Opinion: The misplaced anger behind 'OK boomer'

'OK boomer' has nothing valuable to contribute in a world lacking intergenerational solidarity

It’s difficult to trace the exact origin of the “OK boomer” internet sensation. 

The phrase’s meteoric rise correlates most closely with this bird-brained rant about millennials and Gen Zers from an especially passionate baby boomer. The blue polo, the national park hat hiding a receding hairline and the aggressive goatee were simply too much. TikTok, a pillar of youthful democratic populism, chose to sigh rather than scream. “OK boomer” was the only response the man warranted.

Students like Steve Coon, a senior studying business law, display genuine animosity toward baby boomers. 

“‘OK boomer’ is a turning point in American culture,” he said. “For years, the baby boomers have run the name of all generations into the mud, calling us lazy in a world they’re responsible for ruining. ‘OK boomer’ is a way to silence their argument and make their point seem as though it came from a babbling baby.”

Though hilarious, the youths have fallen into a historic trap in accepting the term’s implications. The idea that progress is a war between the old and the young has always been a distraction. Progress is a war between the powerful and the powerless. 

In 2017, 23.1% of people over the age of 66 lived in poverty. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 48% of the elderly population are “economically vulnerable,” meaning their income is less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold. In 2017, 5.5 million seniors were food insecure

Poverty among the elderly also disproportionately effects women and minorities. Compared to 48% all seniors, 63.5% of black people and 70.1% of Hispanic people over the age of 65 are economically insecure. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2017 the median income for women over the age of 65 were 75% of men’s

Baby boomers specifically are a subgroup with high income inequality. In 2016, The top 50% of the wealthiest baby-boom households owned 98% of financial assets, while the bottom 50% held 2% of financial assets. Between 2004 and 2016, the top 25% of baby boomers have seen their financial asset share grow from 86% to 91%, while the bottom 50% saw theirs shrink from 3% in 2004 to under 2%. 

The horrific state of inequality among baby boomers worsens every day. 

If the story of inequality among baby boomers sounds familiar, it’s because it mirrors overall inequality in America. Massive social stratification, as well as racial and gender discrimination, impacts baby boomers and youngsters alike. Though millennials may have it worse by the time they reach the end of their lives, the idea that baby boomers are a universally privileged and secure ruling class is ridiculous. 

The Silicon Valley elite, who have come to control every major technological institution on Earth, are commonly Generation Xers or millennials. Mark Zuckerberg, 35, Jack Dorsey, 42, Elon Musk, 48 and Larry Page, 46, control most of Earth’s data and information. 

Though most billionaires are old, they’ll soon die and seamlessly transfer power to their lecherous non-baby boomer children. 

The Gen Zers who perceive baby boomers as an intrinsically wealthy concentration of privilege are simply incriminating themselves as proximate to that very privilege. Supported by wealthy parents and educated by wealthy professors, these Gen Zers have no awareness that disadvantaged and discriminated baby boomers exist outside their immediate social safety net. 

Kylie Jenner’s status as the world’s youngest “self-made” billionaire is dangerously pathetic. The idea that she could hurl “OK boomer” at an older person who wasn’t born into entertainment royalty should make our collective skin crawl. Blanket performative solidarity between young people only insulates the next class of generationally wealthy elites as existing under a collectively branded identity. 

Any legitimate revolution or reform in American society must be intergenerational. We should focus on building solidarity with baby boomers and Gen Xers alike against wealth and power — the only identity which should face inherent scrutiny. 

For many, “OK boomer” is a joke about a cultural attitude, and that’s perfectly valid. Regardless, jokes effect people’s conscious and subconscious understandings of the world. At the least, we should clarify the phrase’s meaning to be unserious and unspecific to any actual demographic. This can be done accurately without descending into insanity and deciding that targeting baby boomers is equivalent to using a racial slur, an opinion sincerely voiced by a dog-brained conservative radio host. 

Author Bruce Gibney was recently interviewed by Vox in an article titled, “How the baby boomers — not millennials — screwed America” about his book “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America.” When asked how baby boomers “screwed” the country, Gibney immediately cited the U.S. national debt, explaining that our debt-to-GDP ratio has climbed from 35% to 103% throughout his lifetime. 

I wonder how Gibney thinks baby boomers ended up a “generation of sociopaths.” Does he think someone put toxins in all the baby food circa 1970? Or is he willfully ignoring the legitimate power structures and material influences which led to our economic demise? Ronald Reagan, who increased the debt by 186%, was born 35 years before the first baby boomer. 

A smarter, more honest author might have written a book about how massive tax cuts for the wealthy increased the debt. This wasn’t because of any person’s will or sociopathy, but rather a natural outcome of the way capitalist business enterprises will always influence and structure liberal governments. These structural issues are inherent to capitalism and will only continue to get exponentially more dire.

Millennials and Gen Zers would do well to remember baby boomers’ protests of the Vietnam War, which took aim at the elder generations who controlled the government during their youth. We will wrinkle and wither as they did, and one day deal with identical cultural animosity from whatever generation comes into existence in the early 21st century. 

Professor Denise Bodman at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics sees the term as useless and opportunistic. 

“This idea of generations doesn’t really exist. We can sit here and call people millennials or boomers, but really this is marketing. It’s branding," Bodman said. "And people today are really into branding themselves."

“Get a group of people born 1946-1966 and you’ll see unbelievable diversity, to say they’re all boomers erases that diversity," she added. 

Bodman went on to describe the way her generation considered old people responsible for the Vietnam war, despite a few political elites engineering the invasion. 

The idea that generational labels will become yet another way people brand themselves serves the ownership class who’s going to produce the merchandise. Graphic T-shirts, hoodies and snapbacks are being sold as the elites benefit not only from the phrase’s reduction in class consciousness, but also from its marketability as yet another brand. 

The sole alternative to this endless cycle involves finally focusing on the real source of our economic precarity: the ownership class themselves.

Of course, the funniest response to this column would be to simply write “OK boomer” in the comments. I hope someone does and that the term becomes an intergenerational symbol of being out-of-touch rather than a generation-specific barrier to class solidarity.

Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.


Reach the reporter at drustemp@asu.edu or follow @denzel_for on Twitter.

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