How to Get a Whole Generation to Sell out

Today's twenty-somethings aren't apathetic or opportunistic. They're just trying to survive an economic system that has saddled them with inescapable student debt.

April 11, 2014 | Source: Creative Time Reports | by Astra Taylor

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No one cares about selling out anymore. It’s an argument I encounter almost weekly, in a trend piece or through an online acquaintance. Times have changed, these commentators insist. Young people-“millennials,” they call adults just younger than me-simply don’t see things the same way their predecessors do.

The concept of selling out is passé, we are told. These days, everyone is busy buying in.

And maybe it’s true. Consider a striking scene from from the recent Frontline documentary co-produced by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, “Generation Like,” which features a montage of teenagers responding to a question about what it means to sell out:

Teenager 1: Selling out? Can you define that?

Teenager 2: Well, selling out means, like-it could mean different things.

Teenager 3: I guess, I don’t know, I think first about a concert that’s, like, totally sold out, no tickets left. That’s probably not what you meant, though.

Teenager 4: I don’t really know what that means.

There’s a dark humor to these confused answers. But Rushkoff’s aim is not to condemn kids or pass judgment on them as morally inferior to their elders. The scene actually illustrates something more profound-namely, the shifting cultural, economic and technological conditions under which “millennials” now live and learn.