Like, you know, whatever, cool, dude
I had an epiphany this Sunday morning when listening to a local radio talk show. The host was interviewing a 30-year-old millennial who happened to be a former journalist for a popular Albuquerque TV station. The guest, former KOB-TV reporter Caleb James, was telling his story about quitting his job and readying himself for a journey to “find America” in a Gulfstream travel trailer, towed by his Porsche! His stated goal is to talk to average Americans and then tell their stories on social media.
I was tempted to call in and tell Caleb (who identified himself as a homosexual, for what reason I don't know) that talking like a Valley Girl driving a Porsche towing a Gulfstream trailer could be a bit dicey when traveling through some areas of this great country of ours. I hasten to add that this is not due to his sexual preference, but when it is combined with his millennial, “I, like, you know, whatever” speech, AND the fancy Porsche/Gulfstream, it could send the wrong signals to some of the more average Americans he might want to interview. In short, Caleb would not be viewed as a typical road warrior journalist by these folks and might miss an opportunity to get the stories he wanted.
Of course, I could be wrong and that it is precisely this out-of-the-mainstream combo that could give Caleb better access because people would be intrigued that such a character would dare to penetrate their neighborhood and want to talk with them. At this point, let me say that I believe there’s something good about being occasionally pushed out of our comfort zones by people that don’t look, talk or act like us, but the operative word here is “occasionally.”
There are many mainstream folks who would be apprehensive about being interviewed by a Caleb-like journalist. They might be suspicious of his real motives, thinking that he has a political or special interest agenda, or be put off by his quirky millennial speak. Writers and journalists have been traveling America’s byways and penning stories for centuries, so Caleb is in good company. Most of them have been low-key pilgrims, however, who were able to blend in with or adapt to their surroundings and their subjects, thereby helping insure their success. I fear that Caleb will not be one of them.
Now to the epiphany…
Listening to Caleb made me realize just how different his generation is from my own. We don’t speak the same language, literally. We don’t share the same view of generational respect, nor do I suppose we have politics in common. I would guess that we value the role that tradition plays in society, differently, as well. That said, all these things shouldn’t shut the door to discussing them, cross-generationally. The truth is, millennials are probably no better or worse than previous generations. There is one big difference, however. They have the new-found power of social media and the willingness and ability to use it to further their causes – something my generation lacked.
That simple fact, alone, ought to scare the stuffing out of us Baby Boomers and make us realize that the only way to prevent a complete upending of everything we hold dear, such as language, attitudes and morals is to try to decode what motivates millennials and their successors. Maybe Caleb's road trip will help bridge that understanding gap. Though I have my doubts, I’m willing to suspend my skepticism, and wish him the best. I have a few suggestions that he might want to take to heart when motorvating throughout the South, however. One is to acquire an NRA bumper sticker for his Gulfstream, and the other is to leave his designer duds at home. A nice set of bib overalls would be an excellent addition to his road wardrobe.
Stephan Helgesen is a retired career U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in over 30 different countries for 25 years. He is now a political analyst and author who has written nine books and over 850 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He can be reached at: email@example.com