Awkward, in a good way

by Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights

Awkward. Quirky. Weird. These probably aren’t the first words that come to your mind when envisioning the most popular girls in high school. But we’ve been hearing more and more in our research with Millennial girls that being quirky is actually something to brag about. High-schoolers we met with over coffee in New Jersey defined their friend group as “quirky” and “weird,” and described the funniest, most popular girl in their class as “awkwardly funny” (they were also quick to point out that girls were definitively funnier than boys)

For a generation that prides itself on being unique and creative, it’s only natural these traits come paired with a dose of quirkiness and awkwardness. Being totally unique often means you’ve got to be a little random and offbeat – case in point, hot young actress Chloe Moretz waxes poetic to Seventeen (http://ow.ly/bTJ1k about her love of geeky Xbox game Call of Duty and explains, “I’m fun-loving, a complete nerd. I’m ridiculously random. I was on video chat with my best friend and I just broke out in a song about ramen noodles… I started doing all these weird bass noises… you could definitely say I’m weird.”

Similarly, on Hello Giggles (http://ow.ly/bTqkN), two bubbly high schoolers claim to relate to Taylor Swift’s “nerd” character much better than her “cheerleader” character featured in her video “You Belong With Me.” Senior Nicole provides the rationale, “We’re quirky and weird, and we don’t really take ourselves too seriously. We’re always fooling around and laughing!”

So it’s no surprise that Millennials are anxiously awaiting the return of Jenna Hamilton in MTV’s “Awkward” tonight (check out #Awkward on Twitter). In a study MTV recently did analyzing the defining traits of popular female characters and celebrities, Jenna’s top three were: “smart,” “funny” and “attractive” … not bad for a character that’s also nerdy, awkward and quirky.  Her Tweet-able, witty quips have a distinct Millennial sensibility to them – for example, when describing a guy she likes, she states, “He was a remedial speller, and that was proof enough for me to exonerate him.”

Yet there’s certainly shades of being “awkward,” and probably only a Millennial can understand the full nuance of when someone is “awkward in a good way” versus “sooooo awkward” (eyes rolling.) Being able to come up with the perfect #ThatAwkwardMomentWhen based on something funny in your life is desirable; being the girl known for writing something totally awkward on a crush’s Facebook wall is not. As one high school senior in our New Jersey Starbucks meet-up was quick to point out about her group of friends: “We’re weird, but not ‘weird weird.’ We’re ‘funny weird.’” And only a high school girl can truly understand when this delicate line has been crossed!

"Seeing Ourselves in the Movies"

- Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

Last Sunday night, MTV aired the 2012 MTV Movie Awards. As part of the lead-up to this year’s show, we at MTV Insights have been sharing some key insights regarding this generation’s unique relationship with movies. So far, we have discussed the renewed significance of movie-going as an expression of Millennials’ craving for real-life communal experiences [see our previous post: “Is the midnight screening the new rock concert?” http://ow.ly/bp8Lr ]. We have also discussed how the massive rise of social media has enabled Millennials to form deeper and longer-term relationships with their favorite movies [see our previous post: “#MillennialsAtTheMovies: How Social Media Has Transformed This Generation’s Relationship with Movies”http://ow.ly/bpaRy ]. Before we say goodbye to this year’s Movie Awards, in this post we share one final insight regarding movies and the Millennial generation…

In recent years, we have seen the timeframe of movie franchises expand significantly. Today, it’s not uncommon for studios to announce (oftentimes before the first movie in a series has even finished shooting) that  they plan to release a franchise via several installments over several years. With this industry shift towards serialized movie storytelling, a movie franchise’s lifetime can now span an entire decade or longer – long enough for a child to grow into adolescence and adulthood. As a result of these extended timeframes, Millennials are the first generation to age in parallel with their favorite movie franchises and characters. Consequently, Millennials view certain films as a generational mirror, in which they witness their own maturation process projected on the big screen in real time.

