The real meaning of ‘OK Boomer’

It’s not just the elderly that are being dismissed as ‘past it’.

Jennie Bristow

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Topics Politics USA World

Over the past few weeks, the ‘OK Boomer’ meme has gone viral, leading to an offline epidemic of earnest commentary. The whippersnappers of ‘Generation Z’ have taken to TikTok – a social-media platform that seems to be about sharing chill-ironic lip-synching video-selfies – with a flurry of music, artwork, and follow-on merch responding to criticisms of the youth of today with the admonition that older generations should STFU.

Being of the generation that grew up with VHS, audio tapes and landlines, I don’t really get the TikTok thing. It’s cute and funny when my kids use it, and even ‘OK Boomer’ has its moments of mirth. One viral example is a video of white-haired man in a baseball cap and polo shirt droning on that, ‘The millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up’, and a studious young woman deftly designing a sign in response that reads ‘OK Boomer’.

So far, fair enough. The only thing more annoying than young adults blaming their parents for everything is the idea that kids have a responsibility to socialise themselves. Peter Pan syndrome among millenials is the product of a culture that is persistently infantilising young people, hobbling their opportunities to develop independence and blunting their aspiration to grow up. From infancy, today’s kids are trained to regard every slight or criticism as a threat to their own – or somebody else’s – mental health or self-esteem. Young children are discouraged from playing outside without adult supervision. Older adolescents are schooled in the importance of seeking professional support for all the emotional difficulties and life transitions that come with growing up. It is not surprising that they react against being labelled as ‘snowflakes’ by the very society that has instructed them in this way of thinking and being. OK Boomer, indeed.

If only we could leave it at that. Unfortunately, this silly meme has been bounced into mainstream political and media debate to provide yet another opportunity for self-righteous claims that older generations have stolen their children’s future. Politicians, commentators and campaigners are relentlessly transmitting the message that adults have messed up the world for their kids. ‘OK Boomer’ deftly captures the sentiment that everything adults say is not worthy of debate, only summary dismissal.

As such, the meme merely follows a script that has been played out in a range of present-day political dramas – including those around climate change, the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump – to shut up those whose values, attitudes and priorities are seen to represent ‘the past’. It is a script routinely deployed by people of all ages, who are so wedded to the rightness of their own cause that they arrogantly appropriate the voice of ‘future generations’ to put their claims beyond debate.

That is the spirit in which Chlöe Swarbrick, a 25-year-old MP for New Zealand’s Green Party, said ‘OK Boomer’ in a parliamentary debate about climate change last week. It wasn’t a joke, she explained in the Guardian:

‘My “OK boomer” comment in parliament was off-the-cuff, albeit symbolic of the collective exhaustion of multiple generations set to inherit ever-amplifying problems in an ever-diminishing window of time. It was a response – as is par-for-course – to a barrage of heckling in a parliamentary chamber that at present turns far too many regular folks off from engaging in politics.’

Leaving aside the question of what Swarbrick might mean by ‘regular folk’ – presumably, right-thinking graduates – it is worth noting the speed with which a silly meme has been filled with such deep meaning.

Proclaiming that the meme marks ‘the end of friendly generational relations’, the New York Times reports that: ‘Now it’s war: Gen Z has finally snapped over climate change and financial inequality.’ The teenagers currently milking the ‘OK Boomer’ meme – in some cases, for money – are elevated to the status of prophets, engaged in ‘their own little form of protest against a system they feel is rigged’.

Eighteen-year-old college student Nina Kasman is flogging the slogan on a range of single-use tat – from stickers and socks to water bottles and notebooks. She told the NYT that she was driven to producing OK Boomer merch ‘because there’s not a lot that I can personally do to reduce the price of college… which was much cheaper for older generations who then made it more expensive’. From there, she extrapolates:

‘There’s not much I can personally do to restore the environment, which was harmed due to the corporate greed of older generations. There’s not much I can personally do to undo political corruption, or fix congress so it’s not mostly old white men boomers who don’t represent the majority of generations.’

Frustration with ‘the system’ is channelled not towards political action but into making a quick buck. These young entrepreneurs seem impervious to the contradictions within their arguments, to say the least.

Twenty-year-old college student Jonathan Williams is credited with writing and producing the ‘anthem’ of the OK Boomer ‘movement’. The song ‘goes out to all the 65-plus crowd on SoundCloud’ and is peppered with the refrain ‘old ladies suck’. But it’s not really aimed at old people, the NYT assures us:

‘In the end, “Boomer” is just a state of mind. Mr Williams said anyone can be a boomer – with the right attitude. “You don’t like change, you don’t understand new things especially related to technology, you don’t understand equality”, he said. “Being a boomer is just having that attitude, it can apply to whoever is bitter toward change.”’

Swarbrick has also used this argument that ‘Boomer is a state of mind’. This, apparently, lets self-styled generation warriors off the hook: they have nothing against old people, so long as they agree with young people! And if not all young people parrot the same script about stolen futures and impending doom – which they don’t – they can be dismissed as Boomers, too.

All of which shows that, at the end of the day, this debate has very little to do with actual generational differences. As I argue in my book, Stop Mugging Grandma, the ‘generation war’ that supposedly defines our times is not about a clash between young and old. Instead, it masks disagreements over politics, values and ideas about the future. It has the character of an unseemly fancy-dress competition, in which claims-makers compete to see who can appear most like the twentysomething ‘voice of the future’, thereby appropriating the hopes and fears of young people, and using them for their own ends.

The generation war is a proxy, lip-synched conflict, in which the more young people are talked about, the less they are actually listened to.

Jennie Bristow‘s Stop Mugging Grandma: The ‘Generation Wars’ And Why Boomer-Blaming Won’t Solve Anything, is published by Yale University Press. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

Picture by: Getty Images.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Comments

Howard Taylor

20th November 2019 at 3:28 am

What a wonderful thing youth is, such a shame to waste it on somebody so young.

Gerry Pearce

17th November 2019 at 7:37 pm

Hmm … I foresee a awful lot of disappointed grandkids come this Christmas …

Anne Wareham

17th November 2019 at 3:35 pm

People who hate change like Brexit?

Ok Boommer

14th November 2019 at 4:29 pm

Yeah, but it is ok to make fun of our generation because you all do drugs, kill, prostitute and this and that, I love my parents all and dear to my heart BUT they want “family time” so they can insult our generation. I like my grandparents and they also want family time but it’s to talk about their lives and stuff like that. They don’t insult us for stupid stereotypes. And you’re generation are a bunch of hypocrites because you critizise our generation for being undisplined and unrespectful to others but you insult them as crybabies.. ok boomer

Skeptic 1972

14th November 2019 at 5:30 pm

So, your parents want to give you advice – and you refuse to listen because it “insults” you: it implies you might (oh horror) be doing something wrong. Your grandparents want to tell them their life story and experiences — obviously, as they must be quite old, this is your last chance to hear it — but you find that just too boring.

The only, if sufficient, excuse for your foolishness is that youth is always foolish and never listens to the older generations. We have Sumerian tablets ca. 2000 BC complaining about kids these days (not caring about the gods, not honoring their parents, wanting only pleasure, etc., etc.).

But you prove, once more, what Agatha Christy’s Miss Marple said: “young people think old people are fools — old people KNOW young people are fools.”

Ed Turnbull

18th November 2019 at 10:12 am

Question: is English not your first language? I only ask because your comment’s so poorly written I struggle to get the gist of it. But here’s what I *think* you’re saying (correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve no desire to mischaracterise your position): you see Boomers’ criticism of younger generations as hypocrisy because “you all do drugs, kill, prostitute and this and that”. Well, I’m a Boomer (the genuine article – born during the post WWII baby boom) and I do none of the things you allege. Does that, then, give me moral authority to criticise Millenials Gen Z etc? Sure feels like it does, at least if one follows the somewhat ephemeral ‘logic’ of your comment.

You also claim to love your parents and grandparents, yet at the same time despise that they want ‘family time’ where they’ll ‘insult’ your generation. Maybe what you perceive as ‘insult’ is merely their trying to impart some of the wisdom they’ve accumulated over the years. Intent is important, is it not?

Let this Boomer give you a fragment of the wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years: treasure *every* moment you have with your parents and grandparents, for a time will come (and it always arrives far sooner than you expect) when they’re no longer here.

