Reader Request Week 2019 #2: The War Between the Generations
Posted on November 18, 2019 Posted by John Scalzi 55 Comments
What’s your take on the generational conflicts of our time, currently manifesting in the “Ok Boomer” saying?
I think it’s par for the course, actually. Generational conflict makes for a good story and for good copy, and for the last 100 years or so in the US, at least, there’s been a low-grade panic about the disrespectful kids flouting the rules of society with their loose morals and bad music. Flappers and jazz! Greasers and beatniks and their R&B! Hippies and their psychedelic bands! Punkers and their, uh, punk music! Then heavy metal! And rap! And grunge! And so on and so forth up to today, with Gen Z and, I’m sure, whatever they are listening to (I honestly have no idea at the moment, which is not a reflection of the quality of their pop music, I’m just a bit clueless. Is it K-pop? I think it’s K-pop. Let’s say K-pop).
The special sauce of this particular moment of generational conflict is that it involves the Baby Boomers for the first time being the antagonists of the generational story, rather than either the protagonists or the somewhat neutral mainstream. The Boomers are now the older generation and are having a moment being seen as the ossified and inflexible group whose opinion is not worth considering, and they don’t appear to like it at all. There is the (some would say delicious) irony of the generation that famously professed it would never trust anyone over 30 having become the generation that those under 30 allegedly doesn’t trust. I’m pretty sure the Boomers don’t appreciate that irony at all.
This is the point were someone will say #NotAllBoomers, or whatever, and I’m perfectly happy to concede this point. Indeed, #NotAllBoomers, and #NotAllGenX and #NotAllMillenials and so on. It’s utterly impossible for any cohort of millions of people — whatever that cohort might be — to be in lockstep on everything. Likewise generational groupings are not the distinct things we like to pretend they are; there’s a squidgy period where whether you’re a Boomer or GenXer is really a matter of personal choice, likewise between GenXer and Millennial and so on. People go positively talmudic on this sort of thing, pulling out their favorite book of generational demographics to inform you that if you’re born in [insert year here] you’re definitely [insert generational name here] and that’s all there is to it. And, meh? Personally I’m not so wedded to the idea of discrete generational cohorts that I feel a need to argue about it at that length.
What is largely accurate is that the choices older generations make in aggregate, affect the world the younger generations in aggregate have to live in, and very often those choices are the focus of conflict. Both positively but also negatively, and the negative ones tend to get more press. For the Boomers, the choices of earlier generations meant they had to deal with (and some fight in) the Vietnam War, and both the Boomers and GenX lived in the shadow of the Cold War. For Millenials and now Gen Z, their world is shaped by earlier generations’ choices after 9/11 and regarding climate change. For Gen Z in particular, they had no say in the election of the current president, whose policies and practices should (and apparently do) fill them with horror.
Again, not everyone in an older generation is to blame (or praise) for these choices — our current president lost the popular vote by millions, after all — but these choices were still made, these events still happened, and each younger generation has to live with the consequences of older generations’ actions (or lack thereof).
I don’t think there’s much to be done about this sort of generational conflict. People are always being born and having to deal with the world made in aggregate by people older than they are. They will not always just accept the world they have been given and will seek to change it. The older generations will die off, the younger generations will have children of their own. Lather, rinse and repeat.
It’s also worth noting that the conflict between generations is often a sideshow to other demographic conflicts. The “generational conflict” in the United States, at least, is often a stalking horse for conflicts between conservatives and liberals, white people and everyone who isn’t white, and the rich and everyone who isn’t rich. “OK Boomer,” as I’ve seen it used (when it is not being used ironically) is less specifically relating to everyone born in that generational cohort as it is relating to the sort of white, conservative, wealth-justifies-everything mindset that typifies the most egregious sort of political actors among older generations, the ones who aren’t listening to anyone else anyway, so sure are they that they both should and deserve to get their way.
An assertion that all Millennials and Gen Z folks despise all Boomers with their one-day-dying breath is belied by the persistence of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the top ranks of the presidential contenders due to their support among the young(er) folks. The issues here are generational but not merely or precisely generational — they are about whose voice matters in the political and social process, and in shaping the world now and in the immediate future.
As a dyed-in-the-wool GenXer, I’m not particularly threatened by the idea that at some point a younger generation might come for an accounting of what my generation did or did not do, because ultimately the older generations should have to answer for their choices, and individuals for their own actions. I think as a political and social actor my generation gets a mixed report card; it pains me that the most prominent politicians of my generation to date have been Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan, for example. But we’ve done some good as well; I think it’s our generation that moved the ball most considerably for the rights of gays and lesbians here in the US. We haven’t been perfect, but a cohort of millions isn’t likely to be.
