Is "OK Boomer" Generational Warfare or a Social Media Construct?
The first time I heard about "OK boomer" as a Thing, I felt reflexively defensive. It was like someone saying to me, "Okay, fatty" or Okay, stupid". Naturally, one wants to retaliate against this kind of disparagement. And voila, the fight is on.
There is no good response to OK boomer. None. To respond is to be defeated, much like responding to a troll. In fact, EXACTLY like responding to a troll. That is the beauty of OK boomer as a meme and as bait to further its impact.
The other day, my Gen X nephew replied to something I said with “OK boomer”. Already primed for the maiden issuing of this insult, I snapped back, "And what's so good about your generation? You didn't do anything at all!" He agreed wholeheartedly, taking the wind out of my sails. "But I'm one of the good ones," he exclaimed. "So am I!" I countered.
He went on to tell me that I just didn't get OK boomer. We went on to argue about memes versus GIFS. Reading further about OK boomer, I find that the defining aspect of the term is that boomers misunderstand it. It's not an insult, but rather an exasperated reaction to economic anxiety. Elsewhere, there are hints that it just means young people don't want older people's advice.
Generational warfare is nothing new. "I hope I die before I get old" was an anthem of the 60's. We weren't anxious about jobs or students loans; we just hated adults and everything they stood for. I'm pretty sure that this is a developmental imperative, hardwired into adolescence. It wasn't uncommon in the 60s to hear angry shouts of "Get a haircut!" while just minding your own business with your peers.
But since we didn't have social media in the 60s, these insults weren't viral calls-to-arms and didn't even merit a response. Imagine the generational divisions of the 60s amplified over social media! I can't even, to borrow your expression, millennials!
I admit to making fun of millennials. Their special coffee needs, their avocado toast, their Ubers, their hook-up culture and their disdain for my dark wood furniture. They just seemed fussier about everything than Gen Xers. But I also admit that I genuinely didn't get them and their aesthetic didn't appeal to me. However, I do see their struggle to create a different world, and to reject the lifestyles of their elders. They heard boomer complaints about children and mortgages and they wanted none of it.
But I have many close friends who are millennials and fundamentally I don't think we are so different. We want love, freedom, a sense of community and nice shoes. It's Gen Z that I don't "get" but I am more than ready to hear their concerns and worldview. I have no desire to give them advice. Just because we're old, boomers have no magical insights to impart to young people except to say, "One day, you'll be old too." I personally don't want to be the one to break the news to anxious young people. Let them enjoy their youth, for fuck sake.
Boomers are widely perceived as resistant to progressive change. We ruined the economy, the environment, we hoarded all the money, and we basically destroyed human civilization. It's hard to argue these accusations. But boomers aren't a single monolith. Plenty of us never worked for a corporation or drove a big car or voted for any wars or bought stock in anything. I could add that few of us patronized Forever 21 or H&M, so we aren't the sole environmental villains around here.
Still, the world is fucked up and Gen Z had nothing to do with it. All of us are born into a time that feels precarious, don't you think? My generation had atomic bomb drills in school, just as Gen Z must endure school shooter drills. We should learn more about each other before writing each other off as the enemy.
But even as I write this, there is a new feud brewing between Gen Z and poor Gen X, with Gen Xers being called the "Karen generation," as in “Karen, the middle-aged white mom who is always asking for the manager and wondering why kids are so obsessed with their identities."
Karens are generally "privileged from the system the boomers set up for them and [are] now acting entitled and working against Gen Z. They’re usually racist, homophobic, and transphobic, don’t believe in vaccines or climate change, and are mostly also the parents of Gen Z children." Wow! That's quite a negative stereotype, isn't it? And here I thought of them as pretty harmless.
Generational warfare has been around as long as humanity, but it has taken social media to fire up all sides, even commercializing the term OK boomer, which is available on sweatshirts and baseball caps. Where once the phrase "Kids today!" was simultaneously a genuine and ironic cri de coeur of parents, the current name-calling seems more bitter and entrenched.
If we all double-down on stereotypes, we are buying into the fucked up economy of divisiveness and fear that is the ultimate outcome of advanced capitalism. And as novelist Francine Prose wrote in the Guardian,
…it does seem unjust to direct one’s anger at the average middle-class senior citizen struggling to survive on social security rather than raging at, let’s say, the Koch brothers the Sacklers, the big banks, and the fossil-fuel lobbyists who have effectively dismantled the EPA. OK, Morgan Stanley, have a terrible day.
Fight the power, rather than youths or olds, is my feeling. I know, I know, you're thinking OK boomer. And I'm thinking, Thank U, next.