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.”
My gut reaction is that these student mobbists manage to combine snowflake fragility and lynch mob irrationalism into one perfectly poisonous cocktail.
.. I came of age in the 1980s. In that time, there was an assumption that though the roots of human society were deep in tribalism, over the past 3,000 years we have developed a system of liberal democracy that gloriously transcended it, that put reason, compassion and compromise atop violence and brute force.
.. sophisticated people in those days wanted to be seen, to use Scott Alexander’s term, as mistake theorists. Mistake theorists believe that the world is complicated and most of our troubles are caused by error and incompetence, not by malice or evil intent.
.. Mistake theorists also believe that most social problems are hard and that obvious perfect solutions are scarce. Debate is essential. You bring different perspectives and expertise to the table. You reduce passion and increase learning. Basically, we’re all physicians standing over a patient with a very complex condition and we’re trying to collectively figure out what to do.
.. The idea for decades was that racial justice would come when we reduced individual bigotry — the goal was colorblind individualism. As Nils Gilman argues in The American Interest, that ideal reached its apogee with the election of Barack Obama.
.. But Obama’s election also revealed the limits of that ideal. Now the crucial barriers to racial justice are seen not just as individual, but as structural economic structures, the incarceration crisis, the breakdown of family structure.
.. The second thing that happened was that reason, apparently, ceased to matter. Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivism — what perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.
These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity. Then along came the 2016 election to validate that point of view! If reason and deliberation are central to democracy, how on earth did Donald Trump get elected?
.. If you were born after 1990, it’s not totally shocking that you would see public life as an inevitable war of tribe versus tribe. It’s not surprising that you would become, in Scott Alexander’s terminology, a conflict theorist, not a mistake theorist.
In the conflict theorist worldview, most public problems are caused not by errors or complexity, but by malice and oppression. The powerful few keep everyone else down. The solutions to injustice and suffering are simple and obvious: Defeat the powerful. Passion is more important than reason because the oppressed masses have to mobilize to storm the barricades. Debate is counterproductive because it dilutes passion and sows confusion. Discordant ideas are not there to inform; they are there to provide cover for oppression.
.. So I’d just ask them to take two courses. The first would be in revolutions — the French, Russian, Chinese and all the other ones that unleashed the passion of the mob in an effort to overthrow oppression — and the way they ALL wound up waist deep in blood.
The second would be in constitutionalism. We dump on lawyers, but the law is beautiful, living proof that we can rise above tribalism and force — proof that the edifice of civilizations is a great gift, which our ancestors gave their lives for... Our new generation was never taught how to communicate outside it’s own tribe. And failure to learn how to do that will not bode well for their future or ours... I have spent my entire adult life on college campuses, and I would say that most students do not subscribe to mobbism or tribalism. Alas, I would say apathy is far more common than protest, and that most students are unlikely to know that Christina Hoff Sommers is even speaking on campus, to have an opinion about her ideas, or to attend. I see few protests, flyers, or petitions on campus these days. Instead, I see harried students who work part-time, struggle to pay tuition, and are anxious about landing a decent job when they graduate.
Everyone’s talking about the civil war in the Republican Party. It seems more like a surrender to us. The great bulk of elected Republicans have surrendered to the forces of Donald J. Trump. And they didn’t even put up much of a fight. Has a hostile takeover of a historic institution ever been accomplished with less resistance? The flag of surrender went up before many blows were even landed.
.. What I find so shocking is not so much the capitulation but the terms of the surrender. Or, rather, I should say the term — singular — of surrender, because there seems to be only one requirement expected of Republicans: Lavish praise on Donald Trump no matter what he does or says. Or at the very least, never, ever criticize him. Policy is an afterthought.
.. A reporter for Politico recently asked John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, for his views on a potential bipartisan compromise extending cost-sharing payments under Obamacare. “I’m with the president,” Cornyn told Seung Min Kim. When she asked him where, exactly, Trump is on the plan, Cornyn threw his hands in the air. So Cornyn doesn’t know what Trump’s position is — but he knows that he shares it.
.. The Trump agenda begins and ends with personal loyalty to Trump — not to the Trump agenda, but to the Trump personality.
.. Sasse likes to point out he is the third most conservative senator by voting record. I’m not sure how he reached that figure, but it seems plausible given that the American Conservative Union gave him a 100 percent conservative score in both 2015 and in 2016.
..But, remember, Sasse is the RINO squish traitor.
