The Annoying Millennial Trope, Explained

Why are millennials so annoying? Onscreen, millennials are often the butt of the joke, represented by characters with a litany of negative traits. But it’s also notable that the rise of negative millennial stereotypes coincides with an increase of pop culture made by millennials. So are these tiresome characters a form of self-aware criticism, or do they simply reflect the problems that millennials have been forced to live with, in a world that seems to love to hate them? Here’s our Take on the trope of the annoying millennial, and why it may be time to reevaluate one of our culture’s favorite scapegoats.

Polly: “What do they call them? “Millennials”? People love to hate them. It’s like a national obsession.” - Search Party 3x02

The Onscreen War On Annoying Millennials

Why are millennials so annoying? From the moment they arrived, the millennial generation has seen its culture mocked and its problems derided. Onscreen, millennials are often the butt of the joke, represented by characters with a litany of negative traits.

Emma: “Wait, I got passed over for a promotion again? What have I got to do?! I’ve been here eight weeks!” - The Great Indoors 1x01
But it’s notable that the rise of negative millennial stereotypes coincides with an increase of pop culture made by millennials. Does the Annoying Millennial trope represent a backlash to their sudden ubiquity? Are these characters a form of self-aware criticism? Or do some of these ostensibly tiresome traits simply reflect the problems that millennials have been forced to live with, in a world that seems to love to hate them? Here’s our Take on the trope of the Annoying Millennial, and why it may be time to reevaluate one of our culture’s favorite scapegoats.

  • Millennials are often portrayed as entitled, believing they’re owed success and status without having really earned it.
  • They have unrealistic ambitions, pursuing artsy, creative careers, and entrepreneurial endeavors—but lacking the talent or focus to actually see them through.
  • They’re seen as self-absorbed—selfie-snapping, social-media-loving centers of their own universes.
  • And they’re also easily offended, quick to accuse others of microaggressions, and too thin-skinned to take any criticism.

The Weight of Privilege

No word defines the millennial experience quite like “privilege.” The millennial generation—defined by the Pew Research Center as anyone born between 1981 and 1996—grew up with access to the internet, advanced technology, and better opportunities for education, giving them significant advantages over earlier generations. Yet they’re often portrayed as taking these things for granted—and acting like they deserve more.

In his 2013 Time Magazine cover story, “The Me Me Me Generation,” Joel Stein wrote, “Millennials got so many participation trophies growing up that a recent study showed that 40% believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance.” It’s an attitude that has since been satirized—and some would argue, embodied—by shows like HBO’s Girls, in which Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath harbors dreams of becoming a famous writer, but chafes at the demeaning, entry-level day jobs she has to hold down in the meantime. And we’ve seen it reflected in characters like The Office’s Ryan Howard, who—despite being played by a Gen-X actor—represents a distinctly millennial attitude toward work. On and off screen, millennials are regarded as aspirational yet lazy, passionate but unrealistic—and totally unwilling to shut up and pay their dues.

Ryan: “It’s like … I could run GM but I couldn’t fix a car. It’s not saying one is better than the other.”

Pam: “Seriously? Because it sounds like one of those is better than the other.” - The Office 5x21

In their most searing depictions, millennials go beyond annoying to downright villainous. They’re seen as singularly obsessed with finding a shortcut to fame and fortune. Netflix’s #Girlboss, a semi-autobiographical look at millennial entrepreneur Sophia Amaruso, celebrates the moxie and business savvy of this vintage clothing mogul. But it also doesn’t shy away from showing how Amaruso leverages her privilege and builds her business by stepping on other people.

The millennial characters in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring are also based on real people—privileged young women who have grown up obsessed with the lives of wealthy socialites and Instagram influencers. Yet their privilege only leads them wanting more—and they resort to stealing to get it. And when they get caught, their privilege not only insulates them from consequence. In this world where attention is everything, it actually rewards them with the celebrity they’ve been seeking.

A similar plot plays out on the fictional Search Party, whose millennial ensemble consists of entitled, status-obsessed narcissists. Their every action—no matter how altruistic—feels self-serving and fake. Their privilege is such that—even when they commit murder—they’re able to compartmentalize it, refusing to examine their own blinkered worldview. And eventually, that privilege becomes a cudgel used against them, by a prosecutor who’s out to indict all annoying millennials for thinking only of themselves—and for believing they don’t have to play by the rules.

