Can millennials take a joke? Perhaps an SNL skit or an online parody passes muster, but sometimes a topic can hit too close to home, igniting a flame war on social media. That’s what happened to Los Angeles Times humor columnist Chris Erskine when he in effect told millennials to grow up.
For the last 15 years, Erskine has penned witty observations in his Middle Ages column and two humor books. A 58-year-old father of four, including three millennials, he is well versed in the behavior of the younger generation. Spurred by his own observations — and comments from friends — he wrote a column suggesting that millennials need to change some of their habits before they can consider themselves adults. Tongue firmly in cheek, Erskine came up with a 46-point “pledge,” ranging from the serious (I am entitled to nothing) to the silly (I will not consider the cilantro on my taco to be a vegetable).
Evidently his humor wasn’t obvious to all. Millennial readers took to Twitter in a blizzard of posts bashing Erskine, calling him condescending and insufferable. In his next column he responded, “This is what you get when you raise an entire generation without spanking.” That provoked yet another blast online, from blogs calling him “an angry old man” to Twitter rants about #millennialpledge.
We chatted last week with Erskine, who pointed out that he has praised the younger generation many times in his columns. Indeed, considering the state of the economy, the environment and politics, he expected millennials to be unhappy. “What was eye-opening for me was the level of anger,” he said.
We asked him to explain some of his points, starting with:
- Just once, I will try eating without texting.
- When meeting someone for the first time, I will always look him or her in the eye.
- I will force myself to finally make a phone call.
“I talk to a lot of boomers about the lack of personal engagement of this generation,” he said. “They won’t look you in the eye even when they shake your hand. And as good as they are at texting, they have an inability to make a phone call.”
- I will not shun comedians or college commencement speakers just because I don’t agree with them.
- I will learn to pick my battles.
- When I don’t get my way, I will learn to roll with it.
Millennials were “raised in a climate of political correctness in which criticism of any groups sets off alarms,” Erskine said. “It’s a nice trait to be protective but not when taken to an extreme so we can’t laugh at ourselves.” While taking the pushback in stride, what disturbed Erskine was, “For a group of young people you want to be open-minded and accepting of ideas and debate, they seem amazing closed-minded.”
On a positive note, at least one millennial who commented actually acted on the pledge suggestion. “At least once a week, I will hug my mom the way I hug my friends every single time I see them.” Erskine was happy to report that the reader shared his mother’s enthusiastic — and surprised — reaction.
Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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