I accept that there will be a judgment from history, “history” being a very distancing term for “the people who come after you.” Which is to say: the younger generations. Bring it on, kids.
(There’s still time to ask questions for this year’s Reader Request Week! Go here to see how to get your own request in.)
Gen X has a claim on Obama. Barely.
I believe it’s a pretty small group of boomers who are upset about this, and they are oblivious to the irony. And to the fact that by expressing their upset they are giving any complainers satisfaction.
Boomers like me are just amused at the parallels to our own attitudes of our youth, and wondering how the hell we ended up on the other side of that divide. We’re still young, right? Aren’t we always going to be young?
I’m Gen X too, and of COURSE we don’t expect anyone to pay attention to us…as if they ever did.
The reason (IMO) that “OK, Boomer” rankles so is not that Boomers are being disliked…they’re USED to that. It’s that they’re being DISMISSED. As IRRELEVANT.
They’ve been the center of attention all their lives, and now…they’re not. That is what really smarts, I think,
I’m one of those people on the cusp of a generation (born 1965, but raised by my grandparents of the WWII generation, and thus both my mother and I are “boomers”). You’re right that most Boomers do not appear to appreciate the irony at all. I’ve been having a go-round with someone who assumed online that because I respect people with trans and non-binary identities, and declared categorically that “trans women are women and trans men are men,” I must be some youngster with a brain made out of birdseed or something like that. I rather hope I caused the person’s brain to melt when I pointed out that I’m possibly older than he is. The funny thing is that most of my attitudes were probably learned by my grandparents, whose attitude toward their child and grandchildren amounted to, “Even if what you’re doing isn’t what we would have done (and we might be disappointed with you sometimes), we always will love you, and we want you to be happy.” Seems pretty simple to me, and I’ve tried to measure myself by them.
I’ve been telling the angry Boomers so furious about being dismissed, “Okay, snowflake.”
“Flappers and jazz! Greasers and beatniks and their R&B! Hippies and their psychedelic bands! Punkers and their, uh, punk music! Then heavy metal! And rap! And grunge!”
I wonder if, seeking something different, a coming generation might decide to revive the moon/June crooning of the Rudy Vallee era?
Casually dismissing a person because of the group they’re in is not a good look. Even when it’s your team that’s doing it.
Eh, I feel fine saying “Fuck All Nazis” as a general rule. Or Klansmen! Fuck those dudes, too.
Before “OK Boomer” was a thing, I (barely post-boomer myself) was wont to say that when they sang really loud along with the radio “hope I die before I get old” they never pictured an *even* younger generation or two looking at their watches and giving the boomers pointed looks.
It’s a universal truth universally disliked that first you’re young, later (if you’re lucky) you’re old. After a while you die, and then those younger people *who never listened properly* are going to be left in charge of the world. Hardly any of them are going to say “I need to do exactly what Mom and Dad would’ve done in this situation.” They have their own ideas, the little rats. And I agree, it’s harder on Boomers than most generations because they’ve always been The Most Important Generation Ever.
I prefer the flexible approach to generational cohorts myself. I’m on the cusp between gen X and Millennials and chose millennial because I quite like avocado toast and killing unnecessary or crappy businesses.
As a total boomer, born in 1950, I just get a little tired, of being blamed for every demographic problem that came up since our lives began, Not enough hospitals, not enough elementary schools, now too many elementary schools, not enough high schools, now too many high schools, not enough colleges, etc, etc, etc. It’s as if no one saw the the big lump in population and it’s implications as it moved along.
There’s a compelling analysis floating around that suggests this schism is deliberately being pumped to discourage liberal boomers to be pissed off about it, and likely stirred by the same fine folks who brought us Brexit and Dolt45.
I teach 7th grade ELA. Recently, we were contrasting historical fiction & non-fiction about the American Revolution. In the middle of the lesson, I said, “Imagine with me for a minute, how the war would have been different if texting was “a thing” then.” I paused, then said, “George Washington could have just texted King George, ‘Ok, Boomer’.” Most of the students laughed; one laughed so hard they couldn’t breathe.
By the way, the origin of OK itself was one of those generational “things”. During the late 1830s, younger educated people had a favorite practice of purposely misspelling words and then abbreviating them to use as slang while talking with each other. They did this to confuse adults. There were a whole host of these words, but O.K. (oll korrect) was the only one which made it into the vernacular. According to History.com, that popularization was due to The Boston Post.
Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture” wasn’t written about the kids born in 1965+. It was written about those of us born in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s – the rock bottom of the “baby boom” – who frequently get lumped in with the boomers, but share almost nothing demographically with them. Born in 1961, I’m not a boomer, but I’m not a “GenXer” either. I’m part of that almost completely ignored middle area you call squidgy, but that does have a real name (see above). Too cool a name to waste on us, actually, and so it got munged and applied to the next group. Typical.
Seriously, there is a HUGE difference between the kids that graduated high school in 1969 and the kids that graduated in 1979. BOTH are considered “boomers” Yeah, no.
People shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. That said, “OK Boomer” is intended as an insult. The implication being like saying “OK stupid” or some such, dismissing the other. As you and bmcraec (above) point out, this might be just one more social wedge being driven in by those desiring to weaken our society.
I’m going to agree with bmcraec, who says: “There’s a compelling analysis floating around that suggests this schism is deliberately being pumped to discourage liberal boomers to be pissed off about it, and likely stirred by the same fine folks who brought us Brexit and Dolt45.”
I’m a Boomer with a ton of Boomer friends and not a single one of them is a conservative–most are rabidly progressive. Yet we’re all being painted by the same brush. Why? Because it benefits someone.
Remember that without Boomers, we wouldn’t have a Civil Rights Act, accessible birth control & abortion rights, and the Vietnam War would have claimed many, many more lives (possibly those of your ancestors).
Some Boomers never found the right side of the issues, and others have lost their way. But millions of us are still in the fight, working every day for a workable government & “justice for all”. Painting us all with the same brush is a roadmap to alienation.
I’m not going to fall for their game, but again the best question is: Who benefits?
David Hajicek: That’s a different interpretation of “OK, boomer” than I had given it. As a (very elder) millennial I have given “OK, boomer” the same tone as “OK, mom” when I was a particularly grumpy teenager and my mom was trying to explain something I already understood, like how to save my history essay. I was thinking it had a very similar tone to the very 90’s phrase “whatever”. But you are right that either way it is intended to be dismissive.
Personally, I think that the generational divisions are often silly but not totally useless. I might have far more in common with Our Gracious Host, who is not of my generation, than I do with my younger cousins who are also millennials on a lot of topics.
But people in my birth cohort are more likely to have the same historical/cultural touchstones to our memories and development than people in other generations. The fall of the Berlin wall means little to me emotionally because I was a small child. Whereas 9/11 has and will continue to shape everything about my adulthood, because that was where my adulthood started. And that makes my cohort fundamentally different from the people who were shaped by the Cold War. Not to good or bad, just different.
My take on “OK Boomer” is it’s the Gen Z equivalent of the Gen X “Whatever”. It’s the thing you say when you know firstly, the other person isn’t listening to anything you say to begin with; secondly, they’re going to rant at you and blame you for all the problems in the world regardless of anything you say or do; and thirdly, you don’t have the time or the energy to perform a reasonable argument with them; because, fourthly, see firstly. It’s a way of ending the discussion which says you’re not going to get tangled up in this argument, you are not here for the argument, and you just want to get on with your life and stop having to pay attention to the argument in the first place.
The entire concept of generations, like many other things, is a societal construct and therefore doesn’t really work on individuals. Sincerely, genexenboom
For those complaining that “OK Boomer” is dismissive, well, yes, it is… but it’s less dismissive of the Boomers and more dismissive of [insert obligatory “not all” here] Boomers’ dismissal of Millennials’ concerns. It’s dismissive of the “avocado toast” line that writes lack of purchasing power down to poor spending instead of low earnings and high student debt, or those lazy “millennials kill [x]” OpEd items, or those biz articles about how Millennials are so hard to manage because they’re so entitled. Perhaps the line stings more because [insert obligatory “not all” here] Boomers recognize this and push back, or perhaps it’s too reminiscent of the “don’t trust anyone over 30” line they used to dismiss the concerns of their elders.
There may be Nefarious Powers seeking to exploit it to their own means, but then again they try to exploit *everything* including flags, eagles, Mom and apple pie.
I say the kids are alright.
I remember telling my mother with some glee when I turned 30 she could no longer trust me. She’s solid Boomer, I’m solid X.
I’m with the Millenials and Zs on a lot of the complaints. So is said mother.
100 years?!? Try 2000 years going back to (at least) Aristotle.