Polly: “If we allow these two morally repugnant abusers of privilege off, you know what you’re doing? You’re letting an entire generation off.” - Search Party 3x06

This is a common criticism made by these annoying millennial satires. But then, who sets those rules? For most millennials, their greatest crime is simply not adhering to the career and life paths laid out by earlier generations—paths that, for the most part, have been denied to them anyway. Without a clear way forward, millennials feel entitled to experiment, to delay growing up, and to not settle. And you can see why other generations might resent them for it.

Ilana: “You deserve paid work.”

Aisha: “I can’t get paid work. I just graduated from Cornell with a business degree. That’s the worst Ivy.” - Broad City 2x02

Annoying To Who?

Older generations have always written off the youth. Gen-Xers may think millennials are lazy and entitled, but boomers also thought they were cynical slackers. If you ask the so-called Silent Generation, Baby Boomers were a bunch of freeloading hippies.

Getting mocked and derided by your elders is one area where millennials are decidedly not special. But what is unique is that millennials seem to get it from all sides. The generational rift between millennials and Gen-Xers already spawned its own sitcom in CBS’s short-lived The Great Indoors, which cast Joel McHale as a sarcastic travel reporter placed in charge of a group of young millennial stereotypes. Predictably, they’re all social media-obsessed, overly coddled, and unable to form meaningful real-world connections.

A similar dynamic underscores Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, where the fortysomething filmmaker Josh, played by quintessential Gen-Xer Ben Stiller, meets Jamie and Darby, a millennial couple portrayed by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. Jamie and Darby are hipster caricatures, from their fetishization of vinyl and VHS tapes to what they wear and eat. And while Josh’s attempts to fit in are held up as ridiculous, Jamie is made out to be entitled, amoral, and fake. The clash between Gen-X and millennials is usually portrayed as one of authenticity and integrity.

For Baby Boomers, this generational rift takes the form of an all-encompassing disdain. The comedy-horror Tone-Deaf turns this generational battle into an all-out bloodbath, with the annoying millennial Olive pitted against the psychotic boomer Harvey. The film clearly sympathizes with Olive—Harvey is a homicidal maniac—but it also makes her out to exemplify some of the worst aspects of millennial entitlement. It suggests that the contempt between millennials and baby boomers is one born of not just differences, but rage.

Millennials have been around long enough that they’re also taking flak from the next generation. In shows like New Girl, we see how even millennials edging toward the end of their twenties find themselves increasingly socially obsolete in the eyes of kids just 10 years younger. Jess’s cutesy millennial demeanor is mocked by her younger, acerbic Gen-Z students. This echoes Gen-Z’s real-world attitude toward millennials, which regards them as both old and developmentally arrested: They’re old people trying to use social media,” as one Gen Z-er told VICE, “They try to fit in with the younger generation but they’re not really the younger generation anymore.”

Schmidt: “They’re the future of humanity! A pan-ethnic, pansexual hive mind, and they want nothing to do with me!” - New Girl S2E4

Ellie Alves on You embodies this perspective. She’s a precocious 15-year-old who sees through the artifice of millennial culture. The Los Angeles in the show’s second season is immersed in insincere millennial nonsense, and populated by entitled hustlers who are determined to speak their futures into existence, rather than work for them. The Gen-Z Ellie deflates their ridiculousness with an old-school idea of authenticity that even Gen-Xers would admire.

So why do millennials get such a tough time from everyone? As with so many things about them, it all goes back to the internet. Millennials came of age when the personal essay was becoming the standard for personal expression. And this focus on mining themselves for content can explain why other generations find millennials especially annoying: because their works are so personal, they’re also often dismissed as shallow or navel-gazing.

With more avenues for content, we also just see and hear a lot more from millennials. It’s little wonder that other generations feel like they’ve dominated the conversation. But behind that millennial urge to “speak their truth,” there are also some valid reasons they feel so compelled to share it.

