Rebellion 2.0: Smart and Funny


While good old Franklin Roosevelt once told us, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," today's impassioned rallying cry read, "I'm more afraid of Twilighters than I am of Socialists or Muslims" and was written on the inside of a pizza box.

MTV research shows that this generation believes that being "smart"—meaning tech savvy, clever and having a "layered" sense of humor—is the ultimate social currency, as well as the way to get ahead. Forty "likes" is the 2010 equivalent of a 40-yard touchdown.

But humor isn't just about being cool. Millennials pride themselves on using humor to get ahead, with 6 in 10 claiming "being funny helps me get what I want." They have grown up using smarts to manipulate and negotiate for decision-making power in their democratic (with a small "d") homes, with 57 percent claiming to be smarter than their parents.

The new smiley face ";-)" of rebellion among millennials has been spurred by numerous factors, with one of the most significant being their relationship with parents, or "peer-ents" as we call them at MTV.

The role of a parent has shifted from being an authority figure who sets rules and boundaries to that of peer, friend, therapist and, dare we say it, "swagger coach." With no clear boundaries to push against, millennials have developed smart, fast, non-PC, edgy humor to test just how far they can push before things snap.

The Rally to Restore Sanity has been coined as this generation's Woodstock. This speaks well to the fact that both events enabled these massive generations to demonstrate on a large scale their power, social consciousness and desire to enact change. (Millennials are, in fact, the largest generational cohort in American history, second only to boomers.) Yet the "old-fashioned," crassly anti-establishment spirit of Woodstock and the '60s was oh so absent from the 2010 rally.

Instead, millennials brought us a hint of what's to come with Rebellion 2.0. According to our research, 76 percent of millennials agree that "I hate when other people expect me to live by their rules," but that iconoclasm looks like it will express itself in a new mode, a mode where one doesn't seek to revolutionize the system or smash the system so much as to game it. And when it's "game over," they'll leave the system laughing, but wondering nervously, "Are they laughing with me or at me?"

Nick Shore is svp of strategic consumer insights and research at MTV.