Editor’s note: This Future View is about the baby boomers—who they are, and what stereotypes about them capture and leave out. Next week we’ll ask, “The 2010s are almost over. What defined the decade for you? For society as a whole?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before Jan. 7. The best responses will be published that night.
‘Sacrifice’ Isn’t in the Boomer Vocabulary
“Boomer” best describes not a particular generational cohort, but people who feel they deserve the entitlements promised to them decades ago, regardless of the consequences for younger generations. And the consequences of Social Security’s ever-expanding budget will be dire—its costs are expected to exceed its income in 2020, forcing it to draw from its trust fund. By 2035, both Social Security and Medicare are predicted to exhaust their trust funds entirely.
Anyone who understands basic accounting can see that the projected explosion in federal expenditure and debt these entitlements are driving will cripple my generation’s ability to deal with the myriad challenges before us. We need those funds to
- combat a rising China,
- climate change and
- the unforeseen consequences of nuclear waste, just to name a few.
The boomer mentality is understandable. Many people have planned their lives around these entitlements. However, their inability to sacrifice for the good of posterity is shameful.
When the Gauls sacked Rome, the old men who could no longer bear arms stayed to defend the city itself while the Senate and younger men withdrew to a more fortified position in the citadel with their families. They sacrificed themselves for their descendants and found it an honor. I don’t think many boomers would do the same.
— Benjamin Koby, Cambridge University, physics
Respect Your Elders
Clearly, “OK boomer” is an attempt to dismiss the knowledge and opinions of older Americans, based on the assumption that their wisdom isn’t relevant to today’s world. While our country has changed significantly since the birth of the first baby boomers in 1946, it’s incredibly foolish to suggest the lessons they’ve learned and values they’ve accrued are outdated.
Of course, it’s natural for young people to roll their eyes at their elders’ advice—“You just wouldn’t get it, Mom!” And in a way, they’re right. Boomers didn’t grow up worrying about school shootings or cyber bullying. Young people today live very different lives than the young people of the ’50s.
But to suggest that the knowledge boomers have accrued over their many years has no value is shameful and laughable. We have a lot to learn from them, because they’ve seen a heck of a lot more than we have. Not to mention, someday we’ll be the “old generation.” And I can’t imagine the 20-somethings of today will like being told that their opinions are outdated by the 20-somethings of tomorrow.
— Joey Reda, Boston College, finance
The Truth Behind the Joke
To my knowledge, the joke “OK boomer” began as a response to older relatives or co-workers who refuse to acknowledge problems staring them in the face.
- Social Security is fine the way it is, despite the fact that I will never see a penny of it? OK boomer.
- I should get a summer job to pay off my student loans? OK boomer. The term is a condescending retort to a group that frequently misrepresents or ignores concerns my generation raises.
This, coupled with the feeling that many problems were created by boomers—climate change, high housing costs, the massive federal deficit—makes the term a succinct criticism that rings true for many.
Of course, not all baby boomers are racist “back in my day” climate-change deniers. My parents and teachers are boomers, and they are thoughtful, intelligent people. However the boomer stereotype taps into a real frustration many young Americans feel. I know that this discontent can be interpreted as evidence of our penchant for self-pity, but so long as baby boomers ignore the issues of the present, you can bet you’ll hear a lot of “OK boomer.”
Grant Williams and Neil Howe travel to the nation’s capital to continue their discussion about how previous “Fourth Turnings” have impacted the United States. They weave their way through the National Mall, paying homage to the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam Veterans memorials and the generations they represent. They then meet with economist and former presidential advisor Dr. Harald Malmgren to get a look inside generational transfers of power and politics during times of upheaval. Filmed on April 4, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Now it’s war: Gen Z has finally snapped over climate change and financial inequality.
In a viral audio clip on TikTok, a white-haired man in a baseball cap and polo shirt declares, “The millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up.”
Thousands of teens have responded through remixed reaction videos and art projects with a simple phrase: “ok boomer.”
“Ok boomer” has become Generation Z’s endlessly repeated retort to the problem of older people who just don’t get it, a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids. Teenagers use it to reply to cringey YouTube videos, Donald Trump tweets, and basically any person over 30 who says something condescending about young people — and the issues that matter to them.
