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What No One Is Saying About The Newest Millennial Stereotype

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Illustration by Anna Sudit.
There’s nothing the media loves more than a new millennial archetype. Ten days ago, the word “yuccie” did not exist. Google it now, and you’ll find well over 300,000 results — some of them leading to such venerable news sources as CNN and Time. But it originated at Mashable, where early last week a 26-year-old writer by the name of David Infante coined the term to describe people like him: Young Urban Creatives.

"Yuccies are the cultural offspring of yuppies and hipsters. We’re intent on being successful like yuppies and creative like hipsters," the author explains, citing how yuccies want all the freedom of an artist’s life without any of the financial hardship. While hipsters once bummed around the same neighborhoods yuccies now haunt, making art, partying, and living off trust funds, yuccies are working hard in “creative” (though not traditionally artistic) careers where big ideas can lead to big paydays. Infante offers a few examples: “They’re social consultants coordinating #sponsored Instagram campaigns for lifestyle brands; they’re brogrammers hawking Uber for weed and Tinder for dogs; they’re boutique entrepreneurs shilling sustainably harvested bamboo sunglasses.”

There’s plenty about the yuccie archetype, though, that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Many values Infante claims separate yuccies from hipsters seem to apply equally to both groups: “We identify by price and taste level: $80 sweatpants, $16 six-packs of craft beer, trips to Charleston, Austin and Portland.” He cites statistics about millennials’ lack of interest in their “own personal gain,” but later argues that “self-centered cynicism…is maybe the yuccie’s most defining trait.” He seems to be under the impression that there are human beings besides Jonathan Franzen who own “multiple copies of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.”

Still, there’s a lot that resonates about this portrait. Walk around North Brooklyn on a weekday afternoon in 2015, and you’ll see hordes of young people packing into coffee shops and co-working spaces, poised at their laptops to finish that app or business plan. Ten years ago, in those same neighborhoods, this demographic was better known for lingering moodily over mid-afternoon hangover brunches. People who would have had real, specific occupations — from musician to lawyer — in another decade, now hand out business cards stamped with words like “maker,” which have the virtue of being generic enough to fit whatever get-rich-quick scheme they’re trying that day.

What’s strange is how uninterested Infante seems in the larger societal reasons for the yuccie’s emergence. Sure, he pulls out some old — and generally unfounded — clichés about millennial narcissism. He attacks and defends yuccies’ privilege in the same breath, though, of course, that doesn’t set them apart from hipsters, hippies, or any other predominantly white, middle-class subculture of the past century. And, he rightly points to how the Internet enables yuccies’ entrepreneurial spirit; after all, Facebook, YouTube, and the iPhone didn’t even exist when the first wave of so-called hipsters were graduating from college.

Conspicuously absent from this origin story is any kind of economic analysis, and that seems like a huge oversight. Let’s imagine (because Infante doesn’t get this specific) that yuccies range in age from this spring’s college grads to millennials in their early 30s. This is a group that came of age during, or graduated into, the Great Recession of the late ‘00s. Even the oldest among them were still working entry-level jobs at the time. And they were all in for a big disappointment. I don’t identify as a “yuccie” for too many reasons to enumerate, but my own experience could have pushed me that way: In the summer of 2008, I was all but promised a full-time position at a publication where I’d been working as an unpaid intern. A few months later, the economic crisis took hold and I watched that opportunity disappear, along with several great writers and editors who got laid off. Almost everyone I know has a story like this.

Illustration by Anna Sudit.
In 2015, the workplace remains a minefield — especially for millennials. According to a Washington Post article published just last month, though “[p]rofessional workers in companies that shed employees in the Great Recession are still doing the work of two or more people and working longer hours,” our schedules offer less “career flexibility.” And while 80% of millennials are part of couples where both members work full-time, “only 9% of companies offered fully paid maternity-leave benefits to workers in 2014, down from 16% percent in 2008.” After a disappointing, unstable, and sometimes traumatic introduction to the workforce, even young adults who have managed to make careers for themselves are under unprecedented stress. No wonder they’re scheming to liberate themselves through creativity, technology, and hustle.

As a way to thrive in a hostile economy, the yuccie makes perfect sense. Even so, there’s something deeply sad about the archetype.

Yuccies seem to come in two basic types: those who would otherwise have pursued traditional professions, and those who would otherwise have tried to survive as artists. Both groups are deluding themselves, in different ways. Those who reject corporate jobs simply because they’re too confining seem to confuse the need for more flexibility with the need for a creative outlet — on top of the freedom it affords him, Infante admits, “I write for validation: of my peers, of my parents, of the followers who retweet me, even of the commenters who say cruel things in my general direction beneath every piece I’ve ever published.” This is not a great reason to create; even when you also hope it will pay the bills, ingenuity should first and foremost fulfill some urgent internal need. When it doesn’t, we end up with useless ideas — like Tinder for dogs.

Sadder still is the self-delusion of yuccies who would under different circumstances — in a stronger economy, before rents skyrocketed in cities like New York and San Francisco — have worked as artists. There was a time when writers, painters, and musicians could easily support themselves with part-time work and still have ample room in their schedule to pursue their calling. Now, those who aren’t independently wealthy end up working the same 47-hour-a-week day job as the rest of America. And, in hopes of striking it rich enough to buy the free time to make art, they spend precious nights and weekends on half-baked “innovations” (hi again, Tinder for dogs), convincing themselves that this too qualifies as a creative outlet.

Let’s not overstate the tragedy of the yuccie. Millennials who don’t happen to be part of the college-educated, largely white, urban-dwelling middle class face many bigger problems, from true poverty to police violence. But if there’s one thing the yuccie illuminates, it’s how broadly the economic crisis shaped this generation, marking the lives of even the most privileged among us.
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