“OK Boomer”: The Immortal Feud between Old and Young

Alexea Johnston, Queens University.

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Over the last month, members of generation Z and young millennials have coined the phrase “OK, boomer” as their response to a generational rivalry between the old and the young.  Commonly used to dismiss statements made by older generations who claim to know better than the young, the statement originated from online content, including memes and comical tweets. Since then, the phrase has entered real life, even appearing in a parliamentary debate in New Zealand [1].

“Ok, boomer” is a new addition to a long running cross-generational feud between those belonging to the Baby Boomer generation and those belonging to younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Z. For Millennials and Gen Z, the “OK, boomer” trend is a response to the older generations’ ridicule for being “snowflakes”, supposedly trading mortgages for avocado toast, and complaining about student debt instead of working hard. “OK, boomer” is a cutting and dismissive remark that represents the exhaustion of younger generations towards older generation for their misunderstanding of younger generations’ culture, politics and anxieties.

According to an article published by Vox.com, the earliest mention of the phrase “OK, boomer” can be dated back to 2015 on 4chan. However, the dramatic increase in popularity of the phrase can be credited to the popular app TikTok, wherein the song “OK BOOMER!” by Peter kuli & jedwil, became a hit among young users [2]. The complaints expressed by the teens and young adults making these videos are often political, with many expressing resentment towards the older generation for their judgements against younger peoples’ sexuality, self-expression and personal life decisions.

The escalation of “Ok, Boomer” was further amplified by the resistance that some Baby Boomers expressed in response. Many from this group claim that the phrase is extremely offensive and ageist, with some even comparing it to racial slurs. This has caused Human Resources professionals to question the implications of “what happens if people start saying “OK, Boomer” at work?” [3]. In the workplace, employers are unable to discriminate on grounds of age, which includes unfairly targeting older employees[4]. While dismissing another coworker with “OK, Boomer” may not be a punishable offense at first, repetitive and discriminatory mention of one’s age could be considered workplace harassment.

Generations are constantly in conflict with one another, which is demonstrated by how there is always a general stereotype of a group based on when they were born. We all have a habit of making over generalized statements about generations, building a narrative around the idea that our differences are attributed to a generational gap.

The Baby Boomer generation is defined as those born between the years 1946 and 1964, when the Western world began to change dramatically. During the Vietnam War, an antiwar movement was formed which combined civil rights protests, counterculture, and women’s and gay liberation [5]. At one point Baby Boomers had criticism about their society like young people today. While this generation was once regarded as breaking social barriers, their views are now viewed by many younger people as conservative and outdated. In under 30 years, the same will likely happen to Millennials and Gen Z, who will eventually participate in the very same “kids these days” criticism they currently experienced.

Thus, the differences we believe we see in generations, may be more a consequence of age itself. Older people are tend to be more stubborn and firm in their beliefs, whereas, young people tend to be more self-centered on average [6]. While politics, societal norms and civil rights have continued to progress and become more accepting, a divide between old and young continues to form.

While “OK, boomer” is not equivalent to the use of offensive racial slurs, we must remember that at one point in time, older generations also felt ostracized and abused by the political system and the adults who came before then. Perhaps age is one piece of a larger political issues. By placing blame on different generations, we risk misguiding our frustrations away from issues that matter more.

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References:

[1] Mezzofiore, Gianluca. “A 25-Year-Old Politician Got Heckled during a Climate Crisis Speech. Her Deadpan Retort: ‘OK, Boomer’.” CNN, Cable News Network, 7 Nov. 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/06/asia/new-zealand-ok-boomer-trnd/index.html.

[2] Romano, Aja. “‘OK Boomer’ Isn’t Just about the Past. It’s about Our Apocalyptic Future.” Vox, Vox, 19 Nov. 2019, https://www.vox.com/2019/11/19/20963757/what-is-ok-boomer-meme-about-meaning-gen-z-millennials.

[3] “Why Saying ‘OK, Boomer’ at Work Can Be Age Discrimination.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/why-saying-ok-boomer-at-work-can-be-age-discrimination/.

[4] “Age Discrimination (Brochure).” Ontario Human Rights Commission, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/age-discrimination-brochure.

[5] Scott, Holly. “Perspective | The Problem with ‘OK, Boomer’.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 Nov. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/11/13/problem-with-ok-boomer/.

[6] Resnick, Brian. “Why Old People Will Always Complain about Young People.” Vox, Vox, 12 Nov. 2019, https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/11/12/20950235/ok-boomer-kids-these-days-psychology.