Always Tired: The Millennial Cult of Exhaustion

I like tattoos, not all of them of course, but I'm generally in favour of body art. I have recently got two new tattoos, one before I left Los Angeles, and another more recently here in London. When I was doing a field research project as part of my PhD, I focused on a couple of tattoo and body-piercing parlours, interviewing the customers as to why they were getting tattooed or pierced and what the significance of the process was to them. It was fairly evident in a short space of time that most people didn't get tattoos because they were drunk or stones, there was generally a lot of thought and preparation involved in the permanent marking of their bodies. Marking loss, hope, transition, love, death, these seemed to be the central themes mentioned to me over and over.

I must also admit that I am not a big fan of neck and face tattoos. Mostly it's an aesthetic thing for me, I don't like the way neck tattoos 'collapse' the neck, it just makes people look a little strange, but that's just my personal opinion. As for face tattoos, I know there are many tattoo artists who will not do face tattoos, I would hazard that it's seen as the last 'forbidden' or taboo body part. I don't know, it's just not my thing. But I am also a bit voyeuristic about face tattoos, I'm so repelled by the notion that I can't help but look and I find my self fascinated every time.

I'm saying all this because a photo was released recently by Post-Malone the rapper, singer, songwriter and record producer, who came to fame with his 2015 hit, White Iverson. In the image, Malone reveals his new face tattoo, Always Tired in script under his obviously tired and bag-laden eyes.

The response to the tattoos was immediate, and it was largely an acknowledgment that the viewer, like Malone was also 'always tired.' Rooster magazine, in it's weekly round of music news noted that with the tattoo the artists was once "again representing the voice of an entire generation with face tattoos." 

In fact, the Internet was full of comments siding with Post-Malone's facial statement.

Why is a young, successful, popular artist, so tired, tired enough to permanently mark his face, and why does his tattoo resonate so deeply with so many people? Why so tired?

India Benjamin writing in the Huffington Post declares,

"Reasons why tabloids believe millennials are tired: too many selfies, too much crying over how expectations don't match self entitlement, staying up all night doing drugs and getting drunk because we're impulsive af.

Actual reasons why we're tired?

It's an extensive list, in all honesty. We're tired of how our generation has less help than our parents and our parents' parents, yet are expected to be more successful. We're tired of being part of a never-ending rat race, in which there are no real winners. We're tired of reading lies in the press, and of how democracy is turning our country into something we did not vote for.

We are tired of not being heard, or being misunderstood, despite making our point, loud and clear.

We're tired of striving to reach success and having our efforts unnoticed.

We are tired of being seen as a generation, not as individuals.

We are tired of being told we can do anything while growing up, to have that taken away from us when we become adults. Of paying taxes and not seeing any benefit from it. Of living in shit conditions, and paying more than half our fucking wage to do so.

We're tired of contradictions in the media, and having to conform our bodies to fit in with western ideals. Tired of being told we're too short, too curvy, too generic. Too smart, not smart enough. A geek, but not in the cool way.

Tired of reading about baby boomers retiring in their million pound London houses that they got with a 100% mortgage, and their degrees they didn't pay for. Even festival tickets were free once.

Tired of dealing with the shit that older generations have left us in, and having our generation blamed for our attitudes when we didn't raise ourselves.

Tired of having a degree and being unable to get a level entry job. Of fierce competition, and our best not being good enough. Of discrimination against age, gender, race.

Hell, we're even tired of being tired."

Much of the commentary focuses on millennial exhaustion, but I think it extends beyond the generational divides we often use to characterize the way things are. Everyone I know is tired, everyone is exhausted, burnt out. It seems to be one of the marks of our time.

In his book Illness and Culture in the Postmodern Age, David Morris creates a biocultural story of illness and writes that,

"we become ill in ways our parents and grandparents did not, with diseases unheard of and treatments undreamed of by them.

Now, I don't know that always being tired, or exhausted, constitutes an illness, but I do think that the cultural settings we find ourselves in, particularly the increased precarity and uncertainty of life, contribute to the way we feel on a general basis. Things hover beneath the surface of our daily existence like low-grade fevers waiting to break out--the gig-economy, the vulnerability of relationships, the political unrest, the turmoil over race, gender, identity, refugees, on and on, all of them piped to us in a continual stream of endless fear-mongering. Then there is the addictive nature of social media that traps us in a web of comparisons, celebrity, affluence and perfectionism, driving us to think less of ourselves unless we compete with the perfect worlds presented to us via social media.

Is there a remedy? Far be it from me to offer some neat solution but I do think there is at least one option to battle ones fatigue and that would be to find and accept ones limits. I think that part of the cause of all this tiredness is our obsessive thinking about our own status in society and the envy-creating life of our peers who splatter their 'best lives' over the web. The gift of technology is access and connectivity, but it can also cause us to feel that our lives need to live up to the lives of those who we look up to or aspire to be--the hustle of technology and consumer-capitalism has many dark sides and at least one of them is creating an environment of hyper-comparison which few of us are incapable of living up to.  

This is why I am troubled on some levels by the mindfulness/self-help/best life industry, it gives people remedies to help them deal with the stresses and strains of life but seldom takes the time to address the world that people are so stressed by. We de-stress to deal with a life that creates stress, maybe we need to ask ourselves if the 'best life' we get sold is really the best option.

Get some rest.