I think we can all agree that from the Mount Olympus heights of youthful worth that was Socrates generation – the ONLY generation to never merit criticism – it’s been one long ever-accelerating 1500+ year toboggan ride of moral decay clear to the present day. The kids are NOT alright. The kids have NEVER been alright (except once, around 470 BC, or so I hear). They’re all just a bunch of punks. Like, always. 2019. 1542. 1066. AD, BC, you name it. Bunch of smartmouth punks.
“OK, Socrates” is what we’re basically talking about here. They just used to call it other things.
Read an article somewhere that said the old folks dumping on “kids these days” goes way, way, way back and mostly comes down to old people retconning their youth into a fantasy version of what they were really like as kids.
Makes sense. Most GenB people remember their childhood in terms of the GenA adults who were jerks and how GenB were perfect youths. And when GenB grows up, the next generation GenC pulls the same stunts as GenB did, but this time GenB are the jerks and GenC are perfect, GenB gets all pissy about the ‘disrespect of youth’.
You mention Cruz and Ryan… don’t we get to claim Obama as a GenXer????
Please tell me we do. It’s our only hope.
But back to the topic, I think the OK, Boomer movement is resonating even up to the GenXers, because finally SOMEONE had to say it. The generation who brought us the Summer of Love and Earth Day now seem to hate Gay Marriage and deny Global Warming. All You Needis Love became Greed is Good.
I just think GenXers are too tired to care and are just waiting boomers out. Leaves the young to call them on their shit because they’re not in the will.
>> Born in 1961, I’m not a boomer, but I’m not a “GenXer” either. I’m part of that almost completely ignored middle area you call squidgy, but that does have a real name (see above). Too cool a name to waste on us, actually, and so it got munged and applied to the next group. Typical.>>
That particular cohort (which I’m a member of, too) does have a name: Generation Jones.
The guy who came up with it was writing a book about it, but never got it done, which is somehow fitting.
Yep, I was the year Gen X was written for (Douglas Coupland was born in 1961) before the label was passed to people 5 years younger and more. In that case, Obama would have been an X:er (younger than me by 9 months!). Before that, people following the Boomers were called the Busters (if you’re a certain age, you will remember this!) We had a joke when I was in college: What’s the difference between a Boomer and a Buster? A job! Ha ha ha ha ha ha, get it? If you were born in Coupland’s year or the rest of the 60s, you probably laughed in bitter irony at the truth of that joke. I identify as an X:er, because, hey, the book was written for me! ;) And I’ve never had a job with bennies in 35 working years! This means that I’m also the Mom of Gen Z:ers, or whatever the heck they’ll be called soon enough. But the generations rise and fall, and life goes on, prefering the youth.
As a Boomer who is frequently mistaken for being about 15 years or more younger (running from bullets in my first profession kept me lookin’ young), I’m hip with “OK Boomer.” No Millenial is as entitled as Boomers — the last generation that is more probably than not the “owner” of the lawn those kids are supposed to get off of. My g-g-g-generation needs to get out of the way and go play shuffleboard instead of running for office (except, perhaps, of the local AARP chapter) — it’s largely filled with dinosaurs and not wise elders.
The problem with this that I have is even though I am technically a Boomer (born 1955) I have never felt part of that generation. Too young to participate in anti war and civil rights and too young to go to Woodstock (13). I guess I feel that I don’t have a generation or feel part of one. When people wax nostalgia about Woodstock I always bring up yeah that’s great but we also lost a lot of people due to drug abuse in the
years following that. As someone who is in recovery I tell people the 70’s were my blackout years. Lol. I have always been a progressive and I try not to judge other people. I have hope that the younger generations will do better than us. I look at the world today and I am frightened at where we are headed. I am kind of glad I am on my way out and not on my way in.
As a boomer I can say the boomers are highly over-rated in terms of their importance. Their self-importance and sense of entitlement can be profound. But not all of us. I actually like the younger generations, most are much better than they are given credit for. Yes I also concede many in each cohort is among the best or the worst.
I wouldn’t mind having a young body again, my old one often hurts. But I would never want to go back to live in the 1960s or 1970s again. In fact this century beats those times hands down. Yep there are problems today, and we need to keep working on them. I work with the “younger ones” and I admit I like them, most of them anywayz.
The thing that make me roll over laughing is that “OK Boomer” is simply dismissive, the kind of thing you say when you just want the lecture from the ‘rents about how black people are inherently subhuman (or whatever) to be *over*. And that’s all it takes for the boomers (who took us from “go to college and support a whole family and live in a house on a quarter acre on one income” to “go to college and teeter on the edge of bankruptcy and live in a rental until your hair starts graying and still can’t afford a family even with two incomes and four jobs”) to be mortally offended.
