Lazy. Unproductive. Self-absorbed. Addicted to social media. W.C. Fields once said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” Millennials, the generation of people born between 1981 and 1996, have been called a lot of names, but which ones should they answer to? Over the past two years, Pond5 has seen a big uptick in search terms containing the keyword “millennial.” As mass media attempts to define and portray an identity for what’s become the largest demographic in the American work force, there’s now a huge need for relevant imagery.
Of course, when people are looking for Millennial imagery, they’re not always searching for just the keyword “Millennial.” There are a slew of other common phrases related to this demographic, such as: “Generation Y,” “Hipster,” “Startup/Startup Culture,” “Social Media/Network,” “Smartphones,” “Mobile Business,” “Student Loan Debt,” “Marriage Equality,” “Financial Meltdown,” “Occupy,” “Buy Local,” and many more.
Pond5 “Millennial” Keyword Searches up to April 2016
What is “Millennial Imagery”?
To really answer this, we have to consider what life is like for Millennials. For starters, they grew up in the digital age and were early adopters of social media (81% of Millennials are now on Facebook). They were the first to experience in-home video-game systems, mobile phones, and laptops on a mass scale. Thus they are computer savvy and generally eager to embrace new technology.
Millennials philosophize through memes, flirt with emojis, and breakup via text. They navigate with apps, share through hashtags, and propose via tweet. They know their shopping habits are monitored by marketers, friendships mediated by technology, and internet activity surveilled by governments.
Goethe had no idea when he famously lamented way back in 1800, “Everything, what everybody does, wants, writes, even what he plans, is publicly exposed. One can only enjoy oneself, or suffer, for the entertainment of others, and in the greatest rush.”
Millennials are also the most racially diverse generation in American history — 43% of Millennial adults are non-white. This is the highest share of any past generation, and is increasing every year, largely due to immigration.
When it comes to careers, Millennials unfortunately entered the job market during the economic downturn following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and experienced the worst global recession since WWII. (The Median household income in the US still remains below its 1999 peak.) In this competitive landscape, candidates need specialized skill sets, degrees are pre-requisites, and college attendance has spiked. As a result, Millennials have stacked up record student loan debt and their economic circumstances reflect a rapid technological change in the global workforce.
At the same time, the past few decades have seen big changes in our culture. From same-sex marriage to marijuana legalization, society has become more socially liberal. Of course, these changes have not come without much political debate and controversy.
As the PewResearchCenter recently reported, “Americans have become more detached from major institutions like political parties, religion, the military, and marriage… the racial and ethnic makeup of the country has changed… and women have greatly increased their participation in the nation’s workforce.”
Finally, it’s important to understand why Millennial imagery is in demand right now. Advertisers and marketers are aiming their strategies at this demographic. For example, MTV — the network that dominated pop culture during the Millennials’ childhood, has just announced that it’s going to bring back some of its most iconic series from the 80s and 90s, including shows like MTV Unplugged and Cribs (as a Snapchat series).
As videos in the style of the 1980s and 90s make a resurgence, images that evoke the issues relevant to Millennials are likely to be valuable to any company producing media, from videos to memes, banner ads to TV commercials.
A few reasons Millennials are vital in mass media right now:
- They comprise the largest demographic in the American workforce (More than 1 in 3 American workers today are Millennials, according to PRC analysis of US Census Bureau data).
- In 2016, Millennials are projected to surpass the Baby Boom generation as the nation’s largest living generation.
- With immigration adding more numbers to its group than any other, the Millennial population is projected to peak in 2036 at 81.1 million.
- Millennials are the most educated generation ever
Relevant Themes And Concepts
Here are some themes to keep in mind when creating Millennial imagery:
- Unattached — Political independence, irreligion, flexible lifestyles
- Digital Natives – Computer-savvy, adapting to new technology, smartphone saturated
- Diversity – Disparate groups of people sharing common goals
- Tolerance – Equal opportunities, civil and political rights
- Financial Struggles — High costs of living versus low wages, economic crisis
- Civic Responsibility – A connected global community, strong local communities
As media creators, we may ask ourselves how we influence the spectacle of mass media. How can we take what is happening and incorporate it into what we create? Consider how images of solar cells, wind turbines, and electric cars have helped organize society’s environmental thinking around energy-production, renewable power, and sustainability.
Can we, as visual/media artists, help introduce new, subversive ideas into public discourse? Certainly we run the risk of being trivialized and sterilized by mainstream media, but then again, there is power in images and music, motion pictures and sound.
As Karl Marx once said, “It is the ideal world which always wells up out of the real world and flows back into it with every greater spiritual riches and renews its soul.” In that spirit, look at these trends through your own lens and imagine how you may influence society’s common world vision through your creations.
Explore more Millennial imagery in our hand-curated Millennial Generation video collection »