Towards the end of Kanye West’s meme-ready VMA rant he revealed that even Video Vanguard award winners aren’t immune to advertising buzzspeak with this interstate pile-up of nouns and verbs: “We are millennials, bro. This is a new — this is a new mentality. We’re not gonna control our kids with brands.”
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy still rips, but Yeezy’s jumble achieves a specially ironic kind of wrong by inadvertently demonstrating just how much influence brands have over our thinking. Considering how Kanye would’ve undoubtably substituted “We are the MTV generation, bro,” in place of “millennials” had he been on stage 30 years ago, and we see a sort of event horizon of calculated consumer marketing from which nothing can escape.
As The Washington Post reports, one of the first times big media dissected snake people was when Advertising Age magazine’s Bonnie Tsui wrote up a story about young consumers way back in September 2000 on the heels of the book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation.
“In the past, generations were defined largely by the year in which one was born,” Tsui wrote. “Now target marketing has reached the point where generational attitudes are discerned and used as a starting point for media planning.”
It is demonstrably more valuable to have labels for marketing execs to measure and target consumers than it is for you.
The lack of any reason to care about this stuff may be part of the reason why so-called millennials don’t even realize they’re millennials. A PEW research study found that few respondents could correctly identify which generation they were supposed to be part of, writing:
Despite the size and influence of the Millennial generation, however, most of those in this age cohort do not identify with the term “Millennial.” Just 40% of adults ages 18 to 34 consider themselves part of the “Millennial generation,” while another 33% — mostly older Millennials — consider themselves part of the next older cohort, Generation X.
They shouldn’t feel too bad about it. With the exception of the Baby Boomers, who only have that name because there were ways to statistically define them, there are no real defined generation groups. Though sodas, financial firms, and car companies have all done their damndest to convince you you’re in one, whether to evoke nostalgia or FOMO. You’re just a person, alive right now, making decisions and experiencing the world in ways that are similar to or different from the people who are around you. On a geological scale, we were all born yesterday and will die tomorrow.
So with apologies to Kanye, the title of best VMA speech of all time rests securely with Fiona Apple: “This world is bullshit.” I’m not sure she was right about that, but at least she kept it short.