Re-thinking ‘Generation Wuss’: Why Millennials aren’t so bad

man in black and white polo shirt beside writing board

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In my first job after grad school I had a desk in a pod of cubicles I shared with three white-haired newspaper reporters, all of them approaching retirement age.

I was in my early 30s at the time, smug and ambitious and thoroughly disappointed to find myself at a small daily newspaper in a small manufacturing town that had fallen on hard times.

It’s not that I felt entitled to success; I was simply frustrated not to have found it after an expensive education and years of paying my dues at smaller publications in even smaller towns.

My colleagues had been in this business forever — one apprenticed out of high school, another went to community college, and another landed there after working at a country-and-western radio station.

They were all capable reporters and — with one exception — insufferable editors.

They ridiculed my copy over the smallest details, most of which were not germane to the topic at hand.

They enjoyed dressing me down, not with unassailable logic and facts, but with the only instrument they knew how to use: The power their seniority afforded them.

I don’t blame them for that.

They were part of a generation being phased out of journalism through layoffs and buyouts, in favour of younger people with multimedia skills who knew how to use an iPhone.

“Millennials!” my most ornery colleague lamented over his landline more than once.

They’re the worst! he thought but didn’t say.

I knew he wasn’t really angry with Millennials. He was angry because nearly every skill he acquired over the previous few decades was becoming obsolete.

My presence in that newsroom was a threat, not only to his job security but to his sense of himself.

Anyone would grow hostile under that kind of pressure. I genuinely sympathized with him. If he wasn’t such a jerk about it, I’d have been on his side.

He seized on any perceived weakness and stifled my attempts to level with him. Being agreeable hurt my fortunes, so I hardened myself and left him alone.

Within a couple of years, he and another of my colleagues were laid off. I haven’t stayed in touch with the third, but he appears to be back in radio at least part-time.

That pod of cubicles was a toxic place, and when it became obvious it would not get better any time soon, I left.

Millennials! Scourge of the Earth! Worst Generation Ever!

 Never mind it was their generation that raised us or, in some cases, raised our parents.

It’s our fault they treated us as they did. We’re to blame for way we’ve turned out.

Coddled, indulged, sheltered and spoiled. Yes, we were children at the time, clueless and beholden to the people who watched over us, but still.

We really should have known better. We shouldn’t have let them let this happen.


The most telling difference between my generation and that of my colleagues was how we settled debates.

When a fact was in dispute I googled it immediately, found a credible source and thought that would settle the matter.

My colleagues preferred to discuss it at length and then acquiesce to the wisest in the bunch. My antagonist appeared to have assumed the role of Wise Man No. 1.

He kept a massive, ancient, tattered dictionary next to his desk and referred to it when we quibbled over the definition of a word.

One day, someone asked if biannual meant every other year, or twice a year. It was technically the latter, but sometimes the former.

I discovered this by plugging it into, the website (and most recent version) of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Also through, I discovered the wor I thought my colleague should use to describe something that happened every other year. It was biennial.

He didn’t like that I discovered this on the Internet before he could find it in his book.

This was another sign his methods were going the way of the dodo. It implied he was not as wise as he was perceived to be.

It was another reason to resent me, and to try and get me fired. He did everything he could to get under my skin, hoping I would eventually break.

And I eventually did, but our company laid him off long before I quit.


Bret Easton Ellis, the author of American Psycho, was born in Los Angles on March 7, 1964. There was no Internet then, no Instagram and no Twitter.

It was 20 years before the birth of Mark Zuckerberg and 40 years before the birth of Facebook. It was, if you happened to be a privileged white male, not a terrible time to be alive.

According to a short piece in the current issue of Esquire, Ellis had his first meaningful exposure to Millenials through a live-in boyfriend born in the mid-1980s.

“I noticed this general wussiness in him and his friends that shocked me and that my male friends, at a comparative age decades ago, simply did not have,” Ellis told the magazine.

“I was shocked at what they were frightened of, and what they were offended by. To a hard-bitten whatever, Generation X, it seemed ludicrous.”

His disdain was such that Ellis coined the term “Generation Wuss,” apparently pushing it out on Twitter and his podcast.

The purpose of his interview with Esquire was to promote his first non-fiction book, White — the working title was reportedly White Privileged Male — which laments the fragility of the millennial generation in all the usual ways.

We are over-sensitive and entitled and made worse by the medications foisted on us as children or teens.

White is not a deep or nuanced analysis but doesn’t pretend to be,” the magazine says.

“It’s simply one man laying into what annoys him in all its myriad manifestations. Along the way, he demonstrates that sometimes the bluntest instrument is the most effective, sometimes the most superficial reading is the right one.”

Which is an odd way of justifying a book that, according to this review, simply restates a series of clichés.

The kids aren’t all right.

We all know how and why.

But just for fun, let’s go over it one more time.


As a kid, I was taught to be respectful and kind. I was taught to stick up for others and to stand up for what was right.

Life was not only a gift, but an obligation to make something of myself. My parents, both Baby Boomers, gave me the best head start they could.

They ensured I never went hungry and always had a roof over my head. We never went to fancy places on vacation, but we’ve been to the east coast of Canada and to Vancouver Island.

Mom and Dad were thrifty, frugal and strict; yet always compassionate and often kind. I never doubted the fact they loved me, and I understood their strictness was a manifestation of love, not a contradiction.

They helped me through college and bought me my first car. When I graduated, I moved back in with them for a couple of years so I could save money.

Mom and Dad were always when I needed them. They were sympathetic to my angst and would listen to me rant about the various ways life was not fair.

If I needed a kick in the pants, they ensured I received it.

