Civic generations + Pressure


I finally caught upon Mad Men the other day on Netflix, and sometimes when I watch an episode it’s at the front of my mind that, like millennials, the GI generation has been labeled a Civic generation by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss. The idea that millennials are categorized as the same archetype of Don Draper & friends is probably counter-intuitive to most millennials.

In an episode of Season 5, Don Draper attends a modern theater show called America Hurrah, and is offended when the play calls out the emptiness of consumerism.  America Hurrah (NYDaily News) was “extremely controversial” at the time, and “helped usher in a breed of theater that was experimental, political and in-your-face,” according to Cynthia Harris, who was part of the original production.


Mad Men is today’s great social commentary that documents the slow unraveling of post-WWII culture. Aspirations of the age had been materialism and consumerism. Newfangled electric kitchen appliances probably bedazzled the vision of adults who grew up in the Great Depression. The presence of a television set made them feel secure that the country and their lives were on the up-and-up. But many entered the brightly colored schemed subdivisions to find their lives felt empty.

Don Draper’s character captures the formation of this rags-to-riches generation. In flashbacks (I won’t include spoilers) we see Draper lived in squander, and was raised by an abusive, alcoholic father. In Draper, we see the motivation of a generation that was desperate to escape the past, and reached out to anything that was new. A break from the past. New cars, new refrigerator, new house, new television set.

So it’s no surprise that Draper felt “socked in the stomach” by American Hurrah which essentially undressed the motivation of the modern age, and guys like him. Post-GI generations understand the cautionary tale of America Hurrah, that Man cannot live on Wonder Bread alone. But I don’t think GI’s ever meant for that to be the message. Through the eyes of a GI, the post-WWII era was a chance to prosper and get ahead in the world. It’s easy to look back and judge that their lives couldn’t possibly be fulfilling when fulfillment may have not been the goal.


Compared to millennials though, GIs had it easy. At least they knew when they had arrived. A concrete list of things to prove it. Millennials have an ever-growing list of things that shouldn‘t fulfill you. The drive for fulfillment is a carrot on a stick. I fear that millennials never know when they’ve made it, which is causing a lot of anxiety. I’m thankful millennials were not handed down a one-size-fits-all dream from our predecessors, but there is pressure to find “the best” of everything.

I came across a great article the other day on The Daily Beast called Are Twentysomethings Too Afraid of Missing Out? The author concludes that her struggles with FOMO are “nothing unusual,” and common for a “typical twenty-something.” She references the original meaning of FOMO which was “born from the constant pressure of social media” but expands it to a greater and deeper problem for today’s twentysomethings, based on the book Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? by mother-daughter team Robin & Samantha Henig.

They (the Henigs) chalk it up to “regret-avoidance,” and suspect someone like Muir is simply “forestalling any kind of commitment,” citing a longitudinal study that found people tend to feel deeper regret about the things they didn’t do than the things they did. That analysis sounds a lot like FOMO to me, not just of missing the best party Friday, but of missing the best adventure, the best partner, the best life.

The more you talk to people who have so many choices, the more you see how plagued they are by the very length of the menu in front of them.

  –Lizzie Crocker of The Daily Beast

No pressure.


I think pressure is something Civic generations have in common. Draper escaped the dead-end life of poverty through success proven by materialism. Millennials are trying to escape the emptiness of the fabled 1950s, through the ongoing search for fulfillment. Proven by how awesome you are 😉

So, as I said earlier, I don’t think the message GI’s meant to send was “materialism solves all your problems.” They wanted the comfort of middle-class living, and a bright future. In the same way I don’t think millennials are intentionally burdened with choice overload, I think previous generations were just trying to escape the boxed-in living they had witnessed. So thanks for that!

Maybe the drive for fulfillment for millennials should be tempered with contentment? Finding the best is admirable, but learning to make the best of things as you go along is also a worthy goal.

Image source: “Fridge worship”

7 thoughts on “Civic generations + Pressure

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