With civilization in flames and popular culture disrupted beyond recognition, the world is looking to a new generation to rebuild it. Enter “The Founders.” According to a new nationwide survey conducted by MTV, the children of the new millennium will rescue the world from the sins of the past, and befitting this worthy mission, they get maybe the most self-important name imaginable. Yes, the spirit of MTV’s new project is well-meaning and intended to capture the diversity of the country’s youngsters. But the report goes a step further to paint a bleak picture of the present, and saddles the next generation with the task of “founding the new world.” No pressure, kids.
The name “The Founders” comes from the kids themselves, according to MTV’s survey of more than 1,000 respondents born after the year 2000. America is still reckoning with Millennials (loosely classified as those born from the mid-1980s to the late-’90s) one thinkpiece at a time, but according to this survey, their fate is already sealed. As the children of indulgent baby boomers, Millennials are classified as “dreamers” who live to disrupt and challenge established norms. The Founders, by contrast, are “pragmatists” who will navigate a tougher world defined by 9/11, the financial crisis, and gender fluidity. Previous generations had to worry about getting into college and finding a job, but the next one is tasked with cleaning up their mess.
Classifying a generation’s personality and goals is tough no matter what era you’re looking at, but it’s particularly absurd when you’re interviewing a bunch of kids who have just entered high school. Their youth is almost certainly a factor in their optimism—according to MTV’s press release, among the names considered were “The Bridge Generation,” “The Builder Generation,” and “The Regenerator Generation.”
One thing “The Founders” have in common with other generations? They’re reacting to those who came before. The terms “Baby Boomer,” “Generation X-er,” and “Millennial” have all become pejoratives, though the MTV survey’s description of the latter is particularly rough. Millennials’ celebrity icon? Miley Cyrus, who “pushed back against Disney’s model” of fame. Their defining movie? High School Musical, which “disrupted the model of cliques” (a phenomenon previously unseen on screen, apparently). What’s more, Millennials are defined by the video game The Sims, building houses “within the templates” of society. The Founders, meanwhile, live in the world of Minecraft, where regular laws of physics don’t apply and all the building has to be done by hand. The implication being that they’re going to make a different society, cube by pixilated cube. Their pop-culture heroes are YouTube stars and Vine comedians, ordinary folk finding fame in the democratic moray of the world wide web.
Time is already pointing out that generations don’t usually get to name themselves. It’s a task that has previously fallen to luminaries like Gertrude Stein (credited for “The Lost Generation”), Tom Brokaw (“The Greatest Generation”), and Douglas Coupland, whose book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture helped popularize the phrase. But some have already noted the irony of MTV attempting to label a generation of kids who favor mobile devices and who probably never knew MTV was originally a music network.“It’s a ridiculously overstated attempt by MTV to define a generational boundary,” noted Don Kaplan for the New York Daily News. “And it comes off more … like a bid to advance the network’s own self-promotional agenda.”
Until now, the only associations I had with “The Founders” were America’s Founding Fathers, and the villains of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who were fascist shapeshifters from a distant corner of the galaxy. Will MTV’s name stick? It’s unlikely. The laziest moniker that has been bandied about is “Generation Z,” a reference to the fact that these are the children of Generation X. The term “iGeneration” is almost as bland, but at least acknowledges the crucial difference for this age group—that they never knew a world without the Internet. Either way, the impulse to explain exactly who these kids are and what they want feels premature. Let them at least reach voting age before we start wrapping them up in a shiny generational package.