Let’s talk about “Ok, Boomer,” the Zoomer craze sweeping the nation, inspiring delight in Millennials and seemingly incandescent rage in Boomers everywhere.
So a couple of things to start us out:
Class and financial inequality are the main causes of the problems that “Ok, Boomer” is a response to. “Ok, Boomer” is mostly about class.
But “Ok, Boomer” is not not about age.
The main issue is class and inequality, but to pretend that age plays no part in the discourse would be disingenuous, in the same way that trying to talk about class without talking about gender or race would be disingenuous (intersectionality is important, because it’s 2019, friends). A poor white man and a poor black woman have very different experiences of the world, and their poverty means very different things in terms of the way they navigate the world and the way the world responds to them.
A good portion of what I was going to say in this post is made effectively unnecessary by this Facebook post by Kelly Jean and Matt Hershberger, which I will provide in full here because I know none of y’all ever click on my links:
1) “Okay, Boomer” is directed not at a particular generation, but at a class structure and the people who defend it, who are often members of the Baby Boomer generation.
(2) The Boomer mindset is one that offers unsolicited or bad advice to younger people that is based on an economic context that has not been in place for over four decades. The new economic context, in which “work hard and pay off your loans” or “just find a job with healthcare” are absurd things to say, was, in fact, largely built by the Baby Boomer generation.
(3) This bad advice is often uttered condescendingly or dismissively to struggling Millennials or Gen Z “Zoomers,” who do not appreciate it.
(4) For a long time, the only argument a Millennial or Zoomer could offer in response was a long explanation as to why that’s not how it works anymore. This response, usually heartfelt and born of frustration, almost always was ignored, because:
a) the Millennial/Zoomer economic struggles are a direct result of popular Boomer policies, and the only policy programs that could serve as a corrective to these policies would be the center-left wealth redistribution programs that are popular in the modern Democratic Socialist movement,
b) Boomers grew up in a Cold War context which made the vague menace of “socialism” the existential, atom-bomb-is-coming enemy for most of their lives. This childhood fear has been effectively weaponized by the right, who declares any social program to be indistinguishable from Stalinist purges, and
c) The arguing parties are, usually, children and their parents (or older family members), meaning that the arguments will almost always be tinged with parent/child power dynamics, which means they get easily derailed because the child doesn’t feel seen by the parent and the parent doesn’t feel appreciated by the child.
(5) “Okay, Boomer,” is the first retaliatory response to the bad advice given by Boomers that is effectively the same in both content and form. It is reductive, dismissive, condescending, and designed to end conversation rather than start it. Boomers — particularly the leftists who have actually been fighting the current economic context since the 60’s and 70’s — could recognize in “Okay, Boomer,” the same spirit their own bards adopted. For 60’s Boomers, Dylan:
“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get outta’ the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'”
And for 70’s Boomers, Bowie:
“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through.”
In conclusion, “Okay, Boomer” is a (slightly more concise than usual) iteration of the type of dialectical weapon that always appears in intergenerational warfare. Disclaimer: Academic criticism of or minor quibbles with this thesis will be responded to with “Okay, Boomer.”
See? Maybe I didn’t even need to write this post. Anyway.
The Boomer/Class differentiation is kind of like the thing you learn in school about squares and rectangles: not all Boomers are wealthy and powerful, but (almost) all of the wealthy and powerful are Boomers. And then we run into the “not all men” defense. No, not all Boomers. But enough Boomers that the discourse becomes necessary to have, and it is not necessarily a personal attack on you. As Richard says, “Of course it’s not all Boomers, but if you’re going to center yourself in a conversation about privilege by telling us so, it’s definitely about you.” It’s also important to note that one of the reasons the Venn diagram between Boomers and Wealthy Assholes is so close to a circle is that a lot of the poor Boomers have died or become otherwise removed from public discourse. We’ve lost countless Boomers to poverty, to HIV/AIDS, to mass incarceration, to unaddressed health issues, etc. Most of the Boomers that are left are the wealthy elites by process of literal elimination.
The obvious retort a lot of “Ok, Boomer” respondents have is to this is to tell Millennials to stop getting upset about critiques against Millennials, and to a certain extent, yeah, fair. But (and this may be my Millennial bias showing) I think that there is actually a distinction between the Millennial: Applebee’s Assassin figure and the stereotypical wealthy Boomer that “Ok, Boomer” addresses. That Millennial Assassin doesn’t actually exist (or if they do, many of the things they are accused of are not actually their fault), whereas the condescending, wealthy Boomer does.