The Toy Story franchise is a primary example of this phenomenon. In speaking with Millennials about which movies they hold closest to their hearts, the Toy Story franchise comes up again and again. “We grew up with Toy Story,” Christina, 21, tells us. “For a lot of us, it was one of the first movies we saw in theaters.” While Millennials were first introduced to Toy Story as children in 1995, they wouldn’t see the final installment until 2010 – a whopping fifteen years later. In that time, the franchise’s audience had grown from small children into college students, a growth process mirrored by that of Toy Story’s Andy – the beloved owner of Woody, Buzz, and all the other toy characters.

Seeing their own experiences reflected in the world of Toy Story, many Millennial viewers found particular significance in Toy Story 3. As Scott, 20, explains “When Toy Story 3 came out, I was leaving my mom for college, and that’s what Andy is going through in the movie. If it weren’t for the 3D glasses, my friends would have all seen me crying. That movie has been with me my whole life.” Tommy, 20, shares a similarly emotional perspective: “I literally cried when Andy gave up his toys. It felt like me giving up my toys. We are literally giving up our childhood there. We’re moving on to adulthood and it sort of hurts.”

Another major franchise that holds a special place in the Millennial heart is Harry Potter. This franchise spawned 8 movies over the course of 10 years (2001 – 2011). Having grown up voraciously reading the Harry Potter books (the first of which was released in 1997), Millennials approached the film adaptations with a strong emotional connection which has only gotten more powerful as they grew up alongside the films’ characters and actors.

“We evolved as Harry Potter evolved. When the first Harry Potter film was released, we were young and discovering ourselves. With the last movie released last year, many of us have graduated from college and are moving on with the next part of our lives as Harry Potter did,” says Stephanie, 22.

These generational narratives that run parallel to the lives of the audience allow Millennials to see and explore rites of passage (first crush, first kiss, leaving home, etc.) in a powerful, communal way.

Given that Millennials are the first generation to age alongside their favorite characters, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the somewhat extreme expressions of fandom/loyalty we see Millennials exhibit for certain franchises. After all, these movies, in a sense, are an extension of themselves. As Javier, 24, puts it “The magic of movies for our generation is seeing ourselves in the movies – when you can say ‘that’s me, that’s my world.’”

#MillennialsAtTheMovies: How Social Media Has Transformed This Generation’s Relationship with Movies

- Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

In preparation for the 2012 MTV Movie Awards, we at MTV Insights have been conducting research to understand this generation’s unique relationship with movies — what movies mean to Millennials, what draws Millennials to the theater, and what constitutes the “magic of movies” for this generation.  In a previous post, we discussed the renewed significance of movie-going as an expression of Millennials’ craving for real-life communal experiences.  In this post, we share another key insight …

The massive rise of social media has shifted the “half-life” of the movie-going experience — stretching-out horizontally and deepening vertically the experience before, during and after the movie itself — and transformed the material of movies into the stuff of social currency.

Before a highly-anticipated movie comes out – and sometimes, even before a movie goes into production – Millennials throw themselves into research-mode.  “We try to know as much as we can before we go in,” says Scott, 20. 

Whether they are posting trailers on Facebook, scrounging on the internet for behind-the-scenes photos, or debating studios’ casting choices, Millennials maintain a sustained level of excitement for upcoming movies by consuming and sharing any info they can get their hands on – even if it means ruining certain surprises.  “You pretty much can’t avoid spoilers anymore,” says Javier, 24.

With so much amplified build-up, Millennials treat the release of a highly-anticipated film as a major cultural happening.  Between the themed costumes, homemade signs, and screaming crowds, opening weekend today often looks more like a rock concert than a movie screening (see our previous post “Is the midnight screening the new rock concert?” http://ow.ly/b7Uk9 ).

Coming off the emotional high of a highly-anticipated movie, Millennials maintain their momentum by extending their involvement with the movie well beyond the couple of hours they spend in the theater.  One of our interviewees confessed to us that as soon as he leaves a theater, he often posts a quote from the movie on Facebook in the hopes that someone will “Like” it and/or comment on it, providing him an opportunity to continue discussing the movie.  Even long after seeing a movie, the ability to whip out an apropos movie reference – in-person or online — is a strong form of social currency.

