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Talkin’ ’Bout Your Generation
  • November 15, 2013 : 00:11
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HEROES

Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jay Z, Kurt Cobain, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, Jawed Karim, Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, J.K. Rowling, Dave Eggers, Tiger Woods

VILLAINS

Kanye West, Lance Armstrong, Kobe Bryant, John Mayer, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alex Rodriguez, Charlie Sheen, Jesse James, Tiger Woods

WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR

Slacking. And changing the world. The children of MTV and Reaganomics came out of the gate the radiant products of divorce, a broken political process, an AIDS epidemic, yuppie materialism and diminished prospects amid a cavalcade of financial meltdowns. Written off as detached and disenfranchised, they’ve shown serious entrepreneurial skills, transforming our lives with Google, YouTube, Amazon and more.

WHAT WE THINK OF THEM

Boy, that ambiguous X sure has come in handy. A generation devoted to fighting corruption, embracing diversity and searching for personal freedom has desperately sought a sense of security. The same group that excelled at education and volunteerism can’t seem to shake its slacker reputation. The young adults who put off having families of their own are hitting middle age only to confront the same nagging question: “How am I going to pay the rent?”

WHAT THEY’D RATHER YOU NOT KNOW

While they’d have you believe they hold the patent on existential angst (grunge, anyone?), Gen Xers are actually “active, balanced and happy,” according to a 2011 study. Pessimistic about marriage? Bah. A higher percentage of them stay together compared with Boomers, and a majority claim to enjoy the institution. They’re social, hardworking, devoted parents—a generation that has grown into “technologically savvy, adventurous pragmatists.”

SHINING EXAMPLE

If the man once known as Shawn Carter had simply gone from rags to riches, he’d be like many who came before him. But in becoming Jay Z, a symbol of human potential realized, he’s like no one else. In a mere 20 years, the kid from Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects has gone from dopeman to superman—a hip-hop hall of famer turned visionary entrepreneur with a net worth of approximately $500 million. Businessman, family man, Beyoncé’s man, Jigga Man snapped the slacker stereotype without losing an ounce of integrity.

NOT-SO-SHINING EXAMPLE

On August 24, 2012 the United States Anti-Doping Agency concluded that champion cyclist Lance Armstrong had engaged in “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” In that moment the poster child for triumph over adversity, who inspired a generation to live strong, was revealed to be a one-man force of corruption—and a real a-hole.

BOTTOM LINE

The apathy and cynicism you’ve heard about—never mind.

HEROES

Mark Zuckerberg, Beyoncé, David Karp, Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham, Adele, Kevin Systrom, Serena Williams, Jennifer Lawrence, Frank Ocean, Sandra Fluke

VILLAINS

Kim Kardashian, LeBron James, Lindsay Lohan, Michael Vick, Casey Anthony, Chris Brown, Paris Hilton, Anne Hathaway, Ryan Braun, Aaron Hernandez, Justin Bieber

WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR

They’re digital natives: Millennials who tried to quit social media showed the same symptoms as drug addicts in withdrawal. They’re children of the Great Recession, which has left them overeducated, underemployed perpetual tenants of their helicopter parents. Still, the generation most responsible for electing Barack Obama is nothing if not open-minded and optimistic about the future.

WHAT WE THINK OF THEM

Our opinion changes about as often as their Facebook status. A knowing, media-savvy generation, they grew up fast, sexting before it was even a word. The fact that fewer of them drive, uncertain as to whether they need or even want a car, simultaneously confuses and impresses their elders. Coddled from the crib, they lack the gumption to leave the nest and achieve. Yet, paradoxically, they’re entrepreneurial and have excelled outside the confines of the cubicle—though maybe not as much as their profiles would have us believe.

WHAT THEY’D RATHER YOU NOT KNOW

They’ve earned the nickname the Me Me Me Generation for a reason: They’re three times more likely than Boomers to have narcissistic personality disorder. Materialism and a lofty sense of entitlement—minus the means to realize their caviar dreams—have contributed to breathtaking delusions of grandeur. Moreover, Generation Y is arguably the most medicated on record, their hazy state and sedentary social-media lifestyle contributing to a rise in obesity and its BFF, diabetes.

SHINING EXAMPLE

“I think that I may be the voice of my generation…or at least a voice…of a generation.” So sort-of declares Hannah Horvath, a girl among Girls, HBO’s breakthrough dramedy. Hannah’s assertion may have more legitimacy than she seems to believe. Creator Lena Dunham does what television has never done before, honestly, unsparingly capturing the lives of a generation’s young women, albeit a narrow slice of white, privileged, self-obsessed young women. Love her or hate her (you’d be in good company either way), Dunham is a quadruple-threat writer-producer-director-star with a singular vision.

NOT-SO-SHINING EXAMPLE

In the annals of teen idoldom, Justin Bieber is unique in that he’s totally a product of social media. With his 45 million Twitter followers, his zany antics—urinating in public, spitting in faces, refusing to wear shirts, hoping Anne Frank would’ve been a “Belieber”—are inescapable, threatening to turn him into a pop-culture pariah in record-breaking time.

BOTTOM LINE

The most connected generation is still trying to make a connection.

HEROES

Suri Cruise, the Jolie-Pitt brood

VILLAINS

Honey Boo Boo, North West

WHAT WE THINK OF THEM

If Generation Y is optimistic, its successors are realistic. Can you blame them? They’ve known nothing but a post-9/11 world of terrorism, crippling recession, climate change and school violence. Understandably, they take their entertainment dark and dystopian, with characters rising above grim circumstances to create a better way of life for all. Watching their parents grapple with unemployment and their Gen-Y elders move back home will make them financially conservative and savvy. Hyperconnected from conception, they’re set to speed through childhood like a runaway train, likely emerging the most diverse, inquisitive, globally aware generation in history.

BOTTOM LINE

The jury’s still out.

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read more: Celebrities, politics, issue december 2013

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