It’s not even calling out boomers or holding them accountable. It’s just exerting your right to not have to listen to blowhards. Besides, you’ve got to get back to your third job; boss says you look like you’re *leaning*.
I’m 66, and I actually remember the so-called “summer of love.” But I was cynic even back then, and my (late) mother once reminded me that, back in the day, I told her “they’re all going to turn out like their parents.” IMHO, that turned out to be true for most of them. Some people of my generation went on to dedicate their lives to their ideals, but most sold out as soon as they graduated and had to look for a job. Moreover, people nowadays seem to remember all the nice slogans that were said, but have forgotten how often the people who chanted them behaved like assholes. The treatment of women in particular was awful — for instance, “free love” was usually taken to mean that women had no right to refuse to have sex if a man wanted it from them. Actually, it was the exploitation and sexism that women in “the movement” experienced that led to the women’s liberation movements of the 1970’s.
I actually find that I don’t have much in common with most people of my generation. I relate much, much better to people in their 20’s and early 30’s, and I am really impressed with today’s teenagers. I only regret that I probably won’t live to see what they do with the world my generation leaves behind. (Or maybe it’s just as well that I won’t, if they fall as short of their potential as most of the people my age did.)
“OK boomer” encapsulates the experience of arguing with (usually older) people who can’t or won’t tell the difference between actual facts from multiple reputable sources and half-truths or outright lies from whatever source tells them what they want to hear.
By and large, people believe what they want to believe. I’m technically Gen-X, but I’ve dealt with this problem in some form since high school and college and the Reagan “revolution”. In the old days these beliefs came from a viral e-mail or something their friend/pastor/whatever said. Fox News, talk radio, and Facebook only made self-serving beliefs more entrenched, especially now they have A Source with a superficial air of legitimacy. The Internet delivers lies and truth with equal speed, with no obvious way to distinguish them.
Whether it’s the 20th century Usenet or on Twitter today, the pattern remains the same: one side has (mostly correct) facts and the other has their “facts”, and in the end they argue past each other and declare each other “deluded”. We can’t even agree on what is *real*, or how to determine what’s true.
Rather than entangle ourselves yet another pointless argument, it’s easier to metaphorically pat *them* on *their* heads and tell them to run along. It’s not nice and it’s not fair, and two wrongs don’t make a right. But there are only so many hours in the end stage capitalist day, and only so many times one can bang one’s head against a wall.
I’m a solid boomer, and I’ve loved the irony for some time now. . .
The demographic problems are not the key to possible anger towards boomers. For the most part, it seems like they have cut the ladder of social mobility and support that enabled them to be happy and succeed, ensuring that future generations will not have those opportunities. The last forty years have been a parade of spending the money and opportunities of their descendants. Taxes have been cut but without cutting spending, and this has a significant part to play in why college is expensive (state schools’ tuition increases have been driven by decreases in state support) and why the social safety net is fraying. Retirement will be a pipe dream for most because SSI is owed an awful lot of money that likely won’t be paid back, and the kinds of jobs that could enable one to retire independently of SSI are unlikely to exist for later generations (boomers: don’t ask if Millenials know what a “pension” is). The jobs changes are not entirely their fault – people wanted cheaper stuff, not just them, and were willing to do lots of things to get it – but they had a significantly role in those changes. The social organizations that sustained society and helped people of differing political and other opinions to coexist and cooperate are gone (Glass Houses is probably a good disquisition on this). These are consequences of choices made, in significant part, by the boomers, and subsequent generations will have to reckon with those consequences.
I don’t feel like dismissing them, exactly.
I don’t think GenX has to worry about it, tho’. Their generational invisibility will finally serve them for the good. When it’s GenX’s turn, GenZ and the Millennials will just start fighting with each other twenty years earlier than scheduled, and let it run to the regularly scheduled barbequeing of GenZ by the following generation. In the meantime, GenX will retire to the Moon and party there.
Thank you for this beautiful article on this topic, and thank you, fellow commenters, for many comments full of intelligent remarks. What I get from all of it is that on a personal basis most here seem okay with all that change, and don’t feel threatened by the upcoming generations.
Also, permit me to say so, but
SQUEE, MY QUESTION GOT CHOSEN FOR READER REQUEST WEEK!!! THANKS!!