Millennials’ prolonged involvement with their favorite movies – from the pre-premiere build-up to the elaborate screenings to the post-movie discussion — is deeper than it may appear at first.  For a generation that defines themselves by the content they consume, “Like”, or share, movies offer Millennials a common language through which they express their own experiences.

Whether it’s posting a quote from The Notebook on Facebook as a coded signal to their friends that they’re having relationship problems (as one of our respondents admitted to doing) or sharing movie-inspired GIFs from the blog #whatshouldwecallme (or one of its many imitators) to express how they feel about an everyday situation, Millennials are drawing upon a vast pool of movie knowledge to better articulate their own experiences.   As Jacqui, 24, explains “For our generation, the culture of movies goes beyond the screen. It becomes a part of your life and a way you identify yourself.”

A Tale of Two Generations in The City

Jana Steadman, MTV Insights

Comparisons between HBO’s Sex and the City and Girls were both inevitable and plentiful. But the head-to-head between the Gen X world of Jimmy Choos and the Millennial hipsterdom of Modcloth was just too tempting for us. So here’s MTV Insights’ rundown of a few Gen X versus Gen Y-isms between the Ladies and the Girls:

On Parents:

Gen X: Carrie never mentioned her parents, not once in 94 episodes and 2 movies. Parents are, for the most part, a Gen X no-no. Not cool. Not interesting. And certainly not characters in your TV show.

Millennial: In the very first episode of Girls, Hannah’s parents are trying to retrench a long-standing and long-suffering “peerenting” role. They financially cut Hannah off in the face of her classic play, “All I’m asking is for $1100 a month from you for the next 2 years.”

Peerenting: Boomer parents looking to avoid authoritative parental stereotypes, became more like life coaches to their children, and offered a peer style relationship with them (http://ow.ly/aPgJe) . This flattening of the family power dynamics is fundamentally different to prior generations and is rippling through society, workplace, culture, and commerce as Millennials come of age. 

On Economics

Gen X: The ladies of SATC all appear to have relatively fulfilling, high profile careers. We scarcely hear about complexities in the workplace, access to sufficient funds, or economic woes of any form, besides perhaps the odd quip about overspending on Choos. Despite being essentially a freelance writer, Carrie manages to somehow live in a brownstone, dress designer, and drink Manhattans.

Millennial: Hannah is apparently highly educated and a talented writer yet her “essay” work thus far has gone unpaid and unpublished. All the Girls are either unemployed or underemployed and certainly doing battle with the economy. The joke is, quite literally, unemployability, the unpaid internship (which may turn into “something”), the inappropriate job interview…

MTV Insights “No Collar Workers” study (http://ow.ly/aPgn7) found that 7 in 10 Millennials feel that they are underemployed yet 90% agree that they deserve their dream job. Seventy-one percent feel that they are “too talented to sit in a cubicle.” Millennials crave job-topia but are often forced into work below their talents.

On Romance

Gen X: Carrie was looking for “…real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.”  While searching for that everlasting love, there were casual sexual encounters which were empowering, exciting, and glamorous.

Millennial: For Hannah the notion of romantic love is somewhere between a dark joke, a mixed signal, and an urban myth of an “adventurous woman”. Sex lives are the domain of awkward hookups and “abusive rhetoric” while affectionate, considerate men are thought to be boring at best. The loving relationships are there, but they are between the girlfriends (despite the odd friendship flake-out, like being late for your own abortion when your friends show up to support).

In MTV’s studies we have heard repeatedly about the complexities, inversions, and paradox of modern romance (http://ow.ly/aPgup) . One of these syndromes we coined “running the bases backwards”. There are however many factors we see contributing to the complexities including role reversal between men and women, the impact of being raised by a generation of feminist mothers, negotiating romance in public through the lens of social media…

On Humor

Gen X: The ladies of SATC are admired for their beauty, style, and glamorous lifestyle – and  similarly for the stylishness of their witty repartee. Even their one-liners and double entendres are well honed and beautifully coiffed.

