It is not the fault of the teenagers. They are cursed with being old enough to be able to formulate complex opinions but being too young to know how trite or generic those opinions often are. They possess an unwarranted self-assuredness that would make an all-caps Twitter user blush. It's an awful nexus in which to exist, overlapping neatly with the reality and metaphor of hitting puberty: New skills and interests crippled by an inability to use them effectively.
MTV has done something bad. The network that sculpted Generation X and was largely ignored by millennials has taken it upon itself (with an assist from a company called Red Peak Branding) to name the generation that follows the millennials — i.e. the kids born after the year 2000 or thereabouts. These are your newly minted teens and their junior siblings. And to name the generation, MTV asked those very same teens. The result? The young people MTV and the #brand agency surveyed would like you to call them "the Founders."
This is point at which we remind the reader that generational identities are all made-up marketing garbage, except for the Baby Boomers. The Boomers actually have specific demographic markers that set them aside in a way that "Gen X" and "millennials" do not. That's why no one can ever tell you if someone born in 1980 is a millennial or something else, because it's just a vague way of referring to large groups of people in broad strokes and to let advertising companies talk about young people with lots of money in their pockets as though they see them as something other than young people with lots of money in their pockets.
Therefore, it is dumb to call the next generation "the Founders" because it isn't actually a generation as such. It is also dumb to call them that because that is a dumb name.
When the White House up and declared that the group would be called the "Homeland Generation," we took issue with that formulation. But that is a much better name than "the Founders." Naming the youngest passel of humans in existence the "founders" is like giving your new intern at work the title of CEO. The idea apparently is that this group will found a whole new society from the rubble and wreckage that we have left them. That wreckage being ... the Internet and technology. Sorry for ruining everything, kids, I guess.
MTV has all sorts of colorful MTV documents explaining why the name works, but none of them are convincing. They're barely even consistent. At one point, they say that members of the generation "have been swiping screens since birth ... and their birth announcement was likely on social media." That's only possible for about half of the group — those born after 2007. But in the next breath, MTV declares that the group's celebrity icon is YouTuber Bethany Mota — who was born in 1995 and is therefore a millennial.
Believe it or not, none of these is my main complaint about MTV's little branding exercise. (I spoke with a demographer in 2014 who told me that the only people who wanted to strictly define generations were media companies, which is true true true.) My main complaint, instead, is the "data" offered to support this view of what a "Founder" is. Here's MTV with some survey results:
- 90 percent of 13-14 year olds say: “My generation is going to start a new society where diversity is accepted and encouraged”
- 91 percent of 13-14 year olds say: “Technology has helped my generation understand people who are different in terms of race, religion and sexuality”
To be clear, zero percent of 13-14 year-olds say either of those things, but almost all of them will say "yes" if you say "do you think that your generation will start a new society where blah blah and blah blah?" I am conducting a survey of Generation X people. Do you think that Generation X people are special and great and will continue to do great things? You do? Who could have guessed.
But at least Generation X people are adults who understand what they're saying yes to. Looping back to the point at which I began, I am not confident that a 13-year-old can sufficiently parse the proposition MTV offered to evaluate it in any meaningful way. Remember that kid that became a viral hit on YouTube for bashing President Obama and then signed up to back Ted Cruz? He is now renouncing conservatism for a variety of reasons, suggesting that perhaps he didn't really know what he was signing up for in the first place. He was 13. He was a "Founder."
MTV did this so that we would write about them and so that they could make a claim to representing that youngest group of people, a group that is starting to make advertisers salivate. So, good job on their part.
I do have one last bit of water to throw on the fire, however. It is very clear that "Founders" did not emerge organically from the 1,000-plus kids that MTV spoke with. If you let 13-year-olds name things, in my experience, those things end up being called "King Weiner Butt" or the like.
Which I hereby submit as the name of the generation to follow the millennials.