In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new internet meme making the rounds called “OK Boomer.” It’s basically the younger generation’s answer to criticism from older folks — in this case, the millennial generation’s answer to criticism from baby boomers. As near as I can tell, it goes something like this:
A grumpy baby boomer tells a millennial to grow up, move out of the basement, get a job and stop being such a snowflake over every little perceived slight.
Next, an annoyed millennial rolls her eyes and says, “OK Boomer — how about YOU not polluting our planet with your big, ugly-ass gas guzzlers? And while you’re at it, how about not sucking the Social Security fund dry just because you want to take a cruise every six months?”
That’s the short version, anyway. If you want to learn more about it, here’s a piece from The New York Times that sums it all up pretty neatly. Apparently “OK Boomer” has become a big enough thing that they’re even selling merchandise behind it. Like any good cause, if there’s a buck to be made from it, a buck will be made.
But I’m not here to talk about the alleged rift between 20-somethings and 60-somethings. Even if it’s true, it’s nothing new. Generational gaps probably date to the earliest days of humankind. Young cavepersons probably thought their elders were too tied to the old ways of hunting Mastodons and sacrificing them to the gods. Old cavepersons probably thought their offspring should get up off their lazy asses and find a job down at the local StoneMart.
Many boomers have probably forgotten how often they challenged their elders decades ago. Many millennials can’t or won’t see far enough into the future to know that someday they’ll be the grumpy, regressive geezers.
Frankly, generational battles bore the crap out of me.
Nah, what I’m here to talk about is the term “boomer” itself, because I’m sick of that, too. It has no relevance. It never really did, but it especially doesn’t now. It needs to be done away with. Or at least redefined.
The formal definition of a “baby boomer” is someone, typically an American, born between the years 1946 and 1964. It basically runs from the end of World War II to the beginning of Beatlemania. In the U.S. at least, the birth of all these boomers coincided with America’s new status as a global and economic superpower, the onset of endless suburbia, the rise of television, the concurrent rise of mass-market consumerism, and a period of relative tranquility and prosperity, at least for most white folks.
Any of us who happened to be born during those years just automatically got labeled as boomers. We really didn’t have a choice in the matter. And therein lies the problem.
Personally, I never much felt like a boomer, even though I was born during the final third of the boomer years. I admit that my childhood was pretty much by-the-book, 1960s-era boomerism: suburban neighborhood, two cars, four kids, family vacations, weekend cookouts, little league baseball, etc. I grew up on the Beatles and Motown and “Leave it to Beaver” and “Batman” and Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle and all that.
But…But….I didn’t really form a personality of my own until the 1970s — and that was an entirely different animal from the 1960s, which is the decade most closely associated with Baby Boomers With A Capital B. The 60s were marked by economic expansion, space travel, Vietnam, assassinations, the counterculture, Civil Rights, protests, big dreams, big ideas, big visions, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
The 70s had much of that – except for the economic expansion, the big dreams, the big ideas and the big visions. Those were all replaced by economic stagnation, double-digit unemployment, crumbling cities, an energy crisis, high gas prices and long gas lines, Watergate, and a kind of world-weary cynicism. Culturally, I was more influenced by Saturday Night Live — or maybe even Saturday Night Fever — than Woodstock. As I grew into college age I certainly had more affinity for funk and punk than I ever did for high-minded folk songs about flowers in your hair.
My political hero was — I didn’t have a political hero. The presidents during the years I grew from a boy into a man were Nixon, Ford and Carter. The closest I got to political heroes were Woodward and Bernstein because they at least helped expose a corrupt and cancerous presidential administration.
If there’s a hero from the 1970s for me, or at least a symbol of its numbing cynicism, it’s a fictional one: Travis Bickle, the paranoid loner portrayed by Robert DeNiro in 1976’s “Taxi Driver.” Travis had a very dark and mistrustful worldview. