A fresh flurry of indignation has greeted the latest “slice, dice and present to collective outrage” demographic creation: the “geriatric millennial”, born in the early 80s. Apparently, their ease in shifting between analogue and digital worlds mean every workplace should be run by one, but that hasn’t stopped many, understandably, protesting about the terminology.
An impressive – or alarming – amount of creative energy is expended in describing the simple fact that people are different ages. Marketing executives and political strategists used the likes of Mondeo Man or Aldi Mum, daft as they were, to describe a set of aspirations or attributes susceptible to targeted seduction.
These generational labels feel like an even weaker brand of woo – as generic as horoscopes, simultaneously bland and insulting. What are they for? The endless stratification seems mainly an opportunity to deepen our hostility against one another. It’s a diffuse, impotent anger that detracts from the real culprits, I think. If you’re railing against Jaeger-clad matrons blocking tables in the garden centre cafe or people with rainbow hair asking for oat milk and talking about pronouns in the pub, you’re not directing your anger at successive governments. It allows, or encourages, decades of deepening inequality and division.
In another way, though, I love how gratuitously provocative and silly microdemographic labels are. Perhaps we should just lean in. We may as well wring some fun out of the forthcoming generation wars. “What’s your microgeneration?” could become one of those 21st-century parlour games you see online: you know, your gangster name is your primary school bully plus your favourite biscuit. This one could be the brand or cultural artefact with which you most closely identify, your prevailing current emotion, plus an age identifier. That would make my younger son a Shreddies Alpha Nihilist, the plant-loving elder a Monstera Resignation Digital Native and my husband, a Grand Designs Pessimist Dad. My 73-year-old stepfather, with his efficient shopping habits and rueful refrain of “my generation fucked everything up”, is a Sainsbury’s Basics Contrition Boomer and I’m a Tetchy Nurofen Peri-Crone. What’s yours?
Emma Beddington is a Guardian columnist.