Ok Boomer: the social media trend captures the generational clash

Experts explain how generational identity plays a role in the way people think and work.

The phrase that was supposed to end conversations is sparking a phenomenon. Millennials and Gen Z use the phrase “Ok Boomer” to respond and dismiss comments from baby boomers that seem outdated or out of touch. Now, the meme continues to make the generational divide into viral content.

The trend entered pop culture when Ellen DeGeneres formed segments around the sensation and FOX filing a patent to launch a show called “Ok Boomer.”

“Ok Boomer” became viral from memes on TikTok poking fun at the older generation. The meme format uses a song created by two college students. The track is made up of a rant by a baby boomer about the younger generations combined with a chorus consisting of the repeated phrase “Ok Boomer.”

The trend shifted over to Twitter when conservative radio host, Bob Lonsberry said “ok boomer” was an ageist slur and compared it to the N-word. There was backlash to his comment including a tweet from Dictionary.com that said, “Boomer is an informal noun referring to a person born during a baby boom, especially one born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1965. The n-word is one of the most offensive words in the English language.”

The debate continued with AARP Editorial Director telling Axios that, “[baby boomers] actually have the money,” furthering the boomer criticism on the joke.

Disagreements between older and younger generations are nothing new. Amy Lynch is a Generational Diversity Consultant at Generational Edge, a company that educates and promotes generational education. Lynch speaks to audiences about Gen IQ, a term describing the knowledge of how each generation thinks and operates and then applying that to everyday communication among multi-generational environments.

“As we go through the generational cycle, there is this phase when the baby boomer is easing out of the picture, politically, culturally and in the workplace,” Lynch said. “Gen X-ers are rising to leadership and the millennials are coming on strong. “

Lynch found that the environment and time period people grow up in adds to their identity. Baby boomers tend to be more idealistic from arriving in a booming economy while millennials grew up during the recession.

Joe Alessi, a baby boomer does believe there is truth in the stereotypes about millennials and Gen Z.

“It’s a ‘me’ generation. They want everything handed to them. They don’t necessarily want to work for it and a lot of times they are spoiled,” Alessi said when visiting the USC campus for a football game. “I’m sure the ‘greatest generation’ to a certain extent thought the same thing about the boomers, but I think it’s a much bigger divide now.”

USC sophomore Rebecca Freedman thought the memes were jokes that the older generation is making into an insult.

“It is kind of a joke among Gen Z and millennials to say ‘Ok Boomer’ and then they get weirdly pissed off about it because they do not like hearing that stuff,” Freedman said.

Meagan Johnson, another Generational Consultant, summarized the younger generation’s frustration with that older generation does not want to do anything differently while the older generation perceives the younger generation as wanting gratification without doing any of the work.

“On the older side, it is our responsibility to give the younger generation a path to challenge the way we do things. That’s the way we progress. That’s the way we grow,” Johnson said.

Johnson found that millennials tend to challenge the process and not the person. She said older generations pick up on the fact that the younger generations tend to have a higher expectation for feedback and could interpret them wanting constant gratification. While Johnson finds the “Ok Boomer” remark funny, she said it sets up an area for conflict.

“The problem with those types of remarks is that they do put up a certain barrier with people. You are telling me I don’t get it because I’m old, but yet you want me to understand where you are coming from, yet you are discounting my opinion,” Johnson said.

USC Ph.D. student Sulafa Zidani researches meme culture for her dissertation and said this meme is the reaction to years of scrutiny from older generations.

“Maybe ‘Ok Boomer’ can sound a little bit offensive to boomers, but I feel like we should be listening to where this offense is coming from and the reasons behind it,” Zidani said. “If you identify as a millennial you might have been sensitive to a lot of articles that came out saying like, ‘millennials ruined this industry,’ ‘millennials are too sensitive,’ and ‘millennials are snowflakes. The ‘Ok Boomer’ meme is in response to that as well.”