..Ah, quoth the Bannonite mobs, but he’s thwarting Trump’s agenda! Conservatism is a dead creed. What matters now is the new nationalism and supporting our president’s pursuit of coveted wins. Nothing else matters. Well, according to FiveThirtyEight, Sasse has voted with Trump 90.2 percent of the time. He supported the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill, admittedly with reservations. But if Sasse had his way, the president would have had more than one big win by now.
.. Losing a seat to the Democrats is worse for the pro-life cause than appeasing the Trump White House — or at least a reasonable person could come to that conclusion.
.. They also talk about wanting to get things done and the importance of fulfilling the Trump “agenda.” But they reserve their purest passion and most sustained vitriol not for people who don’t vote with Trump, but for people who do vote with Trump but who also refuse to remain silent.
.. Why? Well, in the president’s case, the answer is obvious: his own Brobdingnagian yet astoundingly fragile ego. Because Trump cares so little about policy, he can forgive policy differences quite easily. What he can’t forgive is anyone even hinting that the emperor’s new clothes are, at best, invisible to the naked eye.
.. I’ll give Steve Bannon credit. He understood this from the get-go. He understood that criticizing Trump for the Access Hollywood tape was the kind of disloyalty Trump cares about. But criticizing a tax-reform proposal? He won’t care, at least not if it’s couched in compliments.
.. The Breitbart folks are quick to point out that they criticized Trump when he seemed to be capitulating on DACA — “Amnesty Don” and all that. This was at Bannon’s direction of course. But Bannon & Co. never, ever criticize the man himself. When Trump is doing wrong, it’s because the “Globalists” or the “Establishment” are giving the king bad information and whispering treason in his ear.
.. THE NEW SNOWFLAKE CAUCUS
It really is amazing. The people most likely to mock “snowflakes” and ask if you’ve been “triggered” have the most Pavlovian responses to criticism of Trump. They can’t seem to handle hearing anyone pointing out Trump’s personal, ideological, political, or managerial failings.
.. Ted Cruz is right that the Republicans have work to do. But who has taken his eye off the ball more than anyone else in Washington? Hint: It’s not Jeff Flake, it’s not Bob Corker, and it’s not Ben Sasse. It’s most emphatically not Mitch McConnell, who gave Trump his biggest win — Justice Gorsuch — and who is doing yeoman’s work to get conservatives on the lower courts.
.. It’s the guy who’d rather fight Gold Star families and rant about the NFL. It’s the guy who talks about revoking licenses for the press and talks about Confederate generals as “our heritage.” But just as there’s no reasoning with Dad when he gets into the Dewar’s, there’s no talking Trump out of his Twitter when he gets into one of his “moods.”
.. the culture-war spats and nasty personal fights are to a very real extent Trump’s true agenda, or at least it’s what people who love the Trump Show love about the Trump Show.
.. “But he fights!” can be a principle for everyone — for people without principles and also for those of us who have them.
Everybody — but especially the olds — loves to hate on millennials. We’re lazy, entitled, emotionally stunted, spendthrift, narcissistic, promiscuous snowflakes.
.. But if Bill Clinton was once our “first black president,” surely Trump can be our first millennial president.
.. despite the fact that as of Monday — more than a month after Hurricane Maria hit — four-fifths of the island still has no power. A quarter lacks clean drinking water.
.. This is hardly the first time Trump has insisted upon, or even invented, accolades to celebrate his own mediocrity. He claimed to have received environmental awards that never existed. His golf clubs displayed fake Time magazine covers featuring his face.
.. Millennial Trump overshares constantly on social media, sometimes even Instagramming his food. He live-tweets his favorite TV show instead of getting real work done. Although no longer a minor, he still requires constant helicopter parenting from the grown-ups around him, as if he’s in an adult day care.
.. Trump personally demanded that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigate media outlets he dislikes and suggested that networks should have their broadcast licenses revoked. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in subsequent days a Morning Consult poll found that half of Republicans agreed with him.
Huh. It’s almost as if 19-year-olds aren’t actually the country’s greatest threat to the First Amendment.
.. Trump casts himself as a perpetual victim, the uncontested winner of the oppression Olympics.
.. As with millennials, Trump has taken on loads of debt — though to be fair, that seems to bring much more joy to Trump than to 20- and 30-somethings. Maybe because real millennials expect to pay it back.
.. Morally lax, prone to revisionist history and obsessed with identity politics, Trump exemplifies all that is annoying and wrong with my generation — at least according to every Lena-Dunham-despising crank who once walked uphill both ways.
.. Like any true millennial, Trump refused to pay his dues in an industry where he had no experience. Instead, on the strength of his personal brand alone, he declared himself entitled to the top job. Self-promotion leading to immediate professional promotion?