What will be the first thing the world thinks of when it looks back at the first couple of decades of the 21st century? September 11, wars in Iraq, the Middle East and Ukraine; Covid, the advent of social media giants like Twitter and TikTok. Whatever you choose, it’s evident this generation lacks the same social and cultural revolutions that rocked those that came before. The optimism of the Sixties, rebellion of the Seventies, excess of the Eighties and hedonism of the Nineties have been replaced with boredom – green juices over pints, the “clean girl” aesthetic over party dresses, literary characters so dull your eyes flicker closed while reading – thanks to constant economic turmoil and a puritanical approach to life.
After two years stuck in various lockdowns, many suggested that the aftermath would be akin to scenes from a Fitzgerald novel: wild parties, excessive socialising and dancing, a carnival atmosphere to make up for lost time. But young people have been granted no such privileges. As the cost of living rises in the UK, young people are facing an increase in student loan repayments, an inflation rate that is the highest among the G7 nations, and a rent crisis that means you must spend more than 50 per cent of your monthly income to secure the honour of living in a tiny flat (with five strangers) in Zone 3 of London.
These calamities strip young people of the life-enriching experiences previous generations took for granted. Lower-income students will be deterred from further education because of their fear of debt; inflation means the excitement of landing your dream job is slightly stifled by the realisation that you’ll be earning the same amount of money a year from now. My friends and I may never feel the buzz of standing on the front step of a property that belongs to us. And even the people who do choose to chase those dreams – of housing stability and the like – must give up so much to get there. I’m told saving for a deposit means no foreign holidays, no avocado brunches, no Spotify or Netflix, bicycle rides to work in the rain instead of the Tube; Glastonbury on TV rather than Glastonbury in your wellies and glitter. Is missing out on your entire twenties or thirties, which we were told would be filled with opportunity and crazy nights, really an acceptable price to pay for no longer having to use command strips to stick prints to the wall?
Aside from the issue of affordability, it seems that experiences on offer for young people are boring anyway. Festivals no longer care much about hedonism, choosing wellness tents and yoga mornings over late night raves. Log on to Hinge on any given day of the week and you will be met with countless men who detail their dream Sunday as a walk up Hampstead Heath with a green juice, followed by a roast chicken dinner, one solitary pint of Peroni and then a quick peck on the cheek at the station – because of course, going home together on a “school night” is obviously out of the question. Meeting romantic partners in real life is completely out of the question, too, because the fuzzy feeling of butterflies or pang of lust is masked by fear that anyone who approaches you at a bar is a creep. So we’re left with our smug juices and silly little walks and boring conversations with boring people who are desirable because they’re safe. “Red flags” mean that we’re led to analyse every inch of a person: whether they have a good social media presence, their immediate politics, job, background.
In culture, boring characters reign supreme. Look at the characters in Sally Rooney’s novels and you will struggle to find one who isn’t a narcissistic, slim, beautiful woman we’re supposed to root for even though she speaks in monotone and isn’t a very good person. I can’t remember the last time I visited a bookshop without being bombarded with these types of novels – I like to call them “pink covers with green font rich-girl books”. And yet, I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve had disparaging looks from other people for criticising them. That’s the point, they say. The characters are supposed to be unlikeable! They’re realistic! They’re making sincere social commentary!
The cult of being boring doesn’t stop there, and even spills into our wardrobes. The clean girl aesthetic has become the style goal for millions of young women: common features include a slicked back bun, beige or monochrome clothing, minimal gold jewellery and natural-looking makeup. The tag “clean girl aesthetic” has been viewed more than 212 million times on TikTok and is all over Instagram too, with influencers offering guides on how to build capsule wardrobes completely devoid of colour or patterns. The apparel goes hand in hand with “clean” lifestyle choices like waking up at 4.30am, working out, journalling then eating nothing all day but rice cakes and salmon and broccoli bowls. Not only are these goals unrealistic, they’re dull. They tap into a wider puritanism that seems to have sucked the very essence of fun out of millennial life.