My parents also taught me it was OK to cry. In fact, it was healthy and good.

So, I cried a lot when I was a kid, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes over trivial things.

I was sensitive, probably over-sensitive. I was the quintessential wuss in Generation Wuss.

But unlike my colleagues in that small, suffering newsroom, I do not see vulnerability as a sign of weakness. I see sensitivity as an asset, not a liability.

Millennials see the world differently than generations before them and — not to be a dick about it, but that’s how it’s always been.

We’re not the worst, and we’re not the best. We know success doesn’t come easily, and we know hard work does not always overcome hard luck.

Honestly, we’re doing the best we can with the tools at our disposal.

It’s not easy. It’s never been easy.

And bashing one another has never been constructive, so let’s move the discussion to higher ground.


Essay: Tall-man syndrome


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In journalism school I went on a T.V. shoot with a classmate who was short, maybe five-foot-three, a Canadian whose family emigrated from Britain when she was a kid.

It was her shoot, and she was fully in charge. But as we met with our interview subject to plan what shots we would take, where we would interview him, and so on, he seemed to ignore her about half the time.

Instead of looking to her for direction, he kept looking to me, a tall, husky white man who stands about six-foot-four and could probably have been a linebacker if he were not so soft, timid and shy.

I assumed the man we interviewed was being sexist, but when I told another friend about it she shot my theory down with a sentence or two.

“People naturally gravitate to the tallest person in the room,” she said.

I thought there was more to it than that, but I didn’t have anything to back it up, so I dropped it.

“Oh,” I said, chuckling softly, like a lummox.


I didn’t think about my size again until we graduated and I interviewed for my first job.

It was at the only daily newspaper in the city where we attended school, with a summer internship program that paid well and added heft to a resume.

As he led me to the interview room, the paper’s local news editor asked if we’d ever met, and I said we hadn’t.

“I didn’t think so,” he said. “I would have remembered meeting someone as big as you.”

At the time I was around 260 pounds, with a short beard and a buzz cut, pear-shaped and soft as a pillow.

“Yeah,” I said, chuckling again.

The job interview was not a disaster, but it did not go well. They rarely do.

I am usually nervous in these situations, and I lean toward self-deprecation rather than self-promotion.

Despite my qualifications—I’d been a reporter for about eight years, and I was one of the top students in my master’s program—I was not good at selling myself.

Also, I spoke with a small, hushed voice that contrasted against my size. This was a key criticism the local news editor provided later, when he told me I didn’t get the job.

“You’re a huge guy,” he said, in effect. “And you need to acquire a personality that matches it.”

I have the opposite of small-man syndrome, where diminutive adults push around larger subordinates in order to make up for the times they were bullied as kids.

Except when I am playing basketball or some other sport where my height is an advantage, I am a large man who wishes he were small.

In high school, when I was trying various identities to see what fit, I sometimes wished I were more like Will Smith’s character on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Will was tall, confident and cool. He cracked jokes and used Ebonics and was the big man on campus. He could make any ridiculous outfit look (to borrow a word he used) “fly.”

Apart from his short, nerdy cousin Carleton, everyone wanted to be Will’s friend. He gave people weird nicknames, like Cornflake, that seemed perfect and off-the-cuff.

“So look,” I wanted to be able to say to a girl out of my league. “Why don’t we just kick it over to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles?”

Or, even better: “Yo wassup, baby? Hurry up, write your number down ‘fore I don’t want it no more.”


I was not one of the cool kids in school, but I was not frequently ridiculed, and I did relatively well academically and in sports.

Along with five schoolmates, I played tenor saxophone in the jazz band, and they all deferred to me when it came time to stand up and play solos.

I hated this, because I got nervous and could barely hide it. Any mental effort I might have directed toward hitting the right notes, I used to trample the butterflies in my stomach.

It was sometimes the same in class presentations, where I felt obliged to take a leadership role and speak more than some of my peers.

In class, as well as in church, adults seemed to expect more from me than they did from others. This verse from the Gospel of Luke was a major theme of my upbringing:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (12:48)

But I identified much more with Moses, who shied away from the spotlight when called upon, citing the fact he was, “slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)

I have benefitted greatly from being the tallest guy in almost every room I’ve entered since I was sixteen. But much of the time I’ve wanted to shrink down to the size of an ant and go unnoticed.

If you search Google for insightful quotes about being tall, you won’t find many.

Most of them are memes about annoying questions, like: “How’s the weather up there?” (Answer, according to the meme: Exactly the same, bitch.)

A majority of them hint at how being a tall woman is, like most other things we have in common, more complicated than being a tall man.

“I’m too tall to be a girl,” Julia Roberts apparently said. “I’m between a chick and a broad.”

Others note how being tall is a blessing, rather than a burden.

“When people are absurdly tall, they command everyone’s attention when they walk into a room,” said the musician Steve Albini, who is apparently six feet.

“Nobody’s ever dismissive of somebody for being too tall.”

My favourite is from the actress Sigourney Weaver, who also stands six feet: “It takes courage to be as big as you are, and not be intimidated by tiny people.”

In my journalism school there were only a handful of other tall white men, one of whom was our unquestioned leader and graduated at the top of the class.

That T.V. shoot with my diminutive friend (who is ridiculously smart, talented and funny in her own right) began to open my eyes about how circumstances and genetics have determined my lot in life.

Yes, I’ve worked extremely hard to get where I am today. And most of my success is the product of merit and ability.

But some of it is also due to the fact people naturally equate male tallness with authority, leadership ability, and potential.

We really do gravitate toward the tallest people in the room, especially if they are men. I’m not complaining, but for what it’s worth: Some of us would rather you didn’t.