Let’s Stop Making “Millennials” A Dirty Word

Also: Should Donna Summer be considered an icon?

Too often I’ve heard “millennial” used as a curse word, generally uttered by people who definitely aren’t millennials, emitting bilious references to younger people as if they’re spitting out bits of dirty old tobacco. The young folk are supposedly arrogant, entitled twits with no idea of what preceded them as they stupidly demand rights (and fine foods) be served to them without actually knowing or doing anything. But is that really true? Aren’t the people moaning about the millennials forgetting that they themselves were once called young and dopey? Isn’t this a continually recurring cycle—the new generation is labeled fruitless by the ones before it, who apparently knew and did everything under the sun, only to find their good works rendered virtually useless by the incoming gang of ingrates and ding dongs?

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The reality is that millennial LGBT people come of age with more information (and history) at their fingertips that any group before them. I grew up way before internet, cable TV, and all that jazz, so I should know. Believe me, I was far from dumb, but I could have used all that extra availability of info to help cross the gay finish line sooner.

In the 1970s, I was running around places from Studio 54 to the International Stud with a sense of deservedness and joy about being gay in NYC at a peak era, and I didn’t want to hear about Stonewall—but with the web, I could have been force fed all that stuff faster and developed more character. But today’s gays have access, they have support, and they have potential connections—it’s just a matter of what they do with all of it. You can’t expect them to know everything—after all, they’ve only had limited time on the planet, so to demean them for being young would be like criticizing someone who took a 15-minute lecture tour in a museum and didn’t instantly memorize every caption.

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I feel that as long as millennials have the drive to learn beyond what’s in front of them at the moment, they will surpass their estimable predecessors when it comes to knowledge, worldliness, and achievement. I just don’t see the point in putting someone down because they’re relatively new to the scene and haven’t absorbed everything yet; that only adds to the divisions and disses within our own community when mutual respect and support would be way more useful. The older folk should recognize their own former callowness, admire the new hunger for information that often accompanies it, and basically lend a helping hand wrapped in a lovely olive branch whenever possible. Swallow your pride rather than spit it out as an expletive.

I did initially resent the way a lot of millennials have shifted away from old-school labels surrounding gender and sexuality, but it’s time to honor that too. They’re being honest to their own feelings and what they see and experience. They’re growing up in a different, often less shame-based and more progressive environment than the older folk did, so naturally they have evolved in varying ways.

Admittedly, the lapses in pop culture trivia wizardry can be annoying. Occasionally I still despair over generational gaps, like when I mentioned Madonna to a teen, who knew of the singer, but nothing about her back story at all. (“Phrases like “boy toy” and “material girl” would get blank stares from this crowd. That isn’t exactly criminal, but as someone who lives for this kind of culture, it does give you pause.) But did I know the history of Peggy Lee when I came of age? Did I know silent films? Flappers? Bohemians and rebels? No, though I later found out. Today’s millennials will find out. They’ll be fine.

The Donna Summer of Our Discontent

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With Summer, the Donna Summer musical hitting Broadway, let me remember the disco goddess, whose voice was a marvel of throbbing sensual delight and power—someone millennials should certainly try to learn about. La Donna was the voice of disco, coming around in the 1970s, when people were disillusioned with the state of the world (and city and country) and wanted to escape via sexy, immersive, communal dance hits full of lush orchestration and simmering female vocals. Her sustained orgasm on “Love To Love You Baby” was outrageously irresistible and her succession of chart toppers (especially the sizzling “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff”) percolated with a sound that made you jump to the dance floor and revel in the glory of Donna Summer (and her devoted producer, Giorgio Moroder).

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That orgasm became the rallying cry of the gay disco generation, which flourished in the hedonistic, post-freedom, pre-horror era between Stonewall and AIDS. And most euphorically of all, her duet with Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)”—a thrilling sparring match that raised disco to a new level—featured some notes from both camps that you’d never hear from anyone ever again.

In the ‘80s, once disco had died, Donna continued with interesting hits like “She Works Hard For the Money” and “This Time I Know It’s For Real.” Alas, she’d long been dogged by murmurs of dumb remarks about gays. A Village Voice writer was always claiming Donna had said something homophobic in concert about how God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. (But she won a lawsuit against New York magazine, which called her homophobic, so it’s complicated.)

I also remember Donna apologizing for a remark about AIDS, which she didn’t understand the magnitude of at first. At one point, I wrote that without her gay fans, all Donna would be playing in Atlantic City were the slot machines. But our disco divas—like all our idols—aren’t perfect, and they learn, plus we learn to educate and maybe even forgive. And that sound! It still has the world dancing with orgiastic delight, all these years later. I saw Donna in concert very late in her career, and believe me, that voice stayed with her—and us.

By the way, maybe they can combine Summer with the upcoming Cher show and have the two divas (or people portraying them, of course) singing a duet of “Dinner With Gershwin” and (“Love Theme” from) Tea With Mussolini? Maybe not.

Hey Trump, You Talkin’ to De Niro?

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The ‘70s were alive again Wednesday when the annual Tribeca Film Festival opened with Love, Gilda, a documentary about late, great SNL diva Gilda Radner. And the fest’s cofounder, the legendary Robert De Niro, had just scored as Mueller on an SNL sketch, so the chronological continuum resonated even more.

I was at a Tribeca fest luncheon at a Mediterranean eatery in that nabe on Wednesday, when De Niro continued his humorous Trump bashing, addressing us press people with, “Well, look at all the fake news writers here today.” He went on to to say that the country is being run by a madman who wouldn’t know truth, even if it was served in a bucket of his favorite cologne—KFC! “But all thinking people know the truth,” De Niro said, thanking us for our write-ups of the festival and swiping Fox News by saying, “Your support has been fair and balanced without ever being ‘fair and balanced.’” Best of all, he said he used to call Trump the “jerk-off in chief,” but now has upgraded that to “lowlife in chief.”

What a cool guy—and yes, he was talking to me.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.
@mikeymusto