Spare a thought for the boomer columnists who wake up, grabbing aimlessly in the dark for a metaphorical stick with which to beat millennials and Generation Z. Luckily for Jane Moore at The Sun, there was one to pluck right off the top of the news agenda this week, the presence of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine. On 16 February she wrote a piece entitled “OK kids, let’s see how you deal with REAL problems — like a posting to Ukraine’s frontline”, instructively illustrated with photos of a tank and armed militia.
In the article, which has been widely condemned on social media, she makes a pitch for a television show “Strife Swap”, where “noisy rabble-rousers bleating about how terrible the UK is could change places with someone for whom life in this country would rightly feel like nirvana by comparison”. The concept may require some work to get past Channel 4 executives but Moore perseveres by detailing the first episode, “a posting to the Ukrainian border with Russia”, imagining: “Here’s a gun, kids. You have a choice — kill or get killed.”
There are many things worth pointing out about Moore’s missive. For a start, by suggesting the young join “the 26 million Congolese currently enduring the world’s largest hunger crisis”, Moore has literally gone for the “there are starving kids in Africa” line that people used when you were in primary school and indicated slight dissatisfaction about your life. I highly doubt anyone who expresses concern that house price growth has vastly outpaced that of wages is somehow claiming that they would prefer “a month or two living under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan” (another of Moore’s propositions).
In fact, Gen Z and millennials are quite adept at acknowledging that we do not have it as badly as others. Our exposure to both domestic and global disparities through social media means we check our privilege almost as much as we check our phones. More importantly, we want to address the inequality we see. Lazy narratives about the self-absorption of the youth of today are contradicted by employment trends which suggest younger generations strive for jobs that can make a social impact at companies committed to corporate social responsibility in a way previous generations did not.
Ultimately, Moore is hoisted by her own petard. She suggests the young are “social justice warriors” unaware of the disadvantages faced by others but then mocks their attempts to draw attention to exactly those disadvantages. She laughs at the idea of Extinction Rebellion gluing themselves to the road in Beijing, ignoring or unaware of the fact that a significant impetus behind climate protests is the disproportionate impact of climate change on countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Moore misses another fundamental point: the lack of progress in other parts of the world does not mean we must impose a limit on what can be achieved in our own society (there is a term for that kind of thing, and it’s one right-wing journalists use a lot, “the bigotry of low expectations”). Young people just want what their parents had: a mortgage, kids and minimal debt — funnily enough, the same goals that Jane Moore’s generation are always berating us for failing to achieve. Most recently we have been asked why half of women are childless at the age of 30, despite the answer being obvious: the housing crisis is so acute that millennials who want kids face raising babies in a rental flat with strangers from Spareroom, and childcare fees have risen several times more than wages over the last decade. Apparently we should stop complaining about these challenges because there might be war in Ukraine.
In the end, Moore indulges in the same myth-making as Kirstie Allsopp, who recently suggested that were it not for younger generations’ “luxuries” such as Netflix, they might be able to buy a house like she did at the age of 21. She talks about the “war on free speech in our universities” but forgets that her generation had free tuition. Is it any wonder that younger generations might expect more from institutions they now pay £9,000 a year to attend? She wants “kids” to fulfil their patriotic duty on the front line but neglects to mention that she was born in 1962, two years after conscription ended in the UK.
A better reality TV series might involve Moore being parachuted into a five-bed flatshare with Gen Z-ers. Not only do young people seem to have more awareness of “REAL problems” than boomers like her do but, crucially, they want to do something about them.