An American comedian has destroyed the idea that millennials are lazy narcissists

‘Millennials don’t exist’

If you’re tired of hearing older people call you a “millennial” and write off your entire generation as lazy and spoiled, channel 33-year-old comedian Adam Conover.

Invited to give a speech at a marketing conference on “how to market to millennials”, Adam went wildly off-book to tell his audience that, actually, millennials don’t exist.

Referring to a TIME magazine front cover story on “The Me Me Me Generation”, Adam says: “I don’t mean that literally 20-year-olds don’t exist…What I mean is that the current cultural image of the millennial we see in the media – the lazy, entitled narcissist who lives with their parents and takes photos of herself on her phone – does not exist.”

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TIME’s millennial-slating front cover from three years ago

He goes on to warn against the pandering attitudes of a lot of youth-targeted advertising: “I know a lot of 20-year-olds; not a lot of them stand in front of hand-drawn graffiti of social media jargon. They use Facebook but they don’t really like it. They’re not like ‘oh Social! That’s my lifestyle’. Millennials hate this shit. They hate it, they can’t stand it.” Preach, man.

Millennials is just an invented label

As Adam reminds his audience, generations don’t really exist. They’re just labels invented by writers hoping to get rich. He gives the example of Generation X which was coined by Douglas Copeland, a novelist. Following the success of Copeland’s novel, dozens of names for the next generation were tossed out there in what Adam describes as a “gold-rush”, with each writer hoping to come up with the one that sticks. Before Millennials stuck, failed names included Echo Boomers, The Net Generation and the very unoriginal Generation Y.

The lucky people to coin millennials were Neil Howe and William Strauss, two American historians. Since inventing the term, Adam says: “They’ve made a ton of money, I believe they’re millionaires. They founded a company called Life Course Associates…and they consult for huge firms.” Of course, the fact they’ve done so doesn’t prove they know what they’re talking about.

Older generations have complained about younger generations for millennia

To illustrate how generations are just a way for “older people to talk smack to younger people” Adam goes on to show how many of the complaints made about young people today have always been made about young people. It even goes back as far as Hesiod, history’s first economist in Ancient Greece, who said: “[Young people] only care about frivolous things. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly…impatient of restraint.”

As Adam puts it: “Old people have been saying ‘When I was a boy’ since there have been boys.”

Adam Conover

Adam Conover: ‘Almost any statement made about millennials is going to be false by virtue of how diverse they are’

Nowhere is this shown better than in the embittered complaining of old out-of-touch journalists. In 1968, a LIFE magazine article written by Ernest Fladell said baby boomers didn’t understand what it meant “to make a living”. In 1985, Newsweek ran a cover story criticising young people for being “The Video Generation”, obsessed with filming their lives on portable cameras. In 1990, Gen X-ers were described by Time as “Laid back, late blooming or just lost?”. Even Time’s 2013 cover story was a rip-off of a New York magazine article from 1976 about the “Me Decade”. Over and over again, the same story is basically being updated and re-printed.

All of this is obvious to young people. We know we’re not a generation of narcissists and we can tell when advertisers and journalists are being condescending. We don’t need our politicians to speak to us in emojis or TV shows called Selfie and we can’t be grouped together under one catch-all name. As Adam tells his audience of marketing professionals, we aren’t a monolith, we’re the most diverse generation of people ever.

All we really have in common is we’re young.