Are you exhibiting ‘millennial cringe’? Gen Z are coming for you

Millennials, know your limits! Or at least that’s what Gen Z want you to do. With the phrase ‘millennial cringe’, Gen Z have ultimately conjured a spell to get us gone from social media. Stop embarrassing yourselves, people with middle-aged concerns like children and mortgages and... going to work. Wearing jeans that are too tight at the ankles. Showing your ankles because you refuse to stop wearing trainer socks. Breathing. That sort of thing.

Taking a short peep at the TikTok battleground, the mocking videos make stressful viewing. There are satires — ageless Gen Z-ers pretending to be maybe five years older than they really are with intense irony, eye-rolls and a lot of weird noise making that doesn’t correspond to any millennial I’ve ever met. Then there are the stitches, where Gen Z-ers lampoon anyone who dares to fight back with insane edits and always overlaid with a throbbing, panic-attack-inducing Aphex Twin soundtrack (‘QKThr’ in case you fancy some Requiem for a Dream-style purge vomiting).

The Millennial Pause — that so-called draw of breath they apparently all take before speaking on a social video — is ‘cheugy’ (basic, embarrassing). And while we’re at it, the word cheugy is a millennial construct, which TikTok’s @etymologynerd points out was a term abandoned by Gen Z as soon as they realised millennials had cottoned on to them using it to slag them off. Millennials also all have zero chill. Every video send-up is chaotic and yet deftly depressing in the extreme. There’s a whole sub-section dedicated to how wilfully clumsy millennial women are. And yet also, how we like to do dance routines for men’s attention. The eye for a very distinct but also derogatory detail is close. It’s as if they’re, like, obsessed with us?

As Rebecca Jennings, Vox’s senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy, says in her piece outlining the theory behind millennial cringe: while cringey memes and scatty delivery were once the main currency for online exchange until the mid-2010s, now it’s purely used to mock the generation above. ‘The answer is more complicated than “millennials got old”,’ she says. ‘The internet got bigger and easier to join; algorithms determined more of what we saw and did on it; groups of people learned how to wield irony as a weapon on a macro scale; the pace at which culture evolved sped up so that only those who spent all their time online could parse through the layers.’ Basically, we come from a simpler time and now we don’t even understand the internet that we helped to formulate.

Speed is also of the essence. I wondered, as I stepped back from scanning the FYP (that’s the for you page, come on, keep up), why I felt like Alex in A Clockwork Orange after he’d had his eyes prised open for a deep dose of horror-show content to warn me off for life. As ES Magazine’s social media expert Isobel Van Dyke points out, ‘The first three seconds of a TikTok are key, so all creators speak at speed to capture your attention.’ No wonder the Millennial Pause seems even more old-fashioned to them. And it’s why some, including Van Dyke, browse with the speed settings set to double to skip to the good bit in half the time. As someone who doesn’t even struggle with ADHD, it’s still extremely overwhelming.

And then there’s the fact that younger millennials are still only 28. They’re still renting, have choppy mullets and wear full-look twisted denim last seen on Craig David and B*witched. They’re passing as Z. So how do they feel about their lives being lumped in with us ‘geriatrics’ with our emo pasts and American Apparel lingering at the bottom of our wardrobes?

Taking matters into her own hands is @offendedmillennial. With 241k followers, she is swiping back at content creators (such as @biancascaglione, who despite fashioning a kind of quarter-life crisis Jim Carrey bit with her apparently ‘comedic’ gurns and ticks, somehow has 1.4 million followers) who are roasting millennials. She invokes Gen Alpha’s eventual rising. ‘You’ve given them so much to work with,’ she says, making a series of classic winky, posey Zoomer faces to the camera.

Gen Alpha — aka generation glass, as they’ve been raised by iPhones and tablets — are coming quickly. Indeed, some of them might even be the kids of geriatric millennials (thanks for fighting back on behalf of your parents, kids). Estimations put the upper limit of their generation at 14, and they’re snapping at Gen Z’s heels, which would render them just as middle-aged and defunct by the end of this decade. Because, when The New York Times runs a photo story of the next generation below (as happened last month), you know, like the snowflakes before you, you’ve melted.