Over the past few weeks, teens have circulated thousands of social media posts with the same message: “Ok Boomer.”
Over the past few weeks, teens have circulated thousands of social media posts with the same message: “Ok Boomer.” The phrase, a sarcastic dismissal of “baby-boomers,” has gained traction among teens as a clever response to the inability of older generations to understand them. In response to a viral video of an older man declaring, “the millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome; they don’t ever want to grow up,” youths across the world are using the phrase as a jaded retort. But while “Ok Boomer” was created as a lighthearted joke on TikTok, its implications reach far beyond the realm of social media memes. Recently, it made its way to the New Zealand parliament, when a 25-year old New Zealand politician dropped the retort while testifying on climate change.
The phrase has come to symbolize Generation Z’s collective response to the obstinance and indifference that stereotypically characterize older generations. As more and more Generation Z teens turn of age, “Ok Boomer” is a blasé acknowledgement of the bleak political climate that we have inherited. In return, older generations have begun to use similar language: In a recent interview with Axios, senior executive of AARP—American Association of Retired Persons—Myrna Blyth retorted, “Ok millennials, but we’re the people that actually have the money.”
In getting bogged down by such generational warfare, we misname the true target of our resentment. While the term “boomer” has historically referred to a person born between 1946 to 1964, it is now increasingly used to call out people in positions of power who have turned a blind eye to youth frustration—people of all ages. To classify all modern political conflict as part of a generational divide, then, is unconducive to meaningful discussion.
The tendency of valuing polarization over dialogue endures over time. Today, we witness similar but heightened stagnation in the country because of how easy social media has made propagation of generational divides. We have an almost unlimited ability to circulate taglines like “Ok Boomer” that only further the polarization that ails our country. As “Boomer” is now used to identify anyone who obstructs change—regardless of age—what truly separates us isn’t generation as we seem to think, but rather power.
Misplaced stress on generational divides isn’t a new phenomenon to American politics. In fact, the 1960s—ironically, whose very generation that “Ok Boomer” targets—is a paragon. America in the sixties faced a new age of complex social conflict that included the counterculture, civil rights activism, sexual liberation, and the anti-war movement. But despite such revolutionary change, the country became obsessed with generational solidarity. At the forefront of this cultural marvel was an active generation of youths—boomers—who questioned post-war materialism. The saying, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” was coined, and adults used this phrase to ridicule Boomer youth as being chaotic. Debate about the actual ideas and policies that distinguished the decade fell by the wayside and was replaced with meaningless feuds.
Ironically, the youth of the 1960s were disillusioned with the entrenched social paradigms at the time, longed for radical change––and thus align closely with Gen Z’s “Ok Boomer” movement. Many adults in the Baby Boomer generation feel the gravity of apathetic political figures in power just as we do, so it is unfair for us to divide the world into boomers and non-boomers, assuming that one can’t understand the plight of the other. In doing so, we not only forget the issues that truly matter but also isolate ourselves from a group of people who can aid us in making change.