As any generation ages, they're bound to grow jaded and crotchety. They can't help but roll their eyes at the present day's tweens and teens, assuming their idealism must be fueled by naïveté. They just don't know any better, right? But the kids of Gen Z aren't here for Baby Boomers' pessimistic, dismissive attitude. In fact, there's a new catch phrase blowing up that specifically targets those born between 1946-1964: "ok boomer."
Illustration by Parents Staff; dejandjuric/Getty Images
According to KnowYourMeme.com, the exact origin of the phrase is unknown, but The New York Times reports that a clip of a Boomer lecturing Gen Z about their "utopian" fantasies has gone viral on TikTok, and thousands of teens have responded with the simple but powerful mocking response that is basically the verbal equivalent of this classic Jennifer Lawrence gif.
They've also used 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," the Times notes. A 20-year-old named Jonathan Williams even turned the phrase into a "boomer backlash hymn," which opens with the line, "It’s funny you think I respect your opinion, when your hairline looks that disrespectful."
There's even "ok boomer" merch, created by a 19-year-old savvy entrepreneur named Shannon O'Connor who uploaded her T-shirt design and hoodie, sporting the tagline “Ok boomer have a terrible day,” to Bonfire, a site for selling custom apparel. After promoting the shirt on TikTok, she received more than $10,000 in orders. Sites like Redbubble and Spreadshirt are also packed with “ok boomer” phone cases, bedsheets, stickers, pins, and other swag featuring the phrase.
The phrase carries far more weight than a breezy "whatever, man." It's rooted in Gen Z's outright disgust over moves Boomers have made—and continue to make—that are wreaking havoc on the planet and their financial stability.
A Redbubble seller and 18-year-old college student named Nina Kasman summed up the aggravation her generation feels, telling the Times, "Everybody in Gen Z is affected by the choices of the boomers, that they made and are still making. 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.”
O'Connor told the Times that "a lot" of Boomers "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."
That animosity must create a uniquely tense dynamic between Boomer grandparents and Gen Z grandchildren. After all, while Millennial and Gen X grew up revering their grandparents as heroes of World War II, Gen Z doesn't necessarily believe their parents' parents are full-on role models. (This despite the fact that many of them took to the streets to protest war, fight for civil rights for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community—Stonewall, anyone?—and pursue a bevy of other social causes.)
That said, to some teens, "ok boomer" isn't aimed exclusively at people over 50. Anyone can be a boomer in Gen Z's view, if they're shortsighted enough, Williams explained to the Times. "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."
A researcher who studies online communities named Joshua Citarella explained that phrase and its sentiment are resonating, because "Gen Z is going to be the first generation to have a lower quality of life than the generation before them. Essentials are more expensive than ever before, we pay 50 percent of our income to rent, no one has health insurance. Previous generations have left Generation Z with the short end of the stick."
Someone just started playing the TikTok song OK BOOMER as the professor is giving a lecture about the US debt— Taylor Anstin (@taylorsanmiggie) October 22, 2019
And the merch that teens like O'Connor and Kasman are creating serves as protest unto itself for Gen Z. They're "monetizing boomer backlash" for extra cash that will likely go toward funding their overpriced educations and cost of living. "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," noted Kasman.
While being able to build a savings account is certainly a sweet benefit of the movement, the best aspect might be the optimism and empowerment it inspires. As Kasman put it to the Times, as if she was talking to a Boomer, "You can keep talking, but we’re going to change the future." Seeing Gen Z use their understandable frustration to fuel positive action should give us all hope.