Okay, I feel slightly better now. As a member of Generation Y or millenial I should probably be up on the fence about something, but I don’t feel too threatened. I often disagree with my boomer father about politics, immigrants and whatnot, but he takes my views seriously and considers them, as I do with his views. Also, the “millenial bashing” is not as strong here in Germany, or I don’t see it.
Here, the greatest generational schism in my opinion is that the far right is on the march again and they are enabled by a generation that should know better. The Nazis didn’t do good in the first iteration, and their current batch seems to be firmly rooted in the boomers and older.
Cohorts… ohmgawd, I LOVE you! It is so effin’ rare to hear someone talk about cohorts instead of about “generational” differences, which are so much nonsense. Half the people I talk to (and they ain’t stupid) don’t even know the word.
Treating the Boomers like a single group makes no sense sociologically (although there is a logic to it demographically). A 20-year span? And that particular 20-year span? One group of values? Oh, it is to laugh.
I was born towards the early end, in 1949. The first war I remember is Vietnam, it was “my” war. The Boomers born at the very beginning of the boom are old enough to have grown up with some awareness of the Korean War. That made a significant difference in sensibilities come the antiwar movement of the 60s that we were all part of.
Moving forward, I’ve got a sweetie born just one month too late to qualify as a Boomer, and for her Vietnam wasn’t something that happened, it was something that always was. Until it ended. She can remember the Moon Landing, but her social awareness is that we’ve always been in space and on the moon. She never lived in a society where that was The Future.
She also didn’t come into political awareness until the late 70s, when the Moral Majority took hold. I can remember the liberation theology of the 60s, which is what seemed “normal” to me. All she remembers is organized religion and in particular Christianity being a force for oppression.
And yet we are both (effectively if not technically) Boomers.
Stepping forward… she has partners just a few years younger than her for whom Moon Landings were never real, just history. I have one born in 1973, and for her, Vietnam, Moon Landings, and the whole counterculture revolution are history. No more directly meaningful to her than World War II is to me.
The thing about the “youngsters” complaining about Boomers going on about how great they are? That isn’t even new! We older Boomers were the children of the self-anointed Greatest Generation, and the handful of them that are still alive are still trying to make sure that we don’t forget it. Pearl Harbor — a day that will live in infamy? For God sakes, it’s 80 years ago — get over it! I will be so glad when every frikkin’ one of those self-declared, self-aggrandizing Greatest is dead.
Kiddies, don’t wish for immortality. It won’t be worth it.
Right now we’re hitting a new major Cultural Divide. For the folks in their young 20-somethings and younger, September 11 is history. And we (they) have ALWAYS been involved in a land war in Asia.
Anyone who thinks that isn’t going to make a major “generational” difference in social perceptions and politics has not been paying attention.
– pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
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@Tom, see the first comment of the thread. It is correct in every aspect. He may well be the only one we get, but hey, quality over quantity.
“loose morals and bad music.”
My view is somewhat skewed by being in AA, but, the morals seem no looser than ever. The music, OTOH… The modern rock and pop on the air in DC (DC101 and 99.5) is mostly just, well, boring. Buncha middle-class white kids whining about how tough it is to be a middle-class white kid.
“OK, Boomer” is also about the money. And the power. Boomers have all the wealth, reportedly over 10x what younger generations / cohorts hold. And all the power: the average age of Congresscritters in both houses, Supreme Court members, and Presidential pretenders is Boomer. “OK, Boomer” is speaking to power, informing the Boomers that they may currently hold all the cards, but that change is coming. And it stings the Boomers because they look one way and see angry youths pushing back against them and mocking them, then look the other way and see only the Reaper’s inevitable scythe that they have run from for so very long. The Age of Boomers is coming to an end, and there is nothing further they can do to stop it, nothing that their wealth and power will do to prolong their reign.
Boomer here (ca. 1948). What do I think of “OK Boomer”? The same as I think of current music. That is, nothing. Have barely heard of it, know little or anything about it, and no, don’t care. I object to one thing, as I always have, and that is generalizations, like assuming “all boomers…” whatever. Yes, there were certain attitudes, behaviors, dress codes, etc. when we were young, but that was a long time ago. If you don’t like all boomers because of Clinton, or Trump for that matter, who cares? Not me. If I talked about your serial jobs or serial marriages or whatever, then sure, attack me back. But I live my own life my own way, without checking The Big Book of Boomers (or whatever) for guidance. Is there some arrogance in My Generation? Sure. But the defensiveness seems to come mostly from younger cohorts.
Now you whippersnappers, get off my lawn!