Millennial: There’s an almost deliberate de-glamorization of Hannah, from her beige waist-high stockings to the game her boyfriend plays with her midline. The humor too is unrelenting and non-redeeming, but has a kind of inverse-aspirational quality - being so fast, layered, reference-laden and irreverent.

MTV Research coined “smart and funny is the new rock ‘n’ roll,” and found that nearly 7 in 10 Millennials would “rather be a nerd than a jock” (http://ow.ly/aPgha). Authenticity and humor are such a critical currency of Millennials, but Millennial humor is designed to be posted, tweeted, shared, etc.

Hannah and Carrie sit down at the keyboard at the end of an episode: one is busy starting a wordy column designed to make its way to from the musings of a celebrity journalist to the pages of good old print media. The other is typing something opaque and random in 140 characters or less, to be tweeted to hundreds of followers on her social graph. Through one lens, it’s just two girls writing about love and life in the city. Through another, the two are dwellers from different planets discussing things that are worlds apart.

Is the midnight screening the new rock concert?

- Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

In preparation for the 2012 MTV Movie Awards, we at MTV Insights have been conducting research to understand this generation’s unique relationship with movies — what movies mean to Millennials, what draws Millennials to the theater, and what constitutes the “magic of movies” for this generation. In this first in a series of posts on our findings, we share a key insight about the theater experience.

Having grown up in a world where so much of their social interaction is filtered through digital technology, Millennials are exhibiting an intensified craving for communal experiences that take place in the real world. From Coachella to Occupy Wall Street, we see Millennials seeking to reconnect with each other around real-life “watering holes.” This desire for real-world togetherness also seems to be part of a larger “early-onset nostalgia” among Millennials for a golden earlier time in their “youth” when their experience of the world was more physical, tangible, and less reliant on technology.

On the one hand, it’s about what you can’t do in a movie theater (no laptops, cell phones, tablets, etc).  It’s one of the few instances in Millennials’ constantly connected lives in which they are truly able to shut out the outside world and be fully present. “To me, the magic of movies begins by being able to have those couple of hours to tune out all the commotion,” says Christina, 19.

More importantly, however, movie theaters offer a renewed sense of togetherness. Because Millennials have grown accustomed to so many solitary viewing experiences (thanks to an ever-growing number of personal viewing devices), the experience of watching a movie in a crowded theater has an exciting “communal happening” aspect. Case in point: the increasing popularity of midnight screenings.  Formerly a niche ritual reserved for enthusiasts of cult classics like Rocky Horror, midnight screenings are now a mainstream Millennial phenomenon. High school and college students across the country gather to watch premieres of highly-anticipated movies at midnight “rituals,” turning a mere movie-outing into a full-on event, which requires hardcore prep work. Those Harry Potter costumes and Team Jacob/Team Edward t-shirts don’t make themselves!

The way in which Millennials describe the rowdy energy and experience of these midnight screenings is perhaps reminiscent of how Gen X’ers would have described a rock concert, with stories of the crying, screaming, cheering masses, decked out in full fan gear. “It’s the type of fandom that really brings people together,” says Lindsay, 21.

Interestingly, having instant-access to so much content on so many platforms and devices has actually made the theater experience even more sacred for Millennials. As Katherine, 21, puts it, “Watching movies in a theater binds us all together, even if only for 90 minutes.”

The Hunger Games Resonating with Millennials on Multiple Levels

- Karissa Zigarovich, MTV Insights

The Friday before last I woke up, jumped out of bed, and said “Yes! It’s Hunger Games Day!” The day 40 of us from MTV were heading to a movie theater in Times Square to watch the early morning screening of The Hunger Games.

It’s not often something in pop culture is shared within an entire generation, turning into a national event. An event that has generated thousands of memes (http://hungergamesgosling.tumblr.com/), themed fitness classes, how-to makeup tutorials, a mobile video game (http://ow.ly/9Ze65), a tourism bump for North Carolina, and much more.

