This 52INSIGHTS examines the recent explosion of the phrase ‘OK boomer’ - now widely being described as ‘the insult of the year.’
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
The phrase, ‘Ok boomer’ was coined by Gen Z and Millennials - younger ‘Zoomers’ - in response to generational relations. The phrase is initially credited as a response on TikTok to a baby boomer accusing younger generations of having a ‘Peter Pan’ syndrome. The older man goes on to say:
“They think that.. somehow they’re going to create a utopian society where everything is equal… you’re going to mature and realise that this utopian society you created in your youth is not sustainable.”
As he talks, a young woman simply writes ‘ok boomer’ as a response on a piece of paper - calmly dismissing his narrative. The catchphrase, having since gone viral (thousands more artistic online responses have been posted, and there’s even a song about the phrase), has been described as a weapon of war between generations - a cutting term used to dismiss the views of the generation born between 1946 and 1964. It’s been years of frustration in the making.
“It’s so funny - it’s a pure insult. It’s basically saying to that older generation you don’t know anything about modern living. You’re out of date.” Dan, 24
“It feels it’s about time something like this happened. It’s addressed directly to people who are acting like trolls. But, instead of inviting an argument it just moves the conversation on… It’s like ‘we hear what you’ve said but we don’t actually have to do anything about that. I’ll just smile and move on and you’ll do what you want anyway.’ I saw someone suggest that we have an ‘OK banker’ one!” Darragh, 29
A FUN REACTION TO SERIOUS CONCERNS
While many of the ‘ok boomer’ memes are lighthearted, at its root there are increasingly sensitive political themes within cross-generational dialogue. The NY Times observes ‘Ok boomer’ as a result of Gen Z finally snapping over climate change and financial inequality - the end of ‘friendly generational relations.’
“The older generations grew up with a certain mind-set, and we have a different perspective. A lot of them don’t believe in climate change or don’t believe people can get jobs with dyed hair, and a lot of them are stubborn in that view. Teenagers just respond, ‘Ok, boomer.’ It’s like, we’ll prove you wrong, we’re still going to be successful because the world is changing.” Shannon, 19
These are very real anxieties and concerns that younger generations are living with. On top of this, ‘Ok boomer’ highlights a lack of understanding or empathy with what Gen Z and Millennials are feeling:
“It suggests that the conversation around the anxieties and concerns of younger generations has become so exhausting and unproductive that the younger generations are collectively over it. “OK boomer” implies that the older generation misunderstands millennial and Gen Z culture and politics so fundamentally that years of condescension and misrepresentation have led to this pointedly terse rebuttal and rejection… It’s important to understand that what really lies behind “OK boomer” is increasing economic, environmental, and social anxiety, and the feeling that baby boomers are leaving younger generations to clean up their mess.” Aja Romano, Vox
Of course, the use of the phrase has provoked a backlash - noting that it’s ageist and dismissive. Ironically, these are some of the concerns that the catchphrase was born from.
“Ok boomer is one of my favourite TikTok memes so far. I am also obsessed with all these ‘aul people getting on their high horse about it when we’ve had to read crap ‘think-pieces’ about how millennials are ruining everything for years… I’m not into ageism but it’s funny.” Eleanor, 27
What the phrase ultimately suggests is that older generations can keep talking and reacting to what youth are doing and saying, but it’s Gen Z and Millennials that are shaping and changing the future - whether you’re with them or not.
While the root of this catchphrase is serious, the reaction is rooted in humour. From memes and merch to music, younger generations are embracing this ‘making light’ of concerning situations in brilliantly creative ways. It’s smart, dynamic and it’s really fun. Don’t be afraid to bring fun and nuance into serious issues.
‘Ok boomer’ highlights youth’s unwavering ambition for a better future. This is a show of strength and rebellion. But the phrase also highlights specific gaps or misunderstandings - in perspective, empathy, communication, respect, ambition... In doing so it is clear where opportunity areas lie. The concept of intergenerational conversation is sparking debate. Not all boomers are dismissible - #NotAllBoomers - and with those instances of rare respectability, there is a space for intergenerational discourse and collaboration that could have huge impact.
“Fame, power, and a fat bank account will change almost everyone” Tati Westbrook on James Charles.