“OK Boomer”. It’s an argument, insult, lamentation for the state of society and condemnation of an entire generation —all rolled into one concise package. The phrase represents the frustrations of every young person who has felt misunderstood, marginalised or mistreated by their —apparently clueless— elders. On top of that, it’s the trigger that sparked an inter-generational online war over myriad topics, from those as minor as avocado toast, to several as extreme as the fate of our entire planet.
For all the deep, ideological differences dredged up by the phrase, however, did it ever actually achieve anything past petty squabbling? Are we anywhere better off, as a society, for having been through the “OK Boomer” war?
The Intergenerational War Explained
Since the early days of social commentary, every era has found a way to criticise the younger generation for some reason or another: recklessness, hedonism and shallowness are all common complaints shared by centuries-old writers about the youth of their times. Activities as innocent as dancing, playing chess or reading fiction have been highlighted in the past as sure signs that society is being led off a steep cliff by its young adults.
As ridiculous as that may sound, today is really no different: smartphones and social media are among the latest ‘corrupting influences’ pointed at by many older folks to explain the shortcomings of today’s ‘youth’. They claim that the instant gratification and non-stop stimulation offered by technology has left its young users entitled, impatient and unwilling to work hard.
Moreover, many from older generations argue that the ‘safe-spaces’ and insularity of online communities have bred a generation of emotionally frail weaklings, unable to cope with the smallest of hardships or conflicts —snowflakes, to use the infamous term.
Fighting back, the younger generation brings up the short-sightedness of the ‘Baby Boomers’ — those born in the ‘booming’ era of prosperity following WWII— who they perceive to have guzzled the world’s resources and treated its economy in an unsustainable, selfish way.
Essentially, Generation X,Y, and millennials see their elders sat at the head of the dinner table —bellies full and plates clean— while they’re left to come in late and fight over the discarded scraps littering the floor. What’s more, they’re forced to deal with chatter from the elders that if only they would “work harder”, those scraps would miraculously become a three-course meal, just like the kind these Boomers were able to enjoy. Pile on a number of differing opinions regarding gender, identity and lifestyle; and it’s easy to see why the young are fired-up with frustration and a sense of injustice over their situation.
In modern Britain, it seems as if, on an unprecedented level, society is divided between the young and old more than any other factor. One need only look at the voting demographics of the latest UK General Election to see this laid bare: Labour voters outnumbered Conservative voters by a rough 3:1 ratio among 18-24s; while that figure gradually reverses for each successive age group, until the exact opposite is true for the 65+ demographic (Conservatives outnumbering Labour 3:1).
This split is borne out of perspectives that are so fundamentally opposed, on so many topics, that discussion around them seems nigh on impossible. The old see the young as too immature and self-assured to listen to the words of experience; while the young, conscious of the shifting tides of society, find the old too inflexible to accept that times have changed —the groups are talking different languages and getting nowhere fast.
It’s this breakdown of communication that made “OK Boomer” such a useful tool for Millenials: the phrase puts a bullet in any roundabout, intergenerational argument. It screams: “you’re so wrong and so out-of-touch with the modern world that attempting to discuss any topic with you is utterly pointless. You’re a lost cause”. There’s no rebuttal that can’t be met with yet another “OK Boomer”. By using it, any dialogue is automatically over, and the Millenial responsible is granted a long-desired sense of catharsis at finally ‘shutting the Boomer down’ after years of injustice.
That’s just it, though: ‘OK Boomer’ isn’t an argument winner, but rather a conversation killer. It takes an already struggling exchange and squashes any hope that some shred of understanding or progress may come from it. Except for a short-lived sense of satisfaction and some brownie points on social media, the Millenial gains nothing. As for the Baby Boomer? They’re left angry, offended and less willing to listen to the youth than ever before. In the long run, nothing gets done, nobody wins and any chance for future cooperation is buried.
How the Internet Let This Happen
There’s not a single group out there that can’t be strengthened by rallying against an identifiable enemy. From Nazi Germany with its targeting of Jews, to friendship groups endlessly gossiping about “that one bitch”, hatred has been a time-tested and powerful tool for bringing people together. For many online communities whose members share no physical connection, this hatred is crucial for keeping them all emotionally invested and —more importantly— unified in said community.
The youth make up the dominant communities of the internet’s major social platforms: TikTok, Snapchat, Reddit, Instagram, twitter and the like, however, they share no single, uniting topic. Well, almost no topic. You see, despite their varied interests, different social standings and contrasting opinions, they’re all brought together by living in the same declining, economically ruined and environmentally damaged world.
The unavoidably bleak future forms the backbone of so many youth-slanted online communities, and huge numbers of its members get themselves swept up in the emotion of it all. With such strong feelings flying around, it’s to be expected that a lightning rod would emerge to keep those feelings focused: enter Boomers.
The Baby Boomer stereotype —stubborn, oblivious and stuck-in-its-ways— is just another example of a community finding or creating an ‘enemy’: a figure that can represent the cause of its main problems. ‘OK Boomer’ as an idea, in many ways, is about bringing young people together more than anything else. With that said, the ease with which it brands any older person as ‘the enemy’ is alarming and —as mentioned— damaging to the long-term conversation around fixing the world’s problems.
This intergenerational war is continuing down a worrying road. As the young are united by resentment and blame; the old are united by outrage and a desire for self-defence. All the while, the rift between the two sides grows ever larger, and the dream of a happy ending fades into the background: drowned out by the noise of petty, barely relevant squabbling.
In the end, this whole event will be remembered as a distraction from the worsening global situation. It will have achieved nothing, except for having divided us further as a society. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.
With passions ranging from running, to gaming and a little bit of music somewhere inbetween. Jamie wants to learn a little bit about everything in an effort to prove his theory that even life's mundanities are hiding fascinating secrets.