Okay BOOMER

14th November 2019 at 4:44 am

Hypocrisy is only acceptable from older folks then, I take it? I mean, look at these comments. They’ve been doing this to us since the second we were born. Constantly dismissing all of us with flippant insults and dismissive language, accusing us of being easily offended crybabies and refusing to accept our opinions as our own. The second we do the same thing, you all freak out, write articles, try thinking up new and creative insults. You are all so sad. So… Immensely pathetic.

A widdle insult and you all play the victim card? Golly, you’re awfully sensitive aren’t you?

Psh. Reap what you sow, boomer.

Jerry Owen

14th November 2019 at 10:03 am

No need to get hysterical .. calm down !

Ok Boommer

14th November 2019 at 4:19 pm

You seem to say that because you can critizise the truth

woweco6974 woweco6974

13th November 2019 at 5:42 pm

Single mom makes $89844/yr in her spare time without selling or buying any thing. I got inspired and start work now within a month i am making $175 per day. Its too easy to do this no experience or skill required just join the link and earning start form very next moment of joining. Here is link…………golden.jobs67.com

Jonathan Swift

16th November 2019 at 2:54 am

I didn’t know prostitutes could make that much money, just lying in their backs?

Joe Mama

13th November 2019 at 5:24 pm

Ok Boomer

David Webb

13th November 2019 at 4:48 pm

In reality the Boomers started the left-wing nonsense on race and sex. This female MP is hardly representative of Millennials, who seem more accurately to be split between a minority using violence in support of left-wing causes and a larger number who are fed up with all the preachy left-wing causes. The Millennials will sweep these left-wing MPs aside eventually.

Paul Donaldson

13th November 2019 at 4:08 pm

“OK Boomer” response ” no worries Doomer “

Ellen Whitaker

13th November 2019 at 2:32 pm

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get outta’ the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'”
Bob Dylan

Oh, by the way,
Don’t trust anyone under 60!

Linda Payne

13th November 2019 at 1:44 pm

There was more optimism when we were growing up; that’s is what is missing for the millenials, too much negativity, why?

Jerry Owen

13th November 2019 at 1:05 pm

As a small boy I remember having no central heating, just a three bar gas heater we could barely afford to run. I remember no carpet in my bedroom, single glazed glass that froze on the inside. I remember misty breath going to bed ( zero heating upstairs ), I remember hot water bottles when it was unbearably cold.
I remember having no phone, no tv, no car. I remember our holidays were in the UK on dreary camp sites with a leaky canvas tent.
I remember not having fizzy pop but cheap squash and cheap plain biscuits .. custard creams a later luxury.
I remember my collars being reversed when worn out, I remember my socks being darned, shoes being re soled.
Anyone who wants to return to those days is quite literally mad.
Perhaps.. just perhaps we haven’t stolen the millenial’s future , but in fact given it to them. The ungrateful arrogant spoilt brats !

Kevin Neil

13th November 2019 at 7:30 pm

I remember as a graduate in the late 80s/early 90s living in my parent’s council house with a coal fire in the lounge, electric fire in the dining room, and having to turn on the gas cooker in the kitchen at 6am in the morning for some warmth as I got ready for my 1.5hour commute to work by bus and train. I also remember the hot water bottles for warmth at night, frosty breath in the morning and ice on the inside of our single glazing. Neither the old buses nor the DMU trains that were built as a stop-gap during early dieselisation of British Rail 25 years earlier had heating and were frequently delayed.
When I moved out into a rented flat it was two rooms of a Victorian Mansion crudely converted into a 1-bed with a kitchen / lounge / diner & very worn décor / furnishings.
In my last job I got fed-up of the young graduates complaining about the amount of student debt they were in all the while driving far newer cars than me that they had purchased on PCP whilst living in modern apartments and going on three holidays a year! Yeah, I’ve really fucked it up for them haven’t I?!!!

Jerry Owen

13th November 2019 at 10:43 pm

Ha.. as you mention cold trains I had forgotten the freezing cold bus I went to school on. I’m sure there’s lots more stuff that we’ve forgotten!

Okay BOOMER

14th November 2019 at 4:56 am

” my life was hard and that means I’m a better person than you ”

Damn, I’m not one of those genocidal maniacs who want all boomers to drop dead, but buddy you’re making me see where those nutters come from

Jerry Owen

14th November 2019 at 10:05 am

You need to try and digest what others write. i never said I was better than you .
‘Genocidal maniacs’ Please explain the context ?

