Demanding, impatient, spoiled, bad at communicating — allegedly these are the character traits of "Generation Y". Originally used in 1993 to describe children born between 1980 and 2000, the label has been featured in the media quite a lot lately.
In the January 20 Sunday Telegraph, social demographer Bernard Salt dubbed Melbourne teenager Corey Delaney a "pin up" boy for our generation. Delaney shot to fame after holding a party in his family's house in the south-eastern suburb of Narre Warren while his parents were away that resulted in an estimated $20,000 worth of damage. He is being held up as the stereotyped narcissism and immaturity of GenY. GenY is also claimed to be unable to spell, add numbers without a calculator and be workplace slackers. Delaney got me thinking — what is it about GenY and why is our generation being attacked? (And what else is there to do in Narre Warren?)
Salt described us as the "most expensively dressed generation ever" and as having all our material needs met by our parents. While one can always find at least one person to fit a stereotype, the sweeping generalisation that this generation is used to "luxuries of suburban wealth" and routinely spoilt with material possessions such as iPods and designer clothes doesn't sit well with the findings of a 2005 UN report. When one in seven children in Australia is living in poverty (in the US it is one in five), it can hardly be said everyone is leeching off their wealthy parents.
Such criticisms are hardly new. For example the following quote could have been lifted straight from one of the recent attacks on Generation Y: "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, for authority; they allow disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children now are tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers." But it isn't recent at all. It's a quote generally attributed to Plato from around 400BC.
The ridiculous notion that one can stereotype people within a 20-year age bracket, and the invention of such "demographics" by marketers to sell their product, ignores the progressive role that students and youth play.
In the '60s, in the First World, protests against the Vietnam War — and the revolutionary upsurge in France in 1968 — were led and maintained by students and youth. In the Third World, young people played leading roles in national liberation struggles, including taking up arms. But it's not just in the '60s that young people rose up against the system, it is continuing today.
Our generation has lived through 11 years of the Howard government and its stripping away of workers' rights and the launching of the war on terror, and we have felt the quickening onset of global environmental crisis.
A large chunk of this generation have only had one chance to vote — the recent federal elections — so have had to involve themselves in politics in other ways. One would have difficulty condemning the whole generation as apathetic and ignorant if notice is taken of the role of youth and students in protest. Younger people have been and will continue to speak out against the war and the government of the day — be it Labor or Liberal. Last year young people staged walkouts against US President George Bush coming to Australia and organised youth contingents at protests such as the "Walk against Warming".
Changes in family structure, including the effect of two working parents has on home life and the increased divorce rate, and changes in the workplace, with worse conditions and less job security are seldom recognised as impacting on Generation Y. Instead Facebook, YouTube and the internet in general are seen as having created a generation of gossips. Texting is seen as ruining language and communication skills.
But this technology is just changing the way that we communicate. Facebook for example, is a social networking website that can be used as a blog or space in which to organise extra-large parties, but it can also be used to reach out to other young people, join progressive causes and find out about upcoming meetings and protests to get involved in.
An awareness of the damaged state of the world we will inherit is generating a mass sentiment for change. But it is not enough just to realise that there is a problem. We must take action and we must do it now. Generation Y is the generation that will play a huge part in bringing about the necessary changes to build a socially just and ecologically sustainable world. Resistance, as an organisation of young socialist activists, helps this by putting forward an alternative to the corporate-friendly system that is wrecking lives and destroying the planet and by giving young people a chance to take action in the struggle for a brighter future.
[For more information about Resistance visit <http://www.resistance.org.au>.]