For the past few months, the phrase “OK, boomer” has been used by many teens as a verbal eye roll to the older generation. Some have referred to the spread of this phrase as the “end of friendly generational relations.”
The phrase was popularized as a reaction to an online video of an older man that stated “millennials and Generation Z have the ‘Peter Pan syndrome’” and that they “think that the utopian ideas they have in their youth are somehow going to translate into adulthood.” It then rapidly spread as a phrase used to dismiss or even mock attitudes or ideals stereotypically attributed to baby boomers. “OK, boomer” is often used to respond to any person who is over the age of thirty who says something condescending about young people or the issues that they find important.
Many younger people believe that older generations are stubborn, unaccepting and unchanging in ways that are harming future generations, which has helped the phrase to grow in popularity. Members of Generation Z are finding themselves progressively worried about the future—including the increasing cost of nearly everything as well as worsening environmental problems—and they see older generations as having a hand in creating or perpetuating these problems.
“The stereotype of a boomer is someone who’s slow to change and not accepting of changing cultural norms,” sophomore Caleb Crowe said. “Older generations have sort of screwed up the environment for us, but overall it’s now just used as a meme we throw around.”
Many boomers believe that this phrase is ageist and condescending based on something that they cannot control and find themselves hurt by this new trend.
Eileen Hostetter, college and career center coordinator and boomer, was taken aback when she noticed the phrase spreading online.
“When I first saw it, I was kind of surprised because it struck me as a really overt, ageist putdown, and a really derogatory insensitive thing to say I didn’t expect from this generation,” Hostetter said. “Every generation when they’re young wants to fix the world, so I understand that; I think part of being a young person is that you have hope. By the time you’re 50 or 60, you get a little jaundiced and depressed about the situation because you see that all the best intentions of your own generation didn’t really follow through.”
The spread of “OK, boomer,” is working to widen the gap between generations in ways that are preventing further positive action. This November, a young New Zealand lawmaker was giving a speech in support of a climate crisis bill. When she was interrupted by an older member of Parliament, quieted him through responding, “OK, boomer.” This led many people of older generations to not take the lawmaker seriously and, in turn, the bill. Hostetter suggested one of the problems with the trend is that it has the potential to divide people and get in the way of progress and the collaboration necessary to addressing the world’s problems.
“There’s always been a gap between the generations, and this doesn’t help, of course,” Hostetter said. “What people don’t always realize is that we’re all the same. We’re just on a different way at a different phase in the same journey.”