At the start of November, the term ‘Okay, Boomer’ became one of the most prominent headlines when Bob Lonsberry, American Radio Host, referred to the phrase as the ‘N-Word of ageism’ in a now-deleted tweet. This was understandably met with a great deal of rebuttals from journalists and media personalities around the world. The sole comparison of an incredibly offensive slur to the mild half-insult of ‘okay, boomer’ is a shocking one, especially when it’s made by a white man who was fired from talk show WHAM-Rochester for racist comments in 2003, and has since been surrounded by controversy for consistent ‘insensitive comments’.
‘Ok, Boomer’ has its origins from the social media site, TikTok, where a video was uploaded in which the speaker addressed Millennials and Gen-Zers, calling them ‘Snowflakes’, a common ‘insult’; It has become increasingly common, to the point that it has warranted such a simple, dismissive responses such as ‘Okay, Boomer’. The term illustrates the increasingly frustrated and impatient attitudes of Millenials and Gen-Zers who find themselves powerless to economic, political and social tensions, which many credit as being directly caused by Boomers.
Lonsberry’s comment, as immediately dismissed as it was, sparked a very noteworthy and interesting discussion. In an article written by Bhaskar Sunkara for The Guardian a few days after the tweet, the difficulties the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation face have been prominently highlighted. Sunkara reminds the reader that the average Boomer is not the villain, and is in fact in a state of vulnerability, stating that ‘One in four [Americans] don’t even have $1,000’ in retirement savings. This is indeed a valid point - the economic struggles that the older generation face are not something to be joked about, as is workplace ageism. In a survey conducted by AARP, 33% said that they felt their job was at risk, and 7% said that they have been laid off or fired due to their age. In this way, the comparison of the countless written fumings online attacking the avocado-toast-eating, cereal-industry-destroying Millennials to the ‘Okay, Boomer’ meme is, though appropriate when looking at the hypocritical attitudes of some Boomers, not an entirely fair one. However, it is to note that many Millennials also face economic hardships related to growing education fees and house prices, they do not face workplace discrimination based on their age, but rather the less serious threat of online ridicule. Sunkara then demonstrated the potential offensiveness of ‘Ok, Boomer’ using a ‘retranslation’ of the context of the meme:
“Boomer: “I can’t afford to live on social security. My promised pension disappeared. I might need to get out of retirement and start working part time again. I worry about the future.”
As much as I respect Sunkara and the way in which he brings attention to the ageism Baby Boomers face, this interpretation of the meme is a massive over-exaggeration and displays a lack of understanding of its real targets. The phrase isn’t used to attack Boomers for their age or concepts even remotely related to it, it’s used as a rebuttal, similar to a ‘taste-of-your-own-medicine’ to generalisations of ‘Millennials/Gen-Zers’ and outdated, misinformed political views.
A colleague struggling at work or feeling pressure due to their age would not be an appropriate target for an ‘Ok, Boomer’ moment, nor would a recent retiree facing poverty. At the same time, a Boomer explaining their reasons (assuming they aren’t racist, xenophobic, or otherwise unjustified) for voting Brexit or Trump also wouldn’t warrant the stamp of generational dismissal. However, the sharing of a Facebook post about how ‘Climate Change is a hoax ’/ ‘I hope 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s boat sinks’/ ‘New poll shows that all young people care about is fortnite, under-30s shouldn’t vote’ easily triggers an eye-roll and a sigh of exasperation, epitomised and perfectly encapsulated by a simple ‘Ok, Boomer’ retort.
In essence, crassly labelleling ‘Ok, Boomer’ the ‘N-word of Ageism’ is, like, totally, such a Boomer move.
‘OK Boomer.’”- Bhaskar Sunkara, Why it's time to ditch the 'OK Boomer' meme, The Guardian, 6th November 2019
(AARP survey: https://www.aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/info-2018/age-discrimination-common-at-work.html )