For a while now, Bret Easton Ellis has been calling me a “wuss”. Not me, personally, of course – and if, like me, you were born in the 80s or 90s, he’s been calling you one too. Recently, the American Psycho author explained in a Vanity Fair article what he means by “Generation Wuss”. When I’d read all 2,000 of Ellis’s jagged words about my generation, all I felt for a good few minutes was a vast sense of, “Oh”.
Ellis makes some perfectly salient points. Yes, Generation Y is sensitive; yes, we often look to social media for proof of our own existence; yes, we’re neurotic. My God, are we neurotic. Where I disagree with Ellis is in my belief that these traits don’t necessarily make us defective.
What, I began to wonder, is actually wrong with being a wuss? Ellis has dedicated a decent proportion of his career to satirising his own generation – the greedy, nihilistic, shallow X-ers. Then, along comes the antithesis of everything that he so sharply lampooned with characters like Patrick Bateman. Perhaps someone like Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s character in Girls, is the Patrick Bateman of Generation Y – a caricature of a white, straight, middle class millennial. But I ask you this: who would you rather share a taxi with – the anxiety-ridden Horvath, or the psychotic Bateman?
I put it to Ellis that we aren’t so much Generation Wuss as Generation Mouse. OK – likening my generation to vermin may not seem particularly flattering either. But I happen to like mice.
I could spend the rest of this article outlining the economic hardships faced by millennials, but I’m not going to. That’s been done (rightly so) a thousand times before, with a great deal of elegance and power. Even Ellis acknowledges that we’re hard fucked. “I’m sympathetic to Generation Wuss and their neurosis, their narcissism and their foolishness,” he writes, “—add the fact that they were raised in the aftermath of 9/11, two wars, a brutal recession and it’s not hard to be sympathetic.”
More about mice though. Mice are experts in making unliveable places liveable. Give a mouse a festering boot and she’ll probably line it with grass and make do. The housing crisis has brought out this quality in many humans. Recently, after a night out in the East End, I stayed over at a friend’s house. And by “house” I mean “vaguely converted dress factory”. Naturally.
“This is my room,” she said, gesturing towards a spacious but windowless box, “and this is The Mould”. She pointed to an exposed wall covered in anonymous greenish drips. Yet she’d made it completely habitable and even quite cosy. And there she lives, with twelve other mice, in an effortlessly cool soup of mismatched old furniture and bare concrete.
While X-ers were gently brutalised into a generation of thrustingly productive robots, and set loose on a nice blubbery economy, Generation Y was cocooned then dumped in a wasteland. Forgive us for being terrified. And yet, like mice, we’re quietly productive – mutely turning factories into households. Life gives us lemons, and we somehow make hats. The creativity of so many twentysomethings is almost scary.
Forgive us, also, for wanting to make everyday life liveable. What Ellis sees as oversensitivity, I see as emotional intelligence. Women in particular, in feminism’s fourth wave, are making demands that Ellis would probably see as whingey. “Overly sensitive” projects like Everyday Sexism point out the social destructiveness of the seemingly minute, and are doing their best to make the world that tiny bit less brutal.
Generation X was told that life was cruel – that they needed to adapt to it. Generation Y, who were promised that life is fantastic, are simply refusing to accept that the world is, in fact, a giant, smouldering turd. If that makes us wussy, then I think I like wussiness. Ellis’s article didn’t make me as angry as it should have done. I’m on quite a lot of anti-anxiety medication (something else he would probably object to) so it was mostly just background noise to me. But I’d like for my fellow mice to be furious about it, and to carry on creating things.