‘Her desire to break into prestigious New York magazines’
Lena Dunham in Girls, HBO, 2012-2017
From London Review of Books:
Although millennials are most often compared to baby boomers, the generation with which they’re locked in economic and Oedipal struggle, they might more profitably be compared to the so-called Generation X, those born between 1960 and 1980, more or less. Its members are more likely to display dread, irony and a distrust of institutions. In Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), for example, a woman Eggers is hoping to impress asks how he plans to ‘throw off the shackles’ and ‘inspire millions’ – and he responds by saying he will start a magazine. He and a friend found Might Magazine, the slogan of which is ‘SCREW THOSE IDIOTS’. The idiots remain unspecified, but they’re probably adults in all the worst ways. For Eggers, the very worst thing you could be is a member of a club you didn’t found yourself.
Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the depression memoir Prozac Nation (1994), went to Harvard and wrote for Seventeen magazine, but emphasises how ill-suited she was for such places, and how unimpressed she was by what she saw there. ‘I’d spent all my time in high school getting good grades, editing the newspaper and literary magazine, taking dance class, doing whatever else, all because I wanted to go to a great college like Harvard and be transmogrified,’ she writes, sounding like a millennial. ‘But once I actually got there, once I discovered that the air in Cambridge didn’t tingle, once I found it was a place like any other only more so … I think I decided I might as well drug my way through.’ (Marnell, by contrast, gushes over her time at Lucky: ‘I loved everything about my new job.’) Wurtzel alludes to her accomplishments only in passing: ‘Somewhere down the road I managed to pick up the 1986 Rolling StoneCollege Journalism Award for an essay I wrote about Lou Reed for the Harvard Crimson, and now I have a summer job at the Dallas Morning News as an arts reporter.’ It’s not that Wurtzel doesn’t care, exactly; it’s that success doesn’t make her happier.
Millennial memoirists’ self-worth, by contrast, seems to be measured out in acceptance letters. They merge with the institutions that accept them. Marnell brands herself a ‘Condé Nast dropout’ when her addiction forces her to leave Lucky. At the digital magazine xoJane, she rants about the site’s inferiority to print and refuses to endorse features she thinks are subpar. Her problem isn’t disaffection. It’s that she cares too much about the company that employs her. She’s not the only one. The last essay in Jerkins’s collection is all about her desire to break into prestigious New York magazines.
This isn’t to say that millennials are simply interested in propping up the status quo. On the contrary, they seek to remake these institutions in their own image. Jerkins tells her fellow black women writers that ‘we have the responsibility to bring other black women to the forefront of the culture we’ve helped to create and sustain.’ Jamison discusses the failure of the War on Drugs and the ways that racism pervades rehab programmes and the criminal justice system. Vance would like more kids like him to make it to college, though he sees the obstacles as personal, not structural – and so argues that ‘there is no government that can fix these problems for us.’