So, the Millennials and Digitals are less … aggressive than the Boomers were. They aren’t as strident or as chipper as they Boomers were—but they are more stylish. The Millennials and Digitals are going to change the world—are already changing it—in a quietly disruptive way. A politely disruptive way that will ultimately be constructive. Because one of the many things to admire about the younger generations is that they are creators, as well as consumers. They create as well as consume culture, entertainment, design, goods, and technology. And they not only create—they share what they create. With everyone, and anyone. Often for free. They create for the sake of the act of creation, not to become billionaires (although that does, sometimes, happen along the way).
For this new youth, the act of creation is more important than the perfection of that which is created. The artifacts produced and widely shared by the Millennials and Digitals often have an appealingly hand-crafted, heartfelt, “let’s put on a show in the barn” quality. Everything from music to art to video to gadgetry to throw pillows should have a texture—a smudge here, a stray thread showing there. Artifacts that glow with shiny-bright perfection are either dismissed by the M’s and D’s as too finished, or consumed by the M’s and D’s as an act of conscious irony.
What I admire most about the M’s and D’s is their appreciation for the past. Not merely the recent past, but distant (by the American reckoning of time, anyway) history. Shawl collars are back—for men—as are pork pie hats and big dark-framed eyeglasses. And while young men today appear to have stepped out of time machines installed in the 1920’s, 30’s, or 40’s, young women echo the sartorial time warp in their vintage Depression-era dresses and chunky shoes, or their seventies Boho silhouettes. These retro-clad young hipsters are moving into affordably shabby gentrified lofts and houses, and downloading onto their“i”-everythings selections of digitized vinyl classics that could have been heard wafting from open windows on Tin Pan Alley or Don Draper’s apartment.
Which is not to say that today’s young people are not forward-looking. While the M’s and D’s are visiting, even basking in, the past, they are creating the future, which promises to be an increasingly diverse, creative, and communal world, if its designers and future inhabitants are any indication. But our youth has no problem shifting amorphously from the present to the future to the past, and back again, endlessly, and effortlessly.
It’s no accident that many of the programs, films, and video games most popular with this demographic feature supernatural creatures—often stylish reboots of very old classics (see “Grimm” or “Dracula” or “I, Frankenstein” or the “Mass Effect” games). These supernatural beings are typically diverse (racially, ethnically, socioeconomically), but they are always beautiful, frequently ancient, sometimes immortal.
An important quality is their connectedness. Whether they are trying to save the world, or trying to destroy it, they are all up in each other’s business. Among these highly social, communal creatures, one person’s problem or secret or drama ends up impacting everyone else, usually in unexpected ways. Therefore, one person’s problem or secret or drama belongs to everyone.
It is this connectedness that makes it clear that these supernatural beings are avatars for the M’s and D’s (the generations who are linked to each other, almost every moment of every day, via text messages, social media sites, multiplayer online games, and share-sites YouTube and Instagram and Vine). The fictional, supernatural heroes and villains portray how Millennials and Digitals see themselves, or want to see themselves. The fictional worlds the M and D’s avatars inhabit are aspirational as much as they are reflective. M’s and D’s have identified with supernatural characters, banded together in diverse, close-knit, purposeful tribes, since the first episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (arguably the prototype for this sort of ensemble) enthralled teen Millennials in the mid-1990’s.
View any 2014 episode of “Dracula” or “Sleepy Hollow” or“The Originals” or “Reign” (or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for that matter) and we see tightly linked groups of beautiful young people who are heroic and witty and talented and tolerant and flawed—yes, even “the bad guys”. Their lives are deeply entwined. They all have purpose. And they seem to slip effortlessly between different historical periods, through time and space, fantasy and reality, just as modern technology has allowed the M’s and D’s to shuttle along non-linear paths between the real and the virtual, to experience history, to listen to music and wear clothing from eras that seemed “old” even to their grandparents.
“Wired” (the February 2014 issue) and Chuck Klosterman (in“Eating the Dinosaur”) remark upon the way the past, present, and future are collapsing. These kids today—they can (and do) listen to Frank Sinatra, watch painstakingly restored footage of early 20th-century battles and historical events on an electronic device that they can hold in their hands, wear the aforementioned shawl collars (un-ironically), and stream episodes of "Supernatural” or read a digitized copy of Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula” at the tap of an icon.