It’s utterly impossible for any cohort of millions of people — whatever that cohort might be — to be in lockstep on everything.
Also, for those who are jealous that Boomers “have all the money,” we also had the draft, Vietnam, and so much other bad sh!t you didn’t have to go through.
Believe me, there are plenty of Boomers sleeping on the sidewalk. We don’t all “have all the money.” Some of us were smart and lucky and do all right, but then, my wife worked as a teacher and administrator for 34 years to earn her pension. But we also have the health issues that go with age, as well as having to bury our parents. Here’s a free lesson it took me a long time to learn: just live your life your way the best you can and don’t worry about what other people have. If you have a decent, safe place to live, enough to eat, a job you like (or, at least, can stand), family around you, that is more than most of the world does. Enjoy it.
“Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was simply a line that Jack Weinberg once tossed off in annoyance to a reporter who wound up running with it, in fact you might say that the line was the “O.K. boomer” of its day. No one actually meant it, and I have no recollection of anyone in my age group taking it seriously as a cultural imperative. I DO remember it being a MAD magazine back-cover fold-in, which nobody took seriously either. To resurrect the line in this context is a bit of zeitgeist cherry-picking and a recurring trope in these kinds of discussions: tear into a demographic group for things they never actually did or believed in. How’s that for delicious irony?
Wait What! Isn’t Barack Obama a GenXer? Oh – he is my age! I am one of the late Boomers who fall in the category described below. I always had a hard time identifying with boomer culture.
“Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe define Generation X as those born between 1961 and 1981. They argue that those born between 1961 and 1964 are part of Generation X rather than the Baby Boomers because they are distinct from the Boomers in terms of cultural identity and shared historical experiences. Author Jeff Gordinier, in his 2008 book X Saves the World, defines Generation X as those born roughly between 1961 and 1977 but possibly as late as 1980. Canadian author and professor David Foot divides the post-boomer generation into two groups: Generation X, born between 1960 and 1966; and the “Bust Generation”, born between 1967 and 1979, In his book Boom Bust & Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift.”
What bothers me about “Okay boomer” is the implication of a lot of assumption going on, please don’t.
One of Jane Yolen’s Bordertown books had a story where people wondered if a slightly older fellow, with normal ears, was some sort of near-immortal like a fairy. Then one day, as a teen runaway hears him talking to an elf who own a bookstore the penny drops: He only seems old because he reads, and so past decades are still fresh to him.
I can relate. Sometimes it’s lonely and frustrating being not merely a nerd, but rather, a nerd who reads enough to wear the shoes of people in past decades.
…As for “people aren’t in lockstep” Not only is that true, but you can’t expect them to lockstep, either. As a Heinlein character once laughed to say, “Shucks, you can’t even get a hundred people to all whistle Yankee Doodle.”
I still don’t trust anybody over 30, and I’m 71, myself. Also, where’s all this money and power I’m supposed to have? My back door opens on a parking lot, I don’t even have a lawn to chase kids off of. I’m obviously a debit to my generation. But I can buy pot in a little neighborhood store on a senior discount, so there are some compensations…
The thing that I take away from the use of the phrase is a combination of exhaustion and petty dismissal. As a millennial myself (who “feels” like a Gen-X/Mil cusper, although I’m a few years too old to qualify, having been born in ’86), I’ve seen every dismissive stereotype thrown around about my generation – we love avocado toast and lattes, we have no fiscal responsibility, we just want free stuff, we’re all easily-offended snowflakes, etc. Most of the time it’s members of older generations (including but not limited to Baby Boomers) doing the stereotyping and generalizing. This phenomenon is slinging a taste of their own medicine back at them, and hoo boy, they sure don’t like it. (Insert “not all boomers/millennials” disclaimer here.)
The exhaustion part comes from the teeth-grinding frustration of arguing with people – generally Fox-News-indoctrinated Facebook warriors of roughly Boomer age – who will not listen to anything you have to say because they live in their own reality with their own distinct set of facts. As someone upthread said already, it’s the cutting of our losses and realizing that we don’t have to keep beating our head against the wall – we’re simply not going to take the bait, and the ones doing the baiting have thus been dismissed.
As someone too old to be a Boomer (born 1940) but young enough to be involved in 60s antiwar protests, so not a Silent Generation member, I say “Who the hell cares”?
