Millennials and the search for belonging

I have done something which I thought I would never do. Something that was beneath me. I visited a con. An anime con. I was confronted with the fact that I am technically a millennial, and how I was reminded that pretty much everyone there basically was as well. Some may technically have been zoomers, but I honestly cannot tell the difference. I am pretty sure we’re all equally insane, along with our babyboomer parents. No, this is not the start of a reactionary manifesto, I think. More a reflection on what the interests and passions of people say about their upbringing, mentality and their circumstances.

Millennials indulge in fandoms for their childhood shows. This is easy nowadays. We can watch the classic episodes online without worrying about missing any of them. We can easily look up information, fanfics, Wikia’s, and merchandise. It is easy to revisit the past. But why do so many teenagers and young adults want to nowadays?

Ones who study, have jobs, stable relationship and so on. Functioning adults according to the current definition.

Are millennials really more nostalgic for example? Or more sentimental? More emotional? Is that caused by growing up with the internet and stronger stimulation in childhood? More sentimental cartoons and movies? More children without a stable family? Do we lack clear roots? Tradition? Religion? Duties? Honour?

Is it a sign of arrested development that millions of millennials embraced the so called Brony fandom? Or is it just a sign society is less rigid, prejudiced, has less arbitrary social standards? Is millennials embracing new kids an indication they remain more childish?

Or do millennials respond to cynicism, emptiness, despair and a feeling of evil and decay in the world mixed with the inability to actually change anything about it? Is that why reconnecting with the innocence, cuteness, sweetness and optimism of childhood are so alluring?

Is growing up in a consumerist society so depressing that millennials turn to simple shows about friendship, the power off good and so on?

Is this made worse by the fact that modern movies are increasingly becoming political, controversial and often post-modern? A new Star Wars series where all the original characters turned out to be failures who die? Bleak dystopian Star Trek shows (contrary to the essence of Star Trek), a new Terminator film where John Connor dies or what almost happened to James Bond?

An increasingly popular set of reviewers on Youtube has attacked the attempt to deconstruct classical heroes and undermine classical stories. The most famous example probably being Thecriticaldrinker.

The attack on childhood heroes along with attacks on Christmas, Columbus Day for Americans, Saint Nicolas for Dutch people or even classical dark comedies, cancel culture and woke culture, may have also contributed to a subconscious desire for comfort and familiarity.

Really, if watching childhood shows again makes you happy without it causing you to become immature. If young adults do what they can to be responsible and moral people, then childlike or even childish tastes and interests seem relatively trivial. Maybe they do come from a good place.

Plato discussed the meaning of music and stories in Laws and whether they inspired piety. I would argue that that is more important than whether the taste is conventional.

Okay, maybe this is just a little bit reactionary, but it’s mainly a philosophical reflection on the value of fiction and nostalgia. If it leads to an appreciation of virtue and inspires in a way that (modern) adult fiction values to do, if it does not become hedonistic or addictive, then it seems constructive.

But I would add that several people at the con had signs offering free hugs. Are millennials trying to break out of isolation? Does this remind anyone of Fight Club and how the men in it needed male comradery? A lack of meaning, emptiness, the negative effects of consumerism and false promises by the media and entertainment, identity crisis, they have all been common themes for some decades.

Fiction served as a form of escapism. That we live in a society that makes people feel atomised (while also creating collectivistic pressure) has also been a common theme for decades now.

But for the last 10 years or so young adults don’t just want badass heroes who look cool or sexy actresses, but instead an appreciation of sensitivity and emotion. The stiff upper lip seems to have perished.

Liking Pixar films has long been acceptable for adults. Maybe the distinction between that and the Brony fandom is arbitrary, except the nostalgia and immersion are so much stronger.

Johan van Schaik

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