Ed Turnbull

18th November 2019 at 10:27 am

Jerry, you’ve effectively just described the first ten years of my life. I think the younger generations – Millenials, Gen Z, etc – have no concept of just how much the UK, at least in terms of material comforts, has changed in the last fifty year. Hence their utter lack of appreciation for what they have, and their utterly false belief that Boomers were born and raised in some Halcyon age that we’re now denying to our descendants.

If you look back the 60s seem far closer to the Edwardian era – when my grandparents were born – than they do to 2019. Back in the 60s the idea of the internet / tech revolution we’ve seen in the last two decades would’ve seemed like utter science fantasy. Flying cars would’ve been seen as more plausible. Today’s younger generation seem incapable – despite their claims of being sooo empathic – of actually imagining what life was like for our generation, and for those who preceded us. If I mention to a Gen Z-er or Millenial (as I’m wont to do on occasion) that I can recall seeing steam trains on the railways, and that my classroom at primary school was heated by an open coal fire (and this was in a large industrial town, not in some tiny country village) they look at me like I must be at least a couple of centuries old. Guess I should change my name to Methusaleh 😉

Jerry Owen

19th November 2019 at 11:21 am

Ed Turnbull
We appreciate where we came from ( I am in my mid fifties ) the hard graft it took to get where we are now. Every improvement in life from not having a phone to having a party line phone, to having a private phone line all much appreciated and valued and never forgotten.
I came from a Midlands working class family, my father brought us down here (SE) grafted hard and we moved upwards, so much so that I could be described as middle class now like many of my other contemporaries.
The irony of the left/ millenials/ and wokes is that they allegedly want the ‘workers’ to improve their lot in life… Well we did in the sixties and seventies which they now benefit from , yet we are castigated by them. What blinkered fools they are in the main.
Each generation owes its success to previous generations.

Ian Davies

13th November 2019 at 12:33 pm

Another scapegoat group to demonise like ‘landlords’, eagerly allowed to fester by the government to take scrutiny away from them. Assuming of course the millenials are capable of applying proper scrutiny given the brainwashing. Boomers stole nothing, the fact that life’s chances have diminished for the next generations is due to gross government mismanagement, and following policies that these millenials in large part agree with anyway.

Okay BOOMER

14th November 2019 at 4:52 am

> Another scapegoat group to demonise
> Assuming of course the millenials are capable of applying proper scrutiny

Cute. Hypocrisy is adorable, really.

C J

13th November 2019 at 12:15 pm

Possibly we need to welcome the first zombie generations in the Strange Death Of Europe (with Oz and NZ being definitely honorary Europeans), people awaiting the horsemen of the apocalypse, people who think that the most important characteristic of the vanishingly small number of people who determine their economic reality is their age.
I wonder if Asian millennials labour under the same delusions.

Philip Davies

13th November 2019 at 12:15 pm

Boomer: n. Another derogatory word for an older person. Used in much the same way as derogatory words have been used about black people, homosexuals and women. Nothing changes.

Jim Lawrie

13th November 2019 at 1:38 pm

The difference is that older white people are being despised not for what they are, but for what they have achieved.

Okay BOOMER

14th November 2019 at 4:50 am

I’m crying, you actually think boomer is as bad as the N-word? That’s just depressing. Like. You must have skin as thin as paper.

James McParland

13th November 2019 at 11:29 am

Really as a millennial that doesn’t “fit” into the typical box of what one is suppose to be I see this as really tit for tat. My generation is constantly slagged off (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not) by the older generations and media and it seems we are suppose to bow before the superior older generations. Now the shoe is on the other foot it suddenly isn’t fair? How about we stop putting people into boxes and I don’t know, talk to these older or younger people? You might learn something or find out you have more in common. I get that we should respect our elders, but respect should also be earned.

jessica christon

13th November 2019 at 8:55 pm

I’m a younger end gen-Xer but I completely disagree with all of this. Complaints about millenials seem to revolve mainly around their immaturity (relative to past generations) and their enthusiasm for censorship and identity politics. In the other direction is where it takes a darker turn; there’s a point where it stops being about disliking traits of older people and becomes a desire that they die so that you can get your way (deatherendum clock, anyone?), that they should be disenfranchised so you can get your way, while something like “OK Boomer” sits on the lighter end of that spectrum. Boomer hating went mainstream a long time ago (so there’s no “all of a sudden it’s not fair”), but if it was any other group being talked about like that it would be a ‘hate crime’.

