Meme culture is the 21st generation’s biggest phenomena. From Rage Comics to “dank” memes to popular movie scenes that became memes, everyone has been enjoying this humour for a long time.
And just like with some other memes, the new template of “Ok Boomer” is a little confusing. The other day I found myself explaining to a friend what it means which is when it struck me, there’s so much depth in this one silly meme.
The Pew Research Center recognizes five generations:
Different generations have always been in a constant struggle because of what they have faced. Each generation has been shaped by the society around them. Perhaps it’s because of the opportunities provided. In the case of gender inequality, we have always seen the gap — but in the Silent Generation, it was much larger. It’s possible because men were very against women working, but also women themselves weren’t willing to work/educated enough to work. As opportunities and mindsets grew, women started getting employed more and more. Below we see this data by Pew Research, however, this is just in the case of the USA.
This is just one aspect of how generations differ. A vast difference is seen in the cases of education, housing and even relationships.
But where did “Ok Boomer” come from? Well, it was first used in 2015 on a site called 4chan, where people would share opinions about various pop culture related things, and when people weren’t aware of everything related to a topic and would have an unnecessary opinion, enthusiasts would reply saying, Ok Boomer. Cut to 2019, on the platform Tiktok, a song by Peter Kuli & Jedwill was released known as “OK BOOMER!” — the verses define boomers as racist, fascist Trump supporters with bad hair — became a popular song choice for TikTok sing-along videos this fall. Soon enough, it became this generation’s new slogan.
So, it’s simple, there’s a difference in the thoughts, views, habits and behaviours of different generations and this has always been the case; but with the origin of Ok Boomer, it seems like Millennials and Gen X has had enough.
What does this have to do with a meme that is taking over the internet by a storm? Well, Boomers consist of the current generation’s parents. They come from a generation where they have seen their own parents struggle for work and money, so they have become loyalists to their job, who try to keep their head down and work. Since there were fewer opportunities at that time, their instant thought of jobs would be doctors, lawyers and engineers. Things just weren’t as convenient as home delivery of groceries in 2 hours or ordering a cab through Uber. So, when they see this generation of “snowflakes” has it so easy, they have to show their dissatisfaction.
What happened was that their opinions were constantly voiced in a manner to bring Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z down, and heck they just got so tired of it.
“Ok Boomer” is this generation’s response to every condescending opinion of the Boomers. It’s also a tired outcry of the current generations since they feel Boomers don’t actually understand the impact their actions have had on the society. Their actions have led to consequences that Millennials have to live with.
Economically, in the USA we see that the student debt of Millennials is far larger than what Boomers had to pay. Millennials have also seen larger rates of unemployment, increased inflation and other economic disasters such as the 2008 Economic crisis and the Housing crisis.
Indian Millennials are also victims of economic crisis, the reason for which is seen as Boomer Politicians. Nirmala Sitharaman has clearly voiced her opinion about the fact that Millennials use Ola, Uber and thus we are seeing a slowdown in the sales of automotive vehicles. Yes, you’re completely right Mrs Sitharaman, it’s not the fact that there is a striking rise in unemployment or that growth of the economy in India is slowly declining. I mean, my brain is literally saying “Ok Boomer”. Oh, and this did lead to a lot of memes from the Indian public, so Indians have already played around the concept with generational memes.
It’s important to note, millennials aren’t tired of all people from the older generation. The exasperated Ok Boomer is specifically targeting those who resist change.
Millennials do not have a problem with listening to complaints from the Boomers, trust us we’ve heard it for a long time — its when Boomers very conveniently use the younger generation as the scapegoat. Millennials feel they are constantly misunderstood and are exhausted of explaining how they are not the reason for the downfall of the world.
While we are at this, let’s look at climate change. Boomers pushed for industrialisation, for cheap processes that could lead to high profits but the high cost in terms of environmental degradation. More importantly, by the time millennials were children, climate change was prominent. They have grown up seeing the change and thus feel so highly for this problem. They are more willing to shift to more sustainable practices to fix the problem created by the Boomers. About 75% of Millennials are altering their buying habits with the environment in mind, compared to 34% of Baby Boomers, according to Nielson.
One prominent example in this case, plus the usage of Ok Boomer was seen at the New Zealand parliament, where Chlöe Swarbrick, a 25-year old member of New Zealand’s Parliament, gave a speech to her fellow lawmakers about the urgent need to take action on climate change. As she was explaining this, older politicians heckled her, to which she fired back with a prompt and smooth “Ok Boomer”. In the middle of parliament. LEGEND.
The mindsets between Baby Boomers and Millennials are so different that is leading to a slow, yet powerful war. According to the Boomers, Millennials have always been spoon-fed and they get offended and defensive about everything Boomers have an opinion on. We also see Boomers feel that Millennials threaten the ideals and thoughts that the older generation grew up with, which might be actually quite daunting as it is what has shaped their identity
Is this meme being taken too far? Yes, of course — it’s the internet, it puts the whole world on fire. It’s going so far that one might get fired for using Ok Boomer in the workplace in the USA due to ageism. Fox is even on its way to trademark the phrase “Ok Boomer” for a TV Show!
Will this meme solve intergenerational problems and finally help people understand different mindsets? No.
Even if Boomers are giving advice based on their experience and just in terms of guidance, there’s a good chance Millennials will use this new slogan as a way to brush it off. Millennials are a threat to Boomers in terms of their tech-savviness, so they undermine them by calling them easily offended snowflakes. But we also forget that Boomers were activists too. They had their share of problems with the previous generations as well.
Research on intergenerational interactions shows when those with different generational identities interact, two mindsets can occur: one that’s resistant or transmissive. Resistant is the case where people from different generations sees each other as a competitor or an enemy which leads to an instant defence attack. Whereas transmissive is a situation where there is an understanding between the generations and there is a successful transfer of knowledge and experience, leading to trust and cooperation. It’s time to start learning from each other, as different generations.
It’s all fun and games but the meme has led to a different view on how various generations have always had problems of misunderstanding, which can lead to problems in the workplace and even something macro like the economy. By keeping an open mind there will be a lot more progress than just instant hatred all over. This meme is fuelling more problems and instead, it should open doors to conversations that help to understand different viewpoints and behaviours.