In a recent post I talked about a great short film called “Millennials: We Suck and We’re Sorry.” The short three minute video is the work of a young filmmaker named Stephen Parkhurst, who made the film in response to a wave of negative media attention focused on his generation. According to pundits like Time magazine’s Joel Stein, Millennials are the “ME, ME, ME Generation.”
(The article is behind a paywall, but you can get the gist of it here.) As opposed to the Boomers just being the ME Generation, get it? Parkhurst’s short film takes a hilarious look at some of these stereotypes and gently – okay, not so gently at times – pokes back at their tormentors with what his generation does best: satire and irony. I liked the film so much I tracked him down recently (gotta love Twitter, eh) and he was gracious enough to share some time talking about the film and the pros and cons of he and his peers. This is a small portion of that interview.
Ehisen: So what inspired you to make the film?
Parkhurst: There had been this series of op-eds and other media pieces that were generally just a lot of handwringing about Millennials. A lot of them were like Joel Stein’s piece in Time magazine, this kind of compliment sandwich where he was basically saying, “Look at these Millennials. There’s all these good things about them but wait, there’s also all this awful stuff about them. Oh but they may turn out okay after all.” It’s the same kind of condescending thing I remember hearing about Gen-Xers when I was a little kid. My parents and grandparents would complain about them and say, “Look at these kids with their grunge music and their baggy clothes.” So it just seemed to me we had already heard all this before. Then for me and my peers to find ourselves in the subject of the same thing, of being stereotyped as a group, it seemed like it was time to take a step back and remember that we all have issues in our generations. It’s not just one of us.
Ehisen: As a Baby Boomer, I can attest to that.
Parkhurst: Yeah, Baby Boomers clearly have lost their perspective. They more than any other generation had the scorn of their elders heaped upon them when they were our age, with rock music and all of the counter culture stuff.
Ehisen: Yes, it’s interesting how we Boomers forget all that. We were just as bad.
Parkhurst: I’m sure it’s just a cyclical thing. Someday Millennials will be looking down at whatever this newest generation will be called and talking about how terrible they are. We’ll be complaining about whatever we decide that generation has for bad qualities. It’s funny – my parents are both Boomers and they understood the perspective I was coming from. They said, “We complained about our parents’ generation, too, how they got handed everything and we got screwed while they got all the perks of being the Greatest Generation.” Which is why I suppose none of this should be taken too seriously. (Laughs)
Ehisen: Right. And so much of what we see in the media pieces you mentioned is pure stereotyping, as if any generation of 82 million (Millennials), 77 million (Boomers) or 65 million (Gen-X) would all be in lockstep with how they think or behave.
Parkhurst: And I was much more subtle about it than I intended to be, but in the film I intentionally used images of how a lot of people picture Millennials being. There’s a lot of bleedover between hipsters and Millennials. I live in New York so I have a lot of access to the whole white urban hipster world, and that’s who I use in the video. It’s funny – we’re the most diverse generation out there but other cultures get ignored in the stereotypes in favor of the white Brooklyn hipster, or the white Portland hipster. And they are not very indicative at all of the generation as a whole.
Ehisen: One complaint Boomers often have about Millennials revolves around work ethic. Millennials, they say, too often have a “show up late, leave early, don’t work too hard while you’re here” attitude. Is your generation lazy?
Parkhurst: Well I think we all know someone in our crowd that is lazy, but as a generation I don’t think so at all. I only have anecdotal evidence but I know a lot of people pulling down a lot of 10, 12, or 14 hour days. I know I pull down some 14-hour days in my job. There’s this weird thing that because it’s not manual labor, not what some people see as the ‘Real America’ sort of manufacturing job that doesn’t even really exist anymore, it’s easy to say we’re lazy. It just goes back to the whole blame game thing. But hey, Boomers, the whole manufacturing industry collapsed on your watch so I really don’t know what to tell you there. [Laughs]
Ehisen: Are you in the film industry?
Parkhurst: Yes. I work in post-production.
Ehisen: I presume your ultimate goal is to be a full time filmmaker?
Parkhurst: Yes. A director, a commercial director. I mean, we obviously all want to be David Fincher but for now my focus is commercials, music videos, corporate projects, that kind of thing.
Ehisen: The video got a lot of media attention. You were in the Huffington Post and the New York Daily News, etc. How did people directly around you react to the movie?
Parkhurst: It was surprisingly positive. There was obviously a lot of negative backlash from people with no sense of humor. If you peruse the YouTube comments you’ll see plenty of negative comments. But overall most of the media attention was fairly positive. In that way it was kind of a cool moment for me. I’d say it helped my career more than it hurt it. [Laughs]
Ehisen: How about among your peers?
Parkhurst: Generally very good, though a few co-workers who also do films who were kind of jealous because we had a bet over which one of us would be first to do something that got a million views. I won that race. [Laughs]
Ehisen: Have you found yourself becoming a spokesperson for your generation now?
Parkhurst: It felt like that for a little while but it didn’t last very long. The Internet news cycle is pretty unrelenting. It was probably about a month of interview requests or soundbite requests. Ironically, it made the rounds of a lot of think pieces about Millennials. I think the most interesting one was a think piece about how the debate over Millennials were going too far. My video was held up as an example of, “Okay, we need to knock it off now.” That was kind of funny. So, yes, it started to feel like that, but ultimately it was just a little video that got some attention and then everybody moved on. I definitely didn’t get the Lena Dunham experience. [Laughs]