Because the past is deeply, instantly present for today’s young people, one thing you will find them doing in droves is revitalizing lovely old buildings—entire neighborhoods, even—that have fallen on hard times. Today’s youth sign petitions to save these places, and rent or buy property at these locations, and attend meetings and rallies and fundraisers to resurrect the past in all its glory.
They apply their DIY creativity to open bars and cafés and restaurants and stores in these “undead” neighborhoods, in a conscious effort to revitalize them, to galvanize them back to life. The M’s and D’s who cannot afford to open bars or restaurants or stores patronize them. The simple acts of drinking, eating, and shopping therefore become meaningful because those acts, in those locations, support a greater cause, fostering a building (or neighborhood, or city-wide) renaissance.
Wherever they live, drink, eat, or shop, the M’s and D’s are recording their experiences in words and images, and sharing the experiences via the worldwide electronic membrane, a medium that is increasingly become a quasi-real “place” populated by the people we wish we were (and kind of are) and the surgically extracted moments of our lives that we not only want to preserve but want to communicate to others. Nearly everything has become communal. Our image, and bits and pieces of our lives, once uploaded, become omnipresent and eternal and the de facto property of all.
The tendency of the M’s and D’s to commune and communicate is outstanding for historical preservationists, particularly in Downtown Los Angeles, where legions of hipster Millennials and Digitals have moved in and are reclaiming the once-blighted landscape. They are not tearing down old properties in a mad rush to build the new. Rather, they are thoughtfully, appreciatively resurrecting the long-neglected beauty that was already there under layers of peeling paint, crumbling drywall, and icing-thick graffiti.
Our young citizens don fedoras, checked jackets, vintage dresses and boots, and attend preservation events. Such gatherings are often held at “new” venues that conscientiously revive bygone worlds: vinyl record shops, classic diners, gloriously restored golden-age movie palaces. And, of course, the M’s and D’s record and then share their impressions of these events, the sounds and words and images, spreading the message, raising the profile of the cause, driving up interest.
When is the last time a vast population of young people was so entranced by what came before them? One glaring example: Millennials and Digitals wear three-piece suits and top hats and flapper gowns to Disneyland on“Dapper Days”. If you have attended one of these stylish events, you know that almost without exception Dapper Day attendees, with their parasols and suspenders and pocket watches and canes, range in age from fifteen to thirty-five. These are the youths who watch the ubiquitously popular ghost-hunting programs more for the historical content than for the ghosts. This genuine reverence for the past is a generational hallmark not seen, perhaps, among our youth, since before the Great War.
There are, of course, posers among the M’s and D’s, as there are in any group. There are young men and young women who dress like hipsters and listen to Doris Day and Tweet about“Supernatural” merely to be part of their generation, merely to ensure that their selfies and their social media pages are in line with their peers’. However, posers seem to be a small subculture. And the M’s and D’s, being particularly earnest and self-policing generations, have a nose for sniffing out the most egregious and obnoxious poseurs in their midst and dealing with them in the global stocks of the worldwide web.
I admire the Millennials and Digitals immensely, nearly everything about them. The Mr. Wilsons of the world need to take their nerve medicine and go lie down. Let the M’s and D’s go about their creative, non-linear travel among time and space as they construct our brave new worlds.
Yet … I can’t suppress a slight feeling of unease whenever I see advertisements for uber-popular cable program “The Walking Dead”. Because when I see the rotting zombies scurrying after the pretty young cast, I can’t quite shake the feeling that the fleet-footed zombie slayers reflect the M’s and D’s, whereas the zombies shambling after them in a disorganized, uncoordinated ballet … that’s my generation.
I don’t know—yet—exactly what that means, but the zombies are GenX, infected with … what? With some defect that the M’s and D’s escaped, most likely—and quite paradoxically—because GenXers have been such excellent parents? If so, it isn’t right … and it isn’t fair … but, somehow, the zombie is me.