Is OK Boomer About Age or Attitude?

OK Boomers, you get to travel and enjoy the world before it's under water. (Photo: sirtravelalot/Shutterstock)

Remember avocado toast? Two years ago, everyone was bashing millennials for their self indulgence. Millennials were blamed for the death of everything from cereals to soap, and most recently, carpeting. We tried to point out that avocado toast was not the problem; it was government policy:

The current government is doing everything in its power to turn back the clock, to reduce taxes on the rich baby boomers, to remove regulations that protect the environment for generations young and yet to come, so that extractors and developers can make money now. This isn’t Avocado Toast; it's a war on the future.

And then you see baby boomers like this one, accusing young people of Peter Pan syndrome, refusing to ever grow up. The young person on the left opens a notebook and writes out the dismissive phrase: OK Boomer.

Millennials and Boomers

Dazed, a youth culture website, summarizes the situation:

"Boomers" may have invented the internet, but now the term is being used as an insult, one used to relentlessly own the olds every single day. And why wouldn't we – they collapsed the global economy in 2008, play a large part in bringing about the climate crisis, and squall "snowflake" at anyone with a modicum of interest in genuine social justice. The boomer-hating mostly comes from their own children, people who simply have no hope of leading a life of the same level of comfort. Is the collective vitriol the least they deserve for allowing the free market to destroy the planet? It's not for me to say.
Recently all the hateful energy directed at the post-war generation who lucked out on a healthy job market and decent life prospects has merged with laser-like focus into one, devastating phrase: "OK Boomer".

You really can't blame the kids for grabbing this and running with it. As Taylor Lorenz writes in The New York Times,

Rising inequality, unaffordable college tuition, political polarization exacerbated by the internet, and the climate crisis all fuel anti-boomer sentiment.

OK Boomer is, as Lorenz describes it, "the perfect response because it's blasé but cutting. It's the digital equivalent of an eye roll."

OK Boomer is supposedly a post-millennial thing, driven by Generation Z, commonly defined as those born between 1995 and 2015. They are theoretically eye-rolling baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. But it really isn't so simple, so cut and dried, as Herb Scribner writes in the Deseret News:

In the eyes of Generation Z, boomers are no longer only those born during the post-WWII baby boom era, defined as 1946-1964. The term "boomer" now represents older people from a different generation that just don't get it. They're not cool. They aren’t hip (ironically, a baby boomer term). They don't align with your standard set of beliefs.

Kalhan Rosenblatt of NBC interviewed some Gen-Z teenagers and found this to be a common attitude.

"A boomer is really more of a type of personality, someone who is intolerant to new ideas and who is ignorant to new ideas,” [teenager Luca] Brennan said. "Stuff like that."

Luca is a perceptive kid. I look at that TikTok and the jerk complaining about kids today and I want to say something a lot stronger than OK Boomer, but it works for me.

OK Boomer Pushback

pinko button
That's my bike riding pinko button — and I wear it proudly. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

A while back I made a lot of readers angry when I reviewed a book that called baby boomers "a generation of sociopaths." Readers pointed out that you can't make blanket generalizations. I personally have been grouped with "latte-sipping bike-riding pinkos" and was so proud of it I wore a button. David Costanza of Slate writes that we should stop thinking of generations as if they are a thing.

Are some millennials narcissistic? Are some boomers selfish? Sure, but there are many who are not and whose profiles mirror other generations. Hence, saying someone is a millennial doesn't say anything about them as an individual because the variation within millennials (or Xers or boomers) is often more extensive than the variation between generations.

In the recent Canadian election, the climate change-denying, socially conservative 40-year-old Conservative party leader and the 40-year-old left wing NDP leader lost to 47-year-old Justin Trudeau; three completely different political and social views of the world in a trio of Gen-Xers born within a few years of each other. (The Green Party leader is 65).

OK Boomer really isn't about age. I've written previously that we're not in an inter-generational war; this is a class war and a culture war.

In some ways, we would be better off if this was the last gasp of boomers trashing the place. In an intergenerational war, time is on the side of the young. Class wars are harder.

As another 17-year-old told NBC: "Boomer can be applied more to personality than really what date you were born."

Young people today have many reasons to be unhappy with the way things are in the world, but they're not alone. It would be inappropriate to co-opt OK Boomer, and I'm not good at physical or digital eye-rolls. But I suspect I'll be thinking it often.