There is a famous quote that is often attributed to Socrates complaining about ancient Athenian youth. The quote lists all the things that are wrong with kids during those days, and while lengthy, it’s worth reading again:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
The quote—though not authentic because it was written by a student named Kenneth John Freeman in 1907 for his Cambridge dissertation—is amusing because it illustrates the timeless conflicts between each new generation and the ones that preceded it.
Today, a popular response to that quote might be, “Ok, Boomer.” The meme and the frustration behind it have become prominent features of today’s public discourse, with the phrase appearing on merchandise, and Fox even attempting to trademark the phrase as the name of a TV show. The phrase has also garnered backlash, with one radio host regarding it to be like the “n-word” of ageism. People have written articles cautioning employees to stay away from using the phrase, and it has even been reported on by the New York Times. “Ok, Boomer” has also made an appearance in New Zealand’s parliament, with one MP using it as a comeback towards an older colleague heckling her. As has been widely reported, the meme started on TikTok and has spread to become a viral sensation around the world.
The meaning of the meme continues to evolve, from being a satirical reflection of the older generation’s hypocrisy towards youth, to just being a silly phrase used whenever someone says something stupid. Context is also important, as the meme has been used to address important issues such as worsening climate change and financial inequality. Yet, the question that continues to be asked regarding this phenomenon is if “Ok, Boomer” is worsening the generational rift.
The aforementioned New York Times article that addressed the meme is titled, “Ok, Boomer’ Marks the End of Friendly Generational Relations.” Many other articles also refer to it as a “war” or “fight” between Generation Z and Millennials against Boomers. The hilarity of the situation is that generational relations were never that “friendly.” As the misattributed Socrates quote demonstrates, every generation criticizes the one after it, and Boomers sure have taken the ball and ran with it. For the most part, Millennials have bared the brunt of Boomer criticism, everything from how they have become screen-obsessed, to their killing of the fabric softener industry. All the “back in my day” speeches, and the “kids these days” comments were never about understanding the struggles of the younger generation. No, they were about patronizing the young.
You see, the fact is that resentment doesn’t build from nothing. The extinction of the earth and the bleak financial reality awaiting most people in Generation Z are the obvious two major frustrations. Yet, as the variety of TikToks about this issue will show, things that are usually considered smaller infractions, like the treatment of a cashier at a checkout, have also generated pushback from Generation Z.
So, while the generational rift has always been there and has always extended deeply, is this new trend going to cause the catastrophic generational meltdown that some are predicting? In my opinion, I think the real trouble won’t arise from a single meme, but from the actions of a generation. Boomers need to start being open to change, especially to the climate’s change. They need to start accepting that the systems they helped put in place, whether actively or passively, are not working. The so-called naive idealism they accuse the youth of possessing is, in fact, a bid to change the world for the better.
As for the youth, I completely understand the frustration and urge to turn your back on those you feel aren’t respecting you as a human being. However, some understanding and patience can go a long way.
In the end, there is still time to fix all this. Both Boomers and Generation Z have time to remedy the problems that plague society—it just won’t happen if we’re busy accusing each other of entitlement and the like.