Teenagers have scrawled the message in their notebooks and carved it into at least one pumpkin. For senior picture day at one Virginia high school, a group of nine students used duct tape to plaster “ok boomer” across their chests.
The meme-to-merch cycle is nothing new, but unlike most novelty products, “ok boomer” merch is selling. Shannon O’Connor, 19, designed a T-shirt and hoodie with the phrase “ok boomer” written in the “thank you” style of a plastic shopping bag. She uploaded it to Bonfire, a site for selling custom apparel, with the tagline “Ok boomer have a terrible day.” After promoting the shirt on TikTok, she received more than $10,000 in orders.
“The older generations grew up with a certain mind-set, and we have a different perspective,” Ms. O’Connor said. “A lot of them don’t believe in climate change or don’t believe people can get jobs with dyed hair, and a lot of them are stubborn in that view. Teenagers just respond, ‘Ok, boomer.’ It’s like, we’ll prove you wrong, we’re still going to be successful because the world is changing.”
Ms. O’Connor is far from the only one cashing in. Hundreds of “ok boomer” products are for sale through on-demand shopping sites like Redbubble and Spreadshirt, where many young people are selling “ok boomer” phone cases, bedsheets, stickers, pins and more.
Nina Kasman, an 18-year-old college student selling “ok boomer” stickers, socks, shirts, leggings, posters, water bottles, notebooks and greeting cards, said that while older generations have always looked down on younger kids or talked about things “back in their day,” she and other teens believe older people are actively hurting young people. “Everybody in Gen Z is affected by the choices of the boomers, that they made and are still making,” she said. “Those choices are hurting us and our future. Everyone in my generation can relate to that experience and we’re all really frustrated by it.”
“Gen Z is going to be the first generation to have a lower quality of life than the generation before them,” said Joshua Citarella, 32, a researcher who studies online communities. Teenagers today find themselves, he said, with “three major crises all coming to a head at the Gen Z moment.”
“Essentials are more expensive than ever before, we pay 50 percent of our income to rent, no one has health insurance,” said Mr. Citarella. “Previous generations have left Generation Z with the short end of the stick. You see this on both the left, right, up down and sideways.” Mr. Citarella added: “The merch is proof of how much the sentiment resonates with people.”
Rising inequality, unaffordable college tuition, political polarization exacerbated by the internet, and the climate crisis all fuel anti-boomer sentiment.
And so Ms. Kasman and other teenagers selling merch say that monetizing the boomer backlash is their own little form of protest against a system they feel is rigged. “The reason we make the ‘ok boomer’ merch is because there’s not a lot that I can personally do to reduce the price of college, for example, which was much cheaper for older generations who then made it more expensive,” Ms. Kasman said. “There’s not much I can personally do to restore the environment, which was harmed due to corporate greed of older generations. There’s not much I can personally do to undo political corruption, or fix Congress so it’s not mostly old white men boomers who don’t represent the majority of generations.”
Ms. Kasman said she plans to use proceeds to pay for college. So do others.
“I’ll definitely use the money for my student loans, paying my rent. Stuff that will help me survive,” said Everett Solares, 19, who is selling a slew of rainbow “ok boomer” products. “I hadn’t seen any gay stuff for ‘ok boomer,’ so I just chose every product that I could find in case anyone wanted it,” she said.
Gavin Deschutter, 17, reimagines famous logos for companies like FedEx, Budweiser, Google, and KFC with the catch phrase, and has been selling t shirts and phone cases emblazoned with the message. He hasn’t made very much — “I sold a hoodie yesterday for $36,” he said — but his designs have been shared across meme pages on Instagram.
Every movement needs an anthem, and the undisputed boomer backlash hymn is a song written and produced by Jonathan Williams, a 20-year-old college student. Titled, inevitably, “ok boomer,” the song opens with: “It’s funny you think I respect your opinion, when your hairline looks that disrespectful.”
The chorus consists of Mr. Williams screaming “ok boomer” repeatedly into the mic. Peter Kuli, a 19-year-old college student, created a remix of the song, which has seen 4,000 TikToks made from the track. The two planned to split the revenue earned through streams of the song on Spotify.
OKboomer OUT NOW ON TWITTER DOT COM pic.twitter.com/AlRqhsCUbO
— a local (@jedwill1999) July 5, 2019
“The song is aggressive and ridiculous, but I think it says a lot about Gen Z culture,” said Mr. Kuli. “I think because of the internet, people are finally feeling like they have a voice and an outlet to critique the generations who got us into this position.”
“Millennials and Gen Xers are on our side, but I think Gen Z is finally putting their feet in the ground and saying enough is enough,” he said.
Teens say “ok boomer” is the perfect response because it’s blasé but cutting. It’s the digital equivalent of an eye roll. And because boomers so frequently refer to younger generations as “snowflakes,” a few teenagers said, it’s particularly hilarious to watch them freak out about the phrase.
“If they do take it personally, it just further proves that they take everything we do as offensive. It’s just funnier,” said Saptarshi Biswas, 17.
“Instead of taking offense to them, you’re just like, ha-ha,” said Julitza Mitchell, 18.
In the end, boomer is just a state of mind. Mr. Williams said anyone can be a boomer — with the right attitude. “You
- don’t like change, you
- don’t understand new things especially related to technology, you
- don’t understand equality,” he said.
“Being a boomer is just having that attitude, it can apply to whoever is bitter toward change.”
“We’re not taking a jab at boomers as a whole — we’re not going for their lives,” said Christopher Mezher, 18. “If it’s a jab at anyone it’s outdated political figures who try to run our lives.”
“You can keep talking,” Ms. Kasman said, as if to a boomer, “but we’re going to change the future.”
Robert B. Reich discusses his book, “The Common Good”, at a Politics and Prose event at Sixth and I historic synagogue in Washington, DC on 2/22/18.
Robert B. Reich has been one of America’s leading political thinkers since he served as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. A constant voice for social change, Reich is the author of 14 books, including the best-sellers Saving Capitalism and The Work of Nations. Now, he makes the case for restoring the idea of the common good to the center of our economics, our politics, and our national identity. The Common Good argues that societies undergo both virtuous and vicious cycles, and that the vicious cycle the U.S. is now undergoing can and must be reversed. Reich challenges us to weigh what really matters, and to join forces to save America’s soul.
Civic things but instead I worked for
the Democratic Party of Arkansas in 2014
I heard a lot of oh I love the
Affordable Care Act and I realized that
my health care is important but I just
can’t vote for people who kill babies
and I know that my mom has some
sentiments and I’m glad that she votes
this way even though she sometimes has
some issues with people that aren’t
necessarily like us but she says you
know if they’re gonna take away my right
to the right of choice I would never
vote for them and so I’m fine with her
voting for Democrats even though that’s
probably not where she would align
ourselves but how do we deal with people
I’m not sure you’re familiar with the
campaign talk you never engage of five
so when somebody’s like I’m just not
gonna vote for somebody because they
kill babies like you just you move on
how do we deal with people who are like
that um yeah I mean we’re seeing it a
lot with the gun debate I don’t want to
I don’t want a caricature certainly not
your mom but people who have one issue
and they feel deeply about it and they
think it’s the most important issue at
all and it is their litmus test for all
politics and all politicians and there
are going to be people like that and you
know I think it’s important to respect
their views and not to denigrate them
and I don’t want to get too much
involved in you and your mom let me just
say that every every Thanksgiving every
Christmas every you know my students
they a ganar about going home because
they always have an Uncle Louie or
somebody who voted for Trump or who is
just you know in the 19th century and
they don’t know how to talk to them and
I would say they’re really there there’s
something that I try to do and I don’t
do it well but it’s I call it eloquent
listening which is which means you you
really open yourself up to what they are
trying to tell you and you allow
yourself and give yourself permission to
possibly be persuaded and you repeat
back to them what they said to you so
that they know and you know that you
really understand them and that can be a
gateway to communication because once
people feel safe in terms of sharing
their deepest values they can then be
open to maybe if not reconsidering them
at least understanding where you’re
coming from that’s something we’re not
Author Bruce Cannon Gibney says Baby Boomers are the cause of America’s moral, economic and social decline. Find out why he calls them “A Generation of Sociopaths.” Watch more at Salon.com/video.
