The phrase ‘ok boomer’ became popular only recently, with younger individuals dismissing baby boomers, those born between 1946-1964. Millennials, those born between 1981-1996 and Generation Z’ers, anyone born after 1996, have been large proponents of the phrase ‘ok boomer’. According to USA Today, the roots of the “ok boomer” came from TikTok, a short video app primarily used for comedy and lip sync music.
One older man made a video online commenting on how Millennials and Gen Z “have the Peter Pan syndrome in that they don’t ever want to grow up” and that “somehow they’re going to create this utopian society in which everything is equal, in which the government takes care of everything…one day you’re going to mature and realize that nothing’s free, things aren’t equal, and that your utopian society that you created in your mind that you created in your youth, simply is not sustainable. It’s just a reality”
The phrase “ok boomer” was also popularized alongside a similar meme trend that satirized political cartoons that are often aimed towards baby boomers. The most predominant of these memes mocked the common punchlines of many of the cartoons by simply replacing the captions or dialogue with “phone bad, wife bad,” reducing them to face value.
While these styles of memes quickly faded into obscurity, they revealed a shift in attitude that millenials and Gen Z showed towards belittlement by baby boomers. Rather than continue to pointlessly argue in their defense, they simply take the criticism at face value and dismiss it.
Some may argue that the purpose of the phrase ‘ok boomer’ is not meant to dismiss all the opinions of older people, as evidenced by millennials using it against each other. It is meant to dismiss the stereotypical behaviors that boomers tend to display; like casually insulting younger generations, refusing to learn how new technologies work, or being bewildered when the new technology then breaks.
There are plenty of older folks who don’t get “ok boomered” because of their willingness to actually engage with and respect younger generations. One of the major instances that pushed the phrase into the public eye was when New Zealand lawmaker Chlöe Swarbrick, used it against hecklers during her time at the mic. Had her presence been given it’s rightfully earned respect and attention, there would have been no need to say it.
It is fair to say that boomers lived in a drastically different world than what exists currently, and thusly their beliefs about many different aspects of life are different from that of younger generations. The general tensions between boomers and millennials are due to some older individuals labeling millennials as lazy, entitled, and not hard working.
There seems to be a general disconnect between the two generations; on the one hand there are older individuals who believe in hard work, but don’t understand the average college student’s worry over debt. On the other hand, millennials are blaming boomers for the current economic, environmental, and social conditions of today. Millennials are not wrong in blaming boomers; in many ways they are justified.
Vice News stated that data shows that “Back in 1989, when boomers were between 25 and 43, they already owned 20.9% of the country’s wealth” and that “In 2019, millennials are between 23 and 38, and they currently own a whopping 3.2% of wealth.” Adjusting for the extra three years the Baby Boomer era has in its generation, the data is still significant.
When they criticize millennials for lousy work ethic, it’s because in their youth a positive work ethic was actually worth something. The change in what is societally required has not been gradual over the past few decades, and millenials need to acknowledge how difficult the transition into the new age can be for some people.
Radio host Bob Lonsberry, posted a tweet that stated “‘Boomer’ is the n-word of ageism”. Not only does this tweet utterly miss the point of the phrase, but it dismisses decades of history that the n-word carries with it, equating the struggles of African-Americans to the hurt feelings of baby boomers. How dare young people refer to the elders by a name they already referred to themselves as?
While many companies are worried that this is an ageism issue in the workplace, others are arguing that this is a call for older individuals to actually do something rather than just complain. The problem though, with labeling Boomers or Millennials as all “ok boomers” or all “snowflakes” is that it creates an environment that doesn’t allow for facilitating conversation. Ok boomer-ing someone is dismissive in nature, and is perhaps as dimissive as the Boomers labeling millennials as ‘snowflakes’ or ‘Peter Pans’.
In the end the growing generational divide has been largely due to an inability of baby boomers, millennials, and gen z to acknowledge each other’s experiences. For years millennials have been arguing against the immovable force of baby boomers, “ok boomer” ends that argument and puts power in the hands of the youth. This is not necessarily a good thing however, as millenials can easily end up treating boomers with the lack of respect they have had to endure. If this divide is ever to close, it is imperative that all generations eventually try to find some common ground.
The entire rhetoric of this generational divide, while at times comical, is based on ignorance breeding ignorance. The best way to fight fire is not with fire. While it is tempting to blame someone for the economic and environmental issues we face today, it is no use. Blame does not fix the problem, unless these issues are brought up in legislature where there can be real change.