Jim Lawrie

13th November 2019 at 11:07 am

Swarbrick “multiple generations set to inherit ever-amplifying problems in an ever-diminishing window of time.” Why not just stick with the old-fashioned ‘The end is nigh. Wur aw doomed. Whaur’s the whisky?’

And if humanity is as bad as they say, then surely our demise is a good thing.

Genghis Kant

13th November 2019 at 10:55 am

‘something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?’

The old ones are always the best.

Jim Lawrie

13th November 2019 at 10:54 am

“Frustration with ‘the system’ is channelled not towards political action but into making a quick buck. These young entrepreneurs seem impervious to the contradictions within their arguments, to say the least.” They know. Like their hypocritical Hippie progenitors, they have a beady eye on the bottom line.

H McLean

13th November 2019 at 9:52 am

Yes, it’s infantile and reductive but the fact is boomers deserve it. No generation had so much and they screwed it up for everyone. The economy, fucked; politics, fucked; housing, fucked; education, fucked; the EU – the less said the better but yes, totally fucked. About the only thing they did well was music but that was a long, long time ago. Collectivising guilt is something I really don’t believe in but the case against them is definitive and iron-clad.

steve moxon

13th November 2019 at 9:06 am

The deep irony is that it is those who live by ‘identity politics’ who cannot hack change. Their politcal philosophy is moribund and its addressing of the Left’s calamity is decades out of date.

Perverted Lesbian

13th November 2019 at 8:39 am

I’m actually ok with ‘Ok Boomer’ because it most definitely stops in it tracks the notion that Millennials and Gen Z are immature entitled whiny narcissistic brats, a stereotype that I imagine was quite annoying, it must feel good to have finally put that to bed so they can concentrate on making the world a better place for their grandchildren which THEY WILL, I’ve seen enough tik tok videos and Instagram posts of ‘stuff’ to not doubt this fact for a moment.

Wasn’t the Gen X version of OK Boomer – Eat my Shorts?

Ok Boommer

14th November 2019 at 4:21 pm

Yeah, karen

Ok Boommer

14th November 2019 at 4:21 pm

Also perverted lesbian seems like an immature name

Jerry Owen

15th November 2019 at 6:21 pm

And OK BOOMMER isn’t ?
Hilarious !

Skeptic 1972

14th November 2019 at 5:14 pm

>>>>that Millennials and Gen Z are immature entitled whiny narcissistic brats, a stereotype that I imagine was quite annoying, it must feel good to have finally put that to bed so they can concentrate on making the world a better place for their grandchildren which THEY WILL

If all that was needed to stop them from “creating a better world for their grandchildren” *until* now was that people called them names and hurt their feelings, they hardly seem like the right stuff to create such a world in the first place.

Jerry Owen

13th November 2019 at 8:10 am

Don’t the young get older any more, has ageing been miraculously cured?

Jim Lawrie

13th November 2019 at 11:32 am

No Jerry. According to Ms Swarbrick the ageing process has been speeded by a factor of three in those of her generation who disagree with her.

K Tojo

13th November 2019 at 7:29 am

I find it strange that parents are continually being urged to spend “quality time” with their children. What is this quality time supposed to be?

I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s so that must make me a baby-boomer. Maybe things have changed but the best time I can remember as a kid is when adults left us in peace to enjoy our own activities. The prospect of parents hanging around with us was real killjoy.

Anyway, the concerned parenthood of the post-baybyboomer era does not look like a great success – unless you believe that drug-dealing, knife-weilding school kids represent social progress.

Skeptic 1972

14th November 2019 at 4:59 pm

>>>>>>I find it strange that parents are continually being urged to spend “quality time” with their children. What is this quality time supposed to be?

It’s a pop-psychology term that makes busy careerist parents feel less guilty they spend no time with their children. They might see them twice a week for 20 minutes, but it’s “quality time”, you see, so it mysteriously somehow equivalent to three hours a day of “regular” time.

Skeptic 1972

13th November 2019 at 6:29 am

Young people think older people are stupid, out of touch, and ruined the world. I’m shocked — SHOCKED! — I tell you.

jessica christon

13th November 2019 at 6:19 am

“Ok Greta”

Dominic Straiton

13th November 2019 at 6:02 am

” Ok millennial snowflake”

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