are cringe because the majority of them have got – or are getting – their shit together?