Analysis & Comment

Molly Roberts: ''OK, boomer' – the kids are fighting back with a new rallying cry'

Two words have launched a thousand tweets and opened a new front in the generational wars.

Feeling completely clueless? OK, boomer.

The ‘New York Times’ and NBC News last week picked up a trend from high-school halls and teens’ TikTok accounts and deposited it in the national news. The Gen Z-generated phrase “OK, boomer” has turned into an epithet rallying the country’s young against their forebears in collective mockery. The all-purpose reply is designed to disarm oldish people who dispense condescension dressed up as wisdom.

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Your mom tells you your peers’ phones are rotting their brains, and they should spend some time outside mowing the lawn. “OK, boomer.” Your grandpa tells you kids these days have lost all sense of civility because they yelled at Ellen DeGeneres for going to a football game with George W Bush. “OK, boomer.” Some random grump in your replies on Twitter tells you Greta Thunberg should go to school back in Sweden instead of gallivanting across the world spreading the green gospel. “OK, boomer.”

It’s glib, it’s short, and it’s not at all sweet, but “OK, boomer” also reveals something about each of today’s generations. So does the response the words have wrought.

The mainstreaming of a meme that was making its way on to $36 Redbubble-style sweatshirts sold by entrepreneurial 17-year-olds has, apparently, made boomers mad – which basically proves Gen Z’s point. Conservative radio personality Bob Lonsberry took to the internet to not-so-patiently explain “being hip and flip” does not excuse “bigotry” and “boomer” is in fact “the n-word of ageism”.

OK, boomer. Then there’s Gen X, dubbed at various intervals as baby busters and 20-nothings. The names all imply a depressing sort of emptiness. So it’s fitting that some in Gen Z seem to have forgotten this in-between cohort exists at all and instead are lumping them in with the rest of the (relatively) elderly. Gen X are helping out by lumping themselves in with the boomers, and against those ungrateful kids.

Millennials have allied with Gen Z, and managed to vitiate the meme in the process by overdoing it. “OK, boomer” was fun and funny, so we said it about a million times on Twitter in the space of one day, and now it has become unfunny and lame. That’s appropriate, too, for a generation that supposedly kills every good thing.

It makes sense that millennials are taking up arms with our Gen Z comrades – because we’re the ones who have been maligned the most for the sin of our birth years.

Gadgetry has stripped us of the capacity for meaningful human connection, or so the argument from self-help gurus goes. The losers among us are basement-dwellers; the cool ones are profligates who refuse to contemplate the future. Blah, blah, avocado toast.

“OK, boomer” is appealing because, on the simplest level, it flips the script. Old people have been telling young people for years they don’t get it because they just haven’t had the chance to learn. Now, young people have developed a cryptic code for telling old people they’re the ones who don’t get it, and that failure is all the more flagrant because they have had countless chances to learn.

But the flipping is craftier than just that. What’s important isn’t that the kids are fighting back. It’s that the kids are fighting back without really fighting at all.

“OK, boomer” indicts not an argument and not an individual but an entire generation, or an entire generation’s attitude – and it does it with two words dripping with dismissal.

© Washington Post

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