We could probably come up with a hundred reasons The Hunger Games is so compelling to Millennials, but here are just a few based on key generational themes we’ve seen in our research:

It’s a story about morality, not love
In recent qualitative groups with Millennials we’ve heard that there is a lot of interest in watching characters experience moral dilemmas, forcing the audience to imagine what they would do if in a similar situation. Due in part to the inundation of love triangles, the audience is much more interested in watching characters who have to choose between what feels right vs. what feels wrong, than those who have to choose between romantic interests, spawning many Katniss vs. Bella comparisons (http://ow.ly/9Z669). This is the conversation that Katniss often has with herself, should she disobey the rules of District 12 to prevent her family from starving? Should she take the life of someone else if it means she could survive?

It’s about gaming the system
Sometimes achieving what you think is right, requires manipulation and breaking rules along the way. 77% of Millennials surveyed by the MTV Insights team agreed “when things are unfair, I use my smarts to level the playing field.” Although the film didn’t fully capture the smarts of Katniss (IMO), many of the epic moments throughout the novels involve her one up’ing the Capitol; eating the nightlock berries, faking her love for Peeta, and showing her appreciation for Thresh and Rue while visiting District 11.

It’s about heroism
The Millennial generation values the idea of being a hero, someone who takes a stand, does the unexpected and comes out on top. Katniss in many ways is somewhat of a new kind of hero. Not only is she a woman, but much of her heroism comes from simple acts of kindness towards others vs. in-your-face stances. 67% of Millennials surveyed agreed “helping make the world a better place and doing things for others is very important to me.” Katniss’ heroic gestures include taking her sister’s place in the games and covering Rue in flowers. Interestingly, Katniss comes out as the winner in the games, but does so by killing only two tributes, Glimmer which was somewhat accidental and Cato to put him out of his misery.

It’s about a certain kind of girl
In all of our research Millennials tell us about the kind of girl/woman they admire: someone who is funny, compassionate and kind, but also strong, independent and willing to take a stand, the perfect mix of masculine and feminine traits. Katniss exudes this certain mix, she can take an animal down with her bow and arrow, but she also becomes emotional when fellow tributes are killed. This perfect mix creates a character with broad appeal, and someone young woman can look up to, with Hollywood now being urged to follow suit (http://ow.ly/a22n1).

Demi Lovato… a “Human Kind of Celebrity”

- Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights

Tonight MTV presents “Demi Lovato: Stay Strong” – a one-hour special that documents Demi’s struggle with physical and emotional issues and her journey through recovery. Demi represents a new breed of Millennial celebrity – one who is loved not for her shiny veneer and untouchable image, but rather for presenting an extremely raw and authentic version of herself to her fans. Some call this new obsession with people and things that are imperfect: “flawsome.” Our panelists find Demi to be “inspirational” “real” and “not afraid to embrace her differences.” As Benjamin, 17 puts it “she’s a human kind of celebrity.”

Young people today are demanding transparency from celebs as well as a new level of intimacy with them… Millennials choose role models who are unique, true to themselves and not afraid to own up to their problems. With the advent of celeb gossip blogs & magazines in the past decade, it’s becoming harder and harder for celebs to maintain their pristine image… but while most remain mum or deny rumors, Demi has embraced her less-than-perfect image. Adalee, 19 explains “Unlike many celebs, she faced everybody and admitted that she isn’t perfect and was in rehab. Most celebs try to hide the fact that they are going through troublesome times.” Lindsay 21, says “I respect her for being so open about her mental health issues, which aren’t talked about enough and are heavily stigmatized.”

Body issues continue to be a growing issue for young women, and many MTV fans note that she’s become a great role model for young women who feel the pressure to be “super skinny.” She’s not “totally fake looking” and is able to “love who she is.” Even guys are getting in on the Demi-love…  Jervone, 19 says “she is a good person for keeping it real and not acting like she isn’t a normal teenager…. Go her!”

As we hear more and more from Millennials… perfect = boring. This generation says it’s time to celebrate what’s real.