Here is a (far from complete) list of things that Millennials have been accused of killing:
- Home Ownership
- J. Crew
- Car Ownership
- Home Depot
- Buffalo Wild Wings
Now what could all these things possibly have in common? Millennials are “killing” industries because we don’t have any bloody money. Accounting for inflation, today’s minimum wage is worth roughly half of what it was in the 1970s, while the effective cost of college is almost 200% more than it was at that point. And I will literally be Too Depressed if I look up what the difference in housing costs is, so you’ll have to do that yourself. Or imagine it. Napkins are more expensive and less multi-purpose than paper towels. We can’t afford to buy property, and you don’t really need a home repair store if you can’t afford to buy a home. Marriage means combining debts and spending about $30,000 for a party, and is also hard to do when you can’t afford to leave your parents’ house. It’s difficult to buy a car when all your “extra” income is going to student loans. You can’t really go on a cruise when you have no money and don’t have a job with those wacky and rare fringe benefits like “vacation time.” Eating out, buying higher-class fast fashion, and playing a game of golf are all the types of “frivolous” expenses that we don’t have much of a budget for and that we also get yelled at for spending money on because it is “fiscally irresponsible.” And diamonds? Give me a fucking break. The best thing the economic crisis has done is make people break out of the 100-year hypnosis the De Beers company had us in and realize that compressed pieces of carbon are not actually worth three months salary. When Millennials get blamed for “killing” something, it is because the Boomers who run the economy arranged things so that these industries would die. I would happily patronize All of the Stores if I had the money to do so. I would possibly lower myself to buying napkins (especially if they are the cute ones with designs on them). I probably still wouldn’t play golf, but that’s because I hate golf. If a Boomer tells me that I need to work harder to get a “good job,” responding “Ok, Boomer” is code for, “Why did you construct an economy where that is impossible for me?”
There are two other aspects of “Ok, Boomer” that I would like to address that I don’t think the aforementioned Facebook post fully addressed. The first is the role of “Ok, Boomer” as an indictment of inaction.
Have you seen that viral picture of the elderly woman holding up a sign that tells you all the things she never bothered protesting, but then says she’s out here protesting Trump because he’s THAT bad? (I would show it here, but I can’t find it because I have great visual memory but terrible instincts towards saving images, and there are actually so many Trump protest signs that Google image search is unhelpful.) What she’s trying to get across is, “Trump is the worst president possible.” What she is accidentally getting across is, “I have been too complacent to bother protesting injustice over the last fifty years.” The world that Millennials and Gen Z are facing is literally and metaphorically on fire. And we neither set that fire, nor sat back and watched it burn. Billy Joel is lying, Boomers did it. (Again, #NotAllBoomers. Do not @ me, Boomers.) A lot of people spent a lot of their lives being politically inactive, and are just now waking up and going, “Man, maybe we should do something.” I feel guilty for not being as politically active as I could have been in the last ten years. A lot of Boomers were politically inactive for the last 50 years. (And again, don’t @ me. I’m happy for all people to join the revolution, even if it’s a bit late. We need all hands on deck, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time scolding anyone as long as they’re willing to do the work now.) Sure, some Boomers took part in Civil Rights campaigns, in various waves of feminism, and in the LGBTQ rights movement. But a lot of them didn’t. They were so convinced that they were the temporarily disenfranchised millionaires that they let unions sink, made recycling campaigns instead of holding industries accountable for emissions, and allowed the GOP to systematically take charge of nearly every state legislature. And then Millennials get accused of being disengaged.
“Ok, Boomer” is “Cool story bro.” “Ok, Boomer” is “Why do you suddenly care?” “Ok, Boomer” is “Why didn’t you make the world easier for me instead of harder?”
The other thing I want to talk about is the role of “Ok, Boomer” as a sigh of defeat. “Ok, Boomer” is a sign that the speaker has tapped out of the conversation, that they are tired of making the same arguments into the void again and again, and that they acknowledge that the person they are speaking to will never see them as an equal or change their mind on a topic. “Ok, Boomer” is the way I had to excuse myself to use the restroom last time I got into one of these arguments with someone I care about, so that I could cry silently in frustration for a couple of minutes because the person I was arguing with would never admit that systems of oppression, and not personal responsibility or entitlement, kept my friends and loved ones from making a living wage. “Ok, Boomer” is someone sighing, shaking their head, and acknowledging that you are a lost cause. Or at least that they don’t have the time and energy to keep engaging with you.
Do I think that it’s the most productive thing to have inter-generational conflict over nicknames? No, of course not. Do I get at least a bit of schadenfreude about the same generation of people who called my generation snowflakes and protested against the need for “political correctness” that asked them not to use slurs losing their shit over getting called something they call themselves? Yes. Yes I do. I do think that inter-generational conflict is probably a distraction from the actual problem, which is our current class system and distribution of wealth. But “Ok, Boomer” didn’t rise out of a vacuum, and it isn’t totally off the mark. In order to really address the problems in our society, we do need unity. But asking for unity without acknowledging the ways your actions (or inaction) have harmed others, without acknowledging the different lived experiences of various participants, and without acknowledging your own privilege is not really asking for unity, it is asking for forgetfulness.
Signed: (Millennial) Feminist Fury
Featured image is a “laser text meme” of the words “ok boomer”