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“OK, Boomer” Isn’t Disparaging The Boomers, Per Se; It’s A Valid Criticism of Their Unwillingness To Listen

Early this month, New Zealand MP Chlöe Swarbrick casually dropped “OK, Boomer,” launching the pithy retort into worldwide notoriety

Just before the year—and the decade—comes to a close, a few final memes make their way to the fore. Of course, we still have 50 days left to find out what this decade’s concluding meme will be, but we’re set to end the last 10 years with the rallying battlecry of millennials and Gen Z-ers against the stubborn, inattentive attitudes of the generation who has so often called them “lazy,” “entitled,” and “sensitive”: the baby boomers.

Like many viral trends these days, “OK, Boomer” seems to have originated on the social media platform TikTok—yes, the same app that had Reese Witherspoon and Dawn Zulueta mom-dancing, endearingly and a little embarrassingly—and has become steadily popular especially amongst the app’s Gen Z patrons. (Merchandise is aplenty.) The phrase would not gain worldwide notoriety, however, until early this month when New Zealand lawmaker Chlöe Swarbrick used it to respond to someone who had heckled her speech on climate change. Swarbrick herself is a millennial, one of the generation’s youngest, at 25 years old. There she’d been, about to make a point on the average age of the members of New Zealand’s current parliament (it’s 49, in case you were wondering), when she addressed someone off-camera with a delivery of “OK, Boomer” as on-point as The Brady Bunch's “Sure, Jan.” The way she had said it, throw-away and incredibly blasé, radiated the exact energy of the phrase coming out of her mouth. She didn’t dwell on it; she didn’t even let it linger. 

Later, she would write an opinion piece for the UK Guardian. Her use of the phrase, she said, was “symbolic of the collective exhaustion of multiple generations set to inherit ever-amplifying problems in an ever-diminishing window of time.” Of course, too, the media would have their fill. Think-pieces, explanations, and primers—much like this one—were being published left and right. Those who had been on the receiving end of the retort, often yet accurately described as “pithy,” weren’t too pleased. “‘OK, snowflake’ rhymes better,” someone offered. “OK, kids. This boomer has had enough,” wrote Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg

Millennials and Gen Z kids, of course, banded together. For them, it’s nothing but harmless fun. They’ve been accused of killing and ruining so much that it’s become a running gag on the internet, after all. They’re “special snowflakes,” “rude,” “don’t know how to socialize,” “always on their phones,” “don’t know how the value of hard work,” et cetera, et cetera. Millennials—often confused with the younger bunch, those belonging to Generation Z, people born 1997 to the present—are the worst generation, or so it’s often been said. Millennials and Gen Z-ers have already been judged unfairly as a generation, so when a phrase as loaded and as succinct as this one emerges as organically and as quickly as anything can in 2019—through memes and viral videos on the internet—people are bound to latch onto it, especially those who have grown tired of the unsolicited judgment that have been placed on them. It’s precisely the “collective exhaustion” that Swarbrick talked about.

“OK, Boomer” is by no means a weapon to wage a war against older generations. It’s not the people per se that millennials and Gen Z-ers have problems with. It’s their unmoving beliefs and their unwillingness to listen and pay attention to a group of young individuals who are trying very hard to explain that it’s not laziness that got them where they are (burned out at age 26, renting homes indefinitely, little to no savings, preparing for the brunt of climate change)—it’s a wrecked economy and environmental policies that either don’t work or don’t account for the generation who will be inheriting this planet and its dwindling resources.  

Since the term exploded on the internet, there’s been debate as to whether it is ageist. Conservative radio host Bob Lonsberry even went so far as to dub it the “N-word of ageism” in a since deleted tweet (to which rebutted with a clarifying clapback). The thing is, as any millennial or Gen Z-er will tell you, it’s not about age. “Boomer is a mindset,” they’ll say, sometimes meant ironically, sometimes meant genuinely. But for example, nonetheless: Vaughan Emsley of Newsweek wrote a piece called “I’m a baby boomer, and I’m fine with ‘OK, Boomer,’” and then went on to explain the need for older and younger generations to come together and try to understand each other. That attitude? Not boomer. Random man on Twitter who disdainfully accuses a millennial of being too sensitive and entitled? OK, boomer. 

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In the end, it all goes back to what Swarbrick had explained. “OK, Boomer” truly is symbolic of the collective exhaustion that millennials and Gen Z kids have felt as they try to navigate adulthood and the increasingly political side of it. BuzzFeed News has discovered that in the U.S. at least, the stereotypes that plague millennials aren’t true after all. There’s data to back it up. You might be asking then: Is “OK, Boomer” an inherently American thing? Not exactly. The divide between generations in the Philippines isn’t as pronounced as in the States; we’re very big on respecting our elders here, but again, “OK, Boomer” isn’t about age. It isn’t an attack towards the elderly or the middle-aged. It’s lighthearted retaliation to anyone who’s ever looked at someone and judged them for not having enough savings or for job-hopping and freelancing rather than staying in one stable, full-time job. It’s a response to anyone whose beliefs and opinions aren’t up with the times, whose bigotry still takes precedence, whose condescension is at alarmingly high levels.

“OK, Boomer,” most of all, is born out of a millennial and Gen Z sense of humor that has been cultivated and shaped in the space in which they spend the most time: the World Wide Web. It is a joke. “OK, Boomer” is this generation’s “Whatever,” albeit more blunt and more specific to the emerging issues of climate change, financial inequality, and unfair stereotypes. OK, Boomer?

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