Millennial Trauma

While we often define generations according to years, it’s arguably more helpful to define them by shared experiences. And in the case of millennials, these experiences have been largely traumatic. According to millennial researcher Jason Dorsey, the dividing point between millennials and Gen-Z is 9/11: “In order for 9/11 to be a generation-defining moment,” he said, “you had to remember it, feel the emotion of it, and the uncertainty of what was going to happen next.” And while that uncertainty was shared by everyone who lived through it, for millennials it was compounded by a financial crisis that struck just as many were graduating college, creating a stagnating job market that left their future looking exceptionally bleak.

These lingering traumas color 2018’s Vox Lux, in which the life of a pop star played by Natalie Portman, is marked by a series of defining millennial events, from a Columbine-like school shooting to 9/11, to a random terrorist attack in Croatia. Film programmer Ashley Clark has called Vox Lux “a millennial origin story,” showing us just how psychologically damaging it can be to grow up internalizing these ordeals while attempting to put on a happy face. In stories that truly engage with the millennial experience, rather than simply mocking it, this unease underscores everything. The millennial terrorists in 2016’s Nocturama seem at first like extreme parodies of woke young people, indiscriminately destroying everything just to upset the status quo. Yet we gradually see how their dissatisfaction is a response to a world where disaster and violence is always imminent, lurking behind a veil of bland, pacifying consumerism.

Both Vox Lux and Nocturama deal with the idea of processing these fears through performance whether that be through art, through dramatic acts, or simply through how we present ourselves. Performance can be seen as superficial— But through performance, millennials are often able to articulate a deeper, more impactful truth. On Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “performance” means protagonist Rebecca Bunch literally bursting into song. Rebecca is a bit of a narcissist and, yes, a tad annoying. She does move across the country just to stalk her ex-boyfriend, after all. But the show also examines how this bubblegum facade is actually a cover for serious mental health issues. And when Rebecca finally hits rock bottom and attempts suicide, it’s all the more compelling when contrasted against that performative fantasy.

Millennial stories also grapple with just how much performance is involved in our everyday life, just to process the ambient anxiety of living. In Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart’s Maureen is sullen and impassive in her day to day of working as an assistant to a wealthy supermodel. Yet in her drawings and through her text messages, we get a glimpse of just how much inner darkness she’s suppressing at all times. A similar struggle takes place in HBO’s I May Destroy You, where Michaela Cole’s Arabella is sexually assaulted, while the series follows her attempt to minimize her experience and put it out of her mind. These stories underscore the many transgressions that have just become normalized and the ways in which we’ve forced ourselves to ignore them. By bringing their raw, interior lives to the surface, millennials are talking, loudly and honestly, about a lot of things we’ve long tried to suppress. It’s understandable that some people would find that a little annoying.

When we talk about the annoying millennial, we usually picture some privileged white character making themselves the center of attention. But in truth, millennials who create content out of their own lives have exposed us to a far greater diversity of voices and experiences. Aziz Ansari’s Master of None may mine a lot of its laughs from observations about millennial dating, but it also confronts some rarely explored, universal truths about race. Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens presents a portrait of arrested development that’s not dissimilar from the slackers of two generations ago, but it also offers a refreshing departure from stereotypical Asian-American stories of upward mobility.

Annie: “I’ve been letting people dismiss me and say shit to me about my body my entire life. At this point, I’m like, ‘fuck them.’” - Shrill 1x01

There’s also the radical, body-positive joy of Shrill, which celebrates the thoroughly millennial attitude of loving yourself—both as an act of defiance and no big deal. And Issa Rae’s Insecure showcases what writer Yomi Adegoke calls “the humdrum experiences that all black millennial women go through”—centering their stories while giving them dimension and relatability.

In previous generations, these types of characters may have been reduced to stereotypes or tokenistic portrayals, their stories revolving around one-dimensional issues, rather than their fully realized lives. But in millennial culture, they’re allowed to be themselves—the good, bad, and yes, the annoying. There’s a phrase that goes: the first one through the wall always gets bloody. Millennials are proof of this—trying to break down so many barriers at once, only to get buried in the rubble of the structures built by those who came before. They may seem annoying now, but maybe future generations will thank them for it.

Todd: “Now, I never know if I can handle anything. That’s what makes my life so exciting.” - Bojack Horseman 4x03