As an early Millennial/late GenX, I also use it as a way to signal that I am deeply uninterested in re-litigating the Cold War. Or Vietnam. I don’t want to hold adults by the hand and explain that socialism isn’t the Big Bad Boogyman they were taught it was when color TV was the latest technological advance. I don’t give a shit who dodged the draft, who went, who was for Vietnam, who was against it. (For that matter, I also DGAF who was for/against Iraq or Afghanistan fifteen or more years ago.) The world moves on, situations change, and if people in previous generations are unwilling to keep up with that, that’s a Them Problem.
Thus, the catchphrase.
Leading age GenX (1965) with most definitely early boomer parents and all sorts of … interesting … experiences growing up in the 70s. My kids span the Gallup/Pew Millennial years (eldest born in 1981, youngest in 1996). I also have a 16 year old GenZ granddaughter. I remember one of our conversations when she was in middle school when several times she asked questions that seemed focused on determining what sort of adult I was. The generational angst repeats itself. As I point out to my kids, though, one of the reasons GenX never generates as much attention is that we were a historically small generation numerically. We also grew up through a lot of developmentally isolating social changes without much in the way of compensating technology. We were a latchkey generation in many different senses.
Now we’re old and still often simply omitted. I enjoyed this infographic and resulting story and twitter threads. It’s just one example.
The things Gen Z are facing, especially climate change and the impact that’s going to have on their lives, are major issues. Dismissing the old voices trying to rant at them is probably something of a survival mechanism.
Absolutely, “OK Boomer” is the “What-ever” of this generation. Only more so, because the people “OK Boomer”-ing don’t just have teenage rebellion against their parents/the system on their side, but so much history showing the after-effects of the decisions made by and for Boomers. Holy crap, is this world a worse place to start an adult life in than it was for them (or mine, for that matter).
After all, “Valley Girl” was a joke about how weird, flippant and superficial these kids are, UNLIKE US, RIGHT? (Frank Zappa, b. December 1940) Even that – the media object that typified Gen-X reaction – was by and for the Boomers.
I’ve been watching my whole life how everything relates to the Boomers. “Classic Rock”? Well, it started (for me) as “Oldies” which might get up to Zeppelin if we were lucky, but was solidly centred at Elvis and the Beatles, back when you couldn’t play Def Leppard or AC/DC (or Sabbath, even “Paranoid” or “Iron Man”) on “modern” radio because it was way too hard and dangerous.
Gen-X itself? We were always compared to what normal people were doing at their age. Who were the normal people? The so-called (by Time) “Me Generation”? What was so different about them? Well, basically, they wanted to be noticed for themselves, not how they compared to the Boomers. And of course that was wrong, and odd, and the sharp edges would have to be rubbed off, wouldn’t they?
Millenials? Well they’re just Me Generation, but whining about themselves, instead of doing all the stuff we do (and helping our retirement portfolios/keeping our favourite places alive).
And sure, this makes sense. Who had the money, anyway? Who did the advertisers want to advertise to? The Boomers (and kids. but only until they started working)
It’s only in the last 10 years or so that Classic Rock started including stuff from my generation – but it still can’t be “too hard”. Why is that? Mostly because my generation is now getting more of the high-end jobs that had been the ones owned by the Boomers after the world decided that a “starter job” no longer had to, you know, provide for life + a bit. Of course, the things Boomers want to watch or listen to are still there, and still advertising to them (now retirement homes, staircase lifts and ‘botched medical procedures’ lawsuits).
(And whoa, is this US and Canada centric. But we’re talking about Boomers, which is a US-Canada-(Britain) thing).
Boomers (at least white, middle-class boomers) have always had a spotlight on them, and their opinions have mattered their whole life. So it’s the natural order of things, and that’s why the immediate dismissal (without even an “I’ve heard you, but”) hurts so much.
(BTW, I’m white, male, cis, ostensibly Protestant. I expect to be heard, too, and sometimes when “why should your opinion automatically be relevant?” is pointed out to me it hurts too. I try not to let it happen too often).
To the “NotAllBoomers”: notice what you’ve done. “I’m not like that.” “I am not privileged (I don’t have a nice view).” “I’m not a FOX-brain.” “I’m not a Republican.” Sure, that’s great and all, but it’s still “my opinion matters” and “you have to consider me”. Because all your life, it has and you were. So in this case, as in many cases where “whoa there, NotAllX”; “Sure, NotAllX, but Definitely This One”. I’m guessing (also like other “NotAllX”) the ones who actually are “Not All Boomers”, well, they don’t get “OK Boomer”ed – or if they do, they realize they’ve stepped into someone else’s territory without thinking and back out, with or without an apology.
And of course, I note that I don’t see “OK Boomer” aimed at black Americans. Can’t Possibly Imagine Why.