I’ve been thinking about all the hostile comments on my Boomer “rant” of almost two years ago. I was mocking (gently and reasonably, I thought) the very popular and well-made video, “We suck and we’re sorry” in which a group of Millennials offers up a irony-laden apology for being such a loser generation.
Here’s what I said:
I think my critique is holding up rather well. The only thing I underestimated, perhaps, is the degree to which the self-mocking and faux apology could (and did) morph into a more strident, nasty and all-pervasive sense of victimhood. Particularly in academia, the Millennial generation is embracing victimhood with a level of energy and single-mindedness that, in other circumstances (i.e., the job market) would be admirable…and likely to lead to success. The Millennials on campus have succeeded in extending victimhood beyond hostile or discriminatory actions to words that make you feel uncomfortable.
To see how bad it’s become, read this piece by Wendy Kaminer. Here’s an excerpt:
Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”
No one on this panel, in which I participated, trafficked in slurs. So what prompted the warning?
Smith President Kathleen McCartney had joked, “We’re just wild and crazy, aren’t we?” In the transcript, “crazy” was replaced by the notation: “[ableist slur].”
One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”
I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.
Two of the panelists challenged me. The audience of 300 to 400 people listened to our spirited, friendly debate — and didn’t appear angry or shocked. But back on campus, I was quickly branded a racist, and I was charged in the Huffington Post with committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” McCartney subsequently apologized that “some students and faculty were hurt” and made to “feel unsafe” by my remarks.
An act of violence? Rendering her listeners unsafe? Is this what’s really going on out there? Apparently so. But it’s really just the flip side to “we suck and we’re sorry” — a total unseriousness about the real world.
In one sense, I suppose, this flight from reality is understandable. The real world is undeniably inhospitable to many of those in, and emerging from, our universities. (See Robert DeNiro’s views in the post below). And the Miillennials can certainly argue that they were misled: they followed the rules and got the diplomas and now they’re tending bar. The last thing they need is someone like me to come along and wag a scolding finger.
That’s okay, up to a point. But eventually they have to pay some attention to — dare I say it — outcomes. Outcomes — and not just their own fragile feelings. It might be nice if the world were simply a stage for the actualization of self-esteem and moral superiority. But there is such a thing as — again, dare I say it — results. And I submit that few are in a better position to comment on what does, and does not, produce results, than the workaholic Boomers. As I watch what’s going on, I’m liking my little rant more and more. How about you?