Dance like nobody’s watching, they say. The young university student must have had that on her mind as she and a couple of friends filmed themselves re-enacting a famous scene from a movie.
Now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a US Congresswoman, the unofficial leader of the American left, and probably the highest profile millennial politician in the world.
Millions have seen the clip, dug out by right-wing online trolls in a spectacularly ill-judged attempt to shame her. Millions more have seen AOC’s perfect response, dancing through the door of her Capitol Hill office.
Millennials are already the most closely observed subspecies in the Western world, regarded with anything from morbid curiosity to outright hostility. Generations have always struggled to understand one another, but Ocasio-Cortez’s moves sum up the gulf between established institutions and the people now requisitioning them.
Born after the internet and raised on a diet of individualism and economic anxiety, they aren’t content like their flower-power parents to protest the mechanisms of power: they expect those forces to meet them on their own terms.
It’s easy to dismiss that as entitlement, the self-absorbed narcissism of constantly uploading selfies to Instagram – but that’s an inevitable product of this generation’s technological surroundings. As defining of millennials is the scepticism borne of living with the economic and environmental consequences left by overconfident previous generations.
(Disclaimer: theoretically I am one – I don’t do Instagram, but I can smash an avocado with one hand while nervously updating my personal budgeting app with the other).
It explains why a 29 year-old, impatient with compromised political institutions, is setting the agenda for the next US presidential election. Scoff at millennials’ confidence if you want – we need their doubts about the world.