If you’ve cracked a magazine or launched an Internet browser at any point in the past few years, you’re no doubt familiar with the rash of anti-millennial think-pieces, those pointed articles attempting to pin blame on the country’s most despised generation for various perceived societal shortcomings.
What you might not know, however, is that such rants have been around for quite some time — as in, dating back to at least the 1300s.
In a recent piece for The Conversation, a website for the academic and research communities to share news and views, Boston College professor Eric Weiskott points out that millennial bashing has actually been occurring in literature for hundreds of years.
“There’s [always been] rampant worry that society, as we knew it, was crumbling,” says Weiskott, an assistant professor of English who focuses on Medieval literature. “And that the people to blame for that were the youngest generation.”
Defined by Pew Research Center as those born after 1980, millennials have indeed been the target of some not-so-nice accusations, shouldering the blame for the alleged demise of — among a slew of other things — golf, running, napkins, soap, and marriage.
But take a peek back through the work of some medieval writers, Weiskott says, and you’ll see them expressing the very kinds of sentiments about younger generations.
In the 15th century, for instance, the writer Thomas Malory opined about youngsters ruining sex by being too eager to jump into bed. A century earlier, famed medieval author Geoffrey Chaucer had fretted over the younger generation’s perceived negative influence on both communication and language.
“Millennials might be bankrupting the napkin industry,” Weiskott writes, “but Chaucer was concerned that younger readers would ruin language itself.”
Another modern-day practice millennials have been accused of rendering obsolete? Poetry.
Except, as Weiskott points out, Chaucer accused younger generations of the very same offense in the 1300s — and poetry, of course, is still very much a thing.
An older millennial himself, Weiskott, 30, says he was inspired to write about the topic in part because of the rash of “hit pieces” targeting his generation, as well as the curious position he occupies between the older academics who often opine on millennials — and the millennial students who fill his classroom.
And while he does concede that millennials will undoubtedly inspire societal change, he considers it a fruitless exercise to attempt to predict how, exactly, they’ll do so.
“The history of culture, the history of society, is filled with left turns that no one saw coming,” he says. “I’m very certain that millennials will change the world somehow. But I don’t know how, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.”Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.