The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
“Millennials are socially progressive and digitally savvy, but here are 50 cultural artifacts that leave them clueless.”
This quote opened a Rolling Stone listicle entitled “50 Things Millennials Have Never Heard Of.” This 2013 article appeared on my Facebook feed recently, and when I saw it, I had to chuckle to myself. “Oh, here’s another 30-50 something year old writer who feels the need to put down my generation,” I immediately thought. “I guess should read this and guffaw at this person’s misunderstanding of how smart I really am.”
Granted, they did prove me right in that I didn’t know everything on the list. I did count, and found that I knew roughly 30 of the 50 items on the list. I sort of fudged it because, while I might not know about an album that was released in 1993, I did know about the musician they wanted to act like I, a 23-year-old male, should know about and should feel ashamed for not knowing about. If anything, I found the whole article more confusing than enlightening. Instead of being aroused by curiosity to rediscover a ‘90’s TV star or a type of sneaker that has since fallen out of production, I was trying to understand why this list was made.
Who at Rolling Stone thought it would be a good idea to remind people that Lauren Holly was somewhat well known 20 years ago? Who thought it was super important to remember a bad TV show that lasted only one season? Why are these the cultural artifacts the writer (or writers, the list isn’t credited to any person or group of Rolling Stone writers) feel are most telling of the generational divide between Gen-Xers and Millennials?
For those who don’t want to look at the list, the items on the list are divided into six categories, from least represented to most populated:
I’m sure the idea Rolling Stone had was that these were the ephemera that are most significant of a bygone era. The main issue is that these categories are 1) extremely unbalanced and 2) esoteric for even those with the most rose-colored of glasses.
Here are my comments for each section, with the specific examples for each category listed:
Ex: Getting film developed
You are so full of shit, Rolling Stone. I developed film for a high school class when I was 18. I know people who still develop film. Yes, photography has moved to more digital platforms and devices, but there are still photo developing centers in pharmacies, so it’s not like this has been completely phased out as a practice in everyday life. People still need to go to them (I had to go to one earlier this year for a passport photo), so it’s not like it’s something completely unknown to those who were born after 1979. They see them every time they go into a CVS for candy or a Rite Aid for shaving cream.
Ex. Jack Palance’s Oscar Push Ups
Are you serious? You expect Millennials to remember one award show moment from 1992? For an actor who was in a movie most people don’t even talk about, much less watch (City Slickers)? Why not call out people for not knowing about Sacheen Littlefeather accepting an award in place of Marlon Brando as part of his plan to call out the treatment of Native Americans? Or even bringing up Sally Fields’ “You like me!” acceptance speech in the hopes that they might know where the speech originated?
Award show moments are generally meant to be ephemeral because people don’t rewatch award show ceremonies. If they do, it’s more likely to be a clip from a recent award show that was put on YouTube or Vimeo because those are the ones that can be recorded digitally and preserved. To act like one actor’s weird award acceptance moment was somehow better than all the others is quite asinine, especially since this isn’t even the weirdest thing you could do during an acceptance.
At the same time, this is the one event on the list. Really? There are no other moments that college-aged kids will be unable to understand? What about the fall of the Berlin Wall? That had more significance than some old guy doing push ups.
Ex. Ross Perot; Mikhail Gorbachev; The Bee Girl; Clyde Drexler; Kerri Strug
The first two are still taught in schools, so there’s no need to act like people my age won’t know about them. The third one was only relevant for a year if the blurb attached to her is correct. Why not ask people if they remember the girl from the Pepsi commercials in the late ‘90’s? Very few people remember her (I do, Hallie Eisenberg), but mascots and video kids generally don’t have the same staying power as the band or music video they were in. I doubt people know who Blind Melon is despite them making The Bee Girl super famous in 1993.
The last two are athletes. I vaguely knew who Clyde Drexler is, and I only know Kerri Strug because her coach, Bela Karolyi, has been parodied on shows like The Simpsons. Athletes come and go naturally, generally every year when teams are reshuffled and draft picks come in, so it’s not easy to remember every single player or their marketing campaigns. It’s probably harder for former athletes to stay relevant than actors and musicians, so it’s almost a given that Millennials might not know Clyde Drexler or confuse him with another player. However, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be unable to figure out who the person is. He's in a photo playing basketball. That immediately tells anyone born in 1995 that he was a pro basketball player.
Ex. Koosh Balls; Answering Machines; Leisure Suit Larry; Choose Your Own Adventure Novels; LaserDiscs; L.A. Gear Shoes; Floppy Discs; Dial Up Modems; Graphic Equalizers; TurboGrafx-16; Glass Joe from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out
This was where it the list started to get even worse for me. First of all, you are not clever if you’re trying to act like Millennials know what Floppy Discs are. That’s when your list reaches Kids React To… quality of generational narcissism. Second, a lot of these items aren’t even completely dated for my age group. I read Choose Your Own Adventure books in elementary and middle school. I had an answering machine in my house until we finally did away with our landline about five years ago. I remember a time when we had the internet and no cable modem, so we dealt with dial-up. I may not have seen a Graphic Equalizer, but I know what they do and have seen newer versions through college courses and student radio. I still know what a LaserDisc is. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out is introduced to any kid who plays a Super Smash Bros. game and wants to know who Little Mac is.
I feel that, when selecting items to put on this list, they wanted to go for things they knew were no longer used. The issue is that they really went for obvious options, and even some that haven’t been completely phased out if they had done research.
Ex. MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit”; Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch; Taylor Dane, “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog; “I Can’t Dance” by Genesis; Ice T’s “Colors”; Nelson; Bushwick Bill; Mister MacPhisto; Mark Knopfler
Most of the items on this list refer to specific musicians, songs, and people who were in the popular culture scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Why this was the specific era they were so fixated on is puzzling, but even worse is that there’s a real reason why most people don’t remember these: they weren’t good enough to last.
Yes, people still remember MC Hammer and Marky Mark even though they’re mostly known as jokes about lousy 90’s hip-hop was and exist for anyone who wants to try and discredit Mark Wahlberg’s film career. Yes, people remember Phil Collins was in a band before he went solo, and that Ice T had a career before Law and Order SVU. But who seriously longs for the days Taylor Dane was on the radio? Why is Temple of the Dog their one grunge act on this list? Why should we remember Bono’s ridiculous “character,” Mister MacPhisto?
If they were trying to remind people about music with substance and impact from the era like Salt-N-Pepa or Public Enemy, or even the cheesy by hilariously nostalgic stuff like Tiffany, it would be one thing. But most of these examples are even esoteric for the generation they’re trying to make feel better about being old and slightly irrelevant.
Ex. 227; Arli$$; Dinosaurs; David Faustino; Ellen Cleghorn; Jenna Von Oy; Hobie Buchanan from Baywatch; Reversal of Fortune, Cybill Shephard, Dabney Coleman, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Nick from Family Ties; Corin Nemec; Lauren Holly; Judge Reinhold; Keenan Ivory Wayans; Men at Work; Jason and Jeremy London; Fartman; Jaye Davidson; Wings; Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
I watched Dinosaurs and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Most people I know remember those. I saw reruns of Married With Children and knew who David Faustino was before he got a role on Legend of Korra. Some of the people on this list (Jenna Von Oy, Cybill Shephard, Dabney Coleman, Judge Reinhold, and Keenan Ivory Wayans) I knew from watching all those VH1 specials in the mid-2000s or because I found them on Wikipedia when I was looking up a movie from the '90's.
Like the above category, I don’t get why this list wants us to remember some of these things, or shame the reader for not knowing the figure or show. My dad watched Wings, I knew Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous because of the aforementioned VH1 specials, but why should I remember Parker Lewis Can’t Lose when it didn’t help Corin Nemec stay relevant? Why do I need to remember the Cousin Oliver from Baywatch when it seems more important to remember how it furthered the careers of David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson?
Why didn’t they try to remind people of good movies or shows from that era? Shows like The Golden Girls or Hill Street Blues that used comedy and drama respectively to address real issues? Or movies like The Silence of the Lambs or Raging Bull for being well made films that had long lasting impact?
The problem with a list like this is that it isn’t really trying to appeal to anyone. It doesn’t exist to remind people who were in their 20’s and 30’s in these eras of media they would have consumed, trends they might have followed, or even moments that could have affected them somehow. It’s trying to appeal to those who want to knock the current youthful generation down a peg. They want to act like it’s a bad thing to not know of certain moments or figures, but doesn’t even provide any that are worth knowing about. No one will want to listen to Bushwick Bill or try to make Reversal of Fortune a cult classic. They’re riding on the perceived notion of arrogance of the Millennial generation and are trying to bully them into thinking they’re dumb.
It didn’t work, obviously. Even though this article is two years old, none of the items on the list have suddenly become more well-known or experience a renaissance of popularity and cultural examination. But at the same time, I don’t think a list like this should exist to make Millennials feel better. Getting mad at it, or even trying to prove you’re better than the list by counting how many of the items you know, won’t actually make a difference. If anything, it adds to the perceived arrogance of my generation. I wanted to prove I was smarter than Rolling Stone thought I was. I wanted to hear other people agree that the list was dumb. I wanted to cross-examine and show what really survived the test of time. In a way, we’re just doing what they want.
So now what? We try to get back at them by making a list about what Millennials know but Gen-X’ers don’t? Well, Rolling Stone already did that, and it doesn’t make it better. While I did know nearly everything on that list, that list (which was published a week after the first) isn’t any more enlightening or informative. I’ll admit it won’t be important to remember Braceface or Gordo from Lizzie McGuire ten or twenty years from now, but it’s silly to assume the generation before mine doesn’t know what fucking Pinterest is. It’s like Rolling Stone made the second list to apologize for the first, but only found a way to make a whole other demographic annoyed.
Is this how it’s going to be from now on? Every generation is going to assume its ephemera was the best ephemera and that the newest generation should be ashamed and feel stupid for not knowing about it? If that’s the case, I think it shows every generation is almost identical. They’ve all got an inflated ego and a greater sense of importance than they actually have, and this contest of seeing who can spit the distance isn’t proving one is better than the other? It’s proving that both are willing to be crude and nonsensical to one-up the other.
I have a four year old brother. In ten years, he’ll be entering high school. I wonder what kind of lists he’ll read online and how he’ll perceive his generation and the generation before his. What’s going to be phased out of relevancy, even though thirty-something writers in 2025 might try to keep them alive? Here’s what I think a list like this could look like in 2025, for those who really, really, really want to act like this is the generation to remember, without actually examining why any of these are worth remembering years from now:
I can only hope that, if he encounters lists like these, he’ll be able to explain each of them to his peers. Or have the decency to go to a better website. Preferably the latter, but if he can quote the scene where Alexis Neiers calls the Vanity Fair reporter word for word, I’ll be a proud big brother.
#Real #Millennials #Listicles #GenerationalTension #BackInMyDay #Nostalgia
Visit our shop and subscribe. Sponsor us. Submit and become a contributor. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.