With this clip, I decided to respond to the battle going on between the generations which is so evident in the comments on my channel. So many blame the baby boomers for our current state of affairs (which they don’t like) while others blame the millennials. Yet we all know that parents are to a great extent responsible for the actions and attitudes of the children. This clip presents portions of my 6 part TV series titled Making Sense Of The Sixties where, in 1989, I asked parents of those who grew up in the 1960s about how they raise their children.
Thankfully, we are within sight of the end of the fiftieth anniversaries of things that happened in the nineteen-sixties. What’s left is mostly stuff that no one wants to remember: the Days of Rage, Nixon’s Silent Majority speech, the death of Jack Kerouac, and Altamont—although these will probably not pass entirely without mention.
One reason to feel glad to be nearly done with this round of fiftieths is that we will no longer be subjected, constantly, to generalizations about the baby-boom generation. There are many canards about that generation, but the most persistent is that the boomers were central to the social and cultural events of the nineteen-sixties. Apart from being alive, baby boomers had almost nothing to do with the nineteen-sixties.
The math is not that hard. The boom began in July, 1946, when live births in the United States jumped to two hundred and eighty-six thousand, and it did not end until December, 1964, when three hundred and thirty-one thousand babies were born. That’s eighteen years and approximately seventy-six million people. It does not make a lot of sense to try to generalize about seventy-six million people. The expectations and potential life paths of Americans born in 1946 were completely different from the expectations and life paths of Americans born in 1964. One cohort
- entered the workforce in a growing economy, the other in a recession. One cohort
- had Elvis Presley to look forward to; the other had him to look back on.
- Male forty-sixers had to register for the draft, something people born in 1964 never had to worry about.
The boomers get tied to the sixties because they are assumed to have created a culture of liberal permissiveness, and because they were utopians—political idealists, social activists, counterculturalists. In fact, it is almost impossible to name a single person born after 1945 who played any kind of role in
- the civil-rights movement,
- Students for a Democratic Society,
- the New Left,
- the antiwar movement, or
- the Black Panthers during the nineteen-sixties.
Those movements were all started by older, usually much older, people.
The baby boomers obviously played no substantive role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, or in the decisions of the Warren Court, which are the most important political accomplishments of the decade. Nor were they responsible for the women’s movement or gay liberation. Betty Friedan was born in 1921, Gloria Steinem in 1934. The person conventionally credited with setting off the Stonewall riots, Stormé DeLarverie, was born in 1920.
Even the younger activists in the civil-rights movement were not boomers. John Lewis was born in 1940, Diane Nash in 1938, Bob Moses in 1935. The three activists who were killed during Freedom Summer in Mississippi, in 1964, were all born before 1945. Stokely Carmichael was born in 1941 (in Trinidad and Tobago), Bobby Seale in 1936, Huey Newton in 1942. Malcolm X was born in 1925, four years before Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mario Savio, the de-facto leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, was born before 1945. Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, and Abbie Hoffman were all born before 1940. Dennis Hopper, who directed “Easy Rider,” was born in 1936; Mike Nichols, who directed “The Graduate,” was born in 1931 (in Berlin); and Arthur Penn, who directed “Bonnie and Clyde,” was born in 1922.
Virtually every prominent writer and artist in the nineteen-sixties was born before 1940. Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Norman Mailer, and Andy Warhol were born in the nineteen-twenties, Carolee Schneemann, Yvonne Rainer, Sylvia Plath, Philip Roth, Amiri Baraka, Ken Kesey, Donald Barthelme, and Tom Wolfe in the nineteen-thirties, as were James Rado and Gerome Ragni, co-authors of the musical “Hair.” The chief promoter of rock and roll, Bill Graham, was born in 1931 (in Berlin). The chief proselytizer for psychedelic drugs, Timothy Leary, was born in 1920. Even Michael Lang, the original Woodstock promoter who can’t seem to quit, was born in 1944. Dr. Seuss was born in 1904.