“I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish, and shallow.” —Joel Stein, Time Magazine, May 2013
As Millennials deal with the current rise of Gen Z, they face the eventual shift every demographic inevitably goes through—finding the younger set “less than” in one way or another.
Just as the Baby Boomers contended with the general apathy and ennui of Gen X, Millennials are now learning about the self-consciousness and overall unease of their younger counterparts—those born straight into the era of Instagram and Snapchat.
According to Time Magazine’s controversial 2013 cover story, “The Me Me Me Generation”, the Millennial generation encompasses those born from 1980 to 2000, the actual turn of the millennium. Because they have borne the brunt of being called everything from narcissistic to lazy, entitled to fragile, it would be easy to conclude that today’s twenty- and mid- thirtysomethings would be wearing huge chips on their shoulders.
Idealism is one quality worn loud and proud by this generation, despite and in spite of all the criticism that blankets them. With the vast majority of these folks willing to shell out their money on everything from individualized workout regimes to life coaching, artisanal or healthy meal plans to self improvement apps, it’s quick to see that Millennials are constantly striving for betterment.
While their income may be considerably less than the generations before them, they’re determined to spend their cash on the things that make life better, whatever “better” may actually mean.
The constant push to be better, do better, make the world a better place is unique to the Millennial set. A leap in the opposite direction from the general disillusionment of Gen X, and a total and absolute departure from the old school methods of the Boomers, Millennials live their lives alongside an alternate reality where they exist as healthier, shinier, glossier versions of themselves.
The coming of age of the Millennial has crossed lines with the rise of social media and the phenomenon of people presenting the best versions of themselves online. Expectation versus reality has never become more visceral than today. Whereas Oprah’s “live your best life” mantra was a nebulous concept and spiritual mantra before, it has become something to reach for, grasp at, and show off because of the internet.
The social media savvy have become incredibly adept at it—presenting only the best versions of themselves online, creating a need, desire, and ache in everyone else to reach for exactly what they’re shilling. These are this generation’s Life Pegs—the ones we’re aspiring to embody, transform into, and sometimes even topple off their pedestals.
“Talk about something cool, like food or clothes or Joan Didion!” —Ingrid Thorburn, Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Topical dark comedy Ingrid Goes West tells the story of a highly imbalanced social media stalker, trying desperately to shape and form herself into her favorite Instagram influencer’s life. Ingrid, played by a brilliantly sinister Aubrey Plaza, works her way to LA to meet Instafamous Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). What starts out as an online fascination with Taylor’s fashion, style, and overall “perfect” taste in life becomes an unhinged, disturbing, and overall dangerous obsession.
And we’re all guilty of it, aren’t we?
Who hasn’t bookmarked someone on social media in the hopes of capturing even a tiny smidge of their socalled perfect lives?
The #Goals phenomenon is responsible for the hundreds of views, bookmarks, comments, and shares of some of today’s most popular celebrities. Think: Anne Curtis and Erwan Heussaff’s New Zealand wedding video spinning off Pinterest board upon Pinterest board for newly engaged folks, or onscreen couples like James Reid and Nadine Lustre’s paparrazi shots inspiring young ‘uns and not-so young ‘uns to Tinder their way to a picture-perfect romance.
Beyond the glare of showbiz, no matter what you’re into, there’s a Life Peg out there for you. Makeup aficionados, fashion stylists, independent musicians, poets, high-powered solo entrepreneurs, health and wellness luminaries, even stay-at-home mom multihyphenates and social justice warriors.
Vanity Fair, in a 2015 piece entitled “Do Millennials Really Deserve Their Bratty Reputation?” purports that “millies” require a “constant drizzle of compliments and acknowledgements.” The dopamine hit delivered by Likes, views, comments, and shares provides easy access to this sense of validation.
And with the (sometimes impossible, sometimes inflated) benchmark set by all the Life Pegs that have become so easy to access these days, it’s easy to fall into the trap of influencer-worship—of crossing that very delicate line between inspiration and obsession, reality and expectation.
What makes the fine distinction between what’s real and what isn’t is further distorted by how social media has short-circuited the connection between public and those with public personas. Now that we can tweet our praises to Dua Lipa, mock Lena Dunham directly on her Instagram comments, or feel like we’re actually friends with the Queer Eye guys, what they present to us as their reality becomes so much more palatable, believable, and easy to buy into.
When your favorite ‘grammer replies to the multitude of heart eyes you posted on her latest PR unboxing on IG Stories, or that singer you’ve been following on the underground circuit actually tells you she recognizes you from all the times you’ve showed up at her gigs (*gasp*), there no longer lies a glass wall between you and the person you aspire to be.
The Greatest Show
People (and even those in the public eye) have struggled to shatter the idea of celebrity by keeping it authentic on social media. Taylor Swift’s entire Reputation album, for example, is: a) a tongue-in-cheek comeback at all the backlash she’s gotten, b) an exposition on what’s gone down behind the scenes, c) another Swift career maneuver, and / or d) all of the above.
When even authenticity becomes a buzzword in and of its own, it’s difficult to say whether the person whose life has become ultimate #Goals to you is really the person you want to become. Chances are, not a hundred percent… because no one can show a full 360° view of one’s life, no matter what medium, channel, or platform you’re on.
Opt-in to Autonomy
No matter where you stand on the idea of #Goals—bordering on manic Ingrid Goes West addiction or keeping a safe distance, the responsibility of choosing how far you want to go between someone else’s perceived reality and your own expectations of yourself is entirely up to you. ■