HBO

From Millennials To ‘Snake People,’ Here's Why We Really Love-Hate These Labels

What you call -- and think -- about millennials says more about you than them. And it's nothing new.

If you were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, you've probably been called lazy, narcissistic, incapable of human interaction, digitally savvy, highly educated, your family's go-to tech expert, socially conscious, a millennial -- but let's just call you what you really are: young.

Older people have had a problem with young people since, literally, the beginning of time. For thousands of years, young people have been treated as walking reminders of society's failures. Let me give you an example:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

No, this quote didn't come from the latest millennial-bashing think piece. It came from Socrates who, by the way, died in 399 BCE.

As a millennial myself, I don't view "millennial" as a slur or a superlative -- I view it, simply, as a word. A totally neutral title attributed to a group of people born during a certain period of time (from about 1982 to 2004, according to researchers). I know some people feel differently, and that's fair. Some very clever people have even invented a Google Chrome extension that replaces every use of the word "millennial" with "snake people." Personally, I'm not overly concerned with the word millennial but I am infinitely fascinated by the persistent discomfort -- and reverence -- youth represents.

If you're a millennial/snake person, you already know this feeling all too well. We use smartphones more than any generation before us. We're extremely digitally literate, and lauded for our dexterity. When you come home for winter break, you immediately become the person to a) fix the printer b) teach your grandma about email c) install every electronic device in your parents' house.

And at the same time, sometimes in the same sentence, we're called anti-social, socially inept, or told we just "can't communicate."

This dichotomy in perception about our youth -- love and hate, disgust and fascination, contempt and curiosity -- is nothing new (just look at Socrates). In his book, "Hellfire Nation," James A. Monroe discusses the concept of a "jeremiad," which he calls "the essential American literary form." The Puritans were famous for using it as a way to scare people into living more obedient lives. "[A jeremiad is a] lament that the people have fallen into sinful ways and face ruin unless they swiftly reform," Monroe writes.

Sound familiar?

Business Insider
Business Insider
Breitbart.com

At least the American jeremiad has evolved into listicle format, which is definitely a millennial influence.

But why do people love to heap scorn -- and praise -- upon millennials? Maybe it's because millennials are young, and young people often lead older people (who were once young themselves) to confront uncomfortable truths about their generation's faults and, ultimately, their own mortality.

Youth is a threat, not only because it challenges traditional ideas of what's important (see beatniks, hippies, One Direction fans), but because it represents a time that older people physically can't return to. Even if the memory of youth is eternal, youth itself is ephemeral.

Millennials, snake people, idiots, geniuses: The labels don't matter -- the charged attitudes behind them do. But these prejudices and biases reveal more about the thinker than the subject. Sometimes, I get pretty down about ageism and the like. But it's important to understand the context in which this discrimination exists. Hopefully, understanding this will make you kinder when you're an older millennial, playing "Angry Birds" in hologram format.

"I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think." Socrates said that, too, and that's how I pretty much how I feel. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have feelings to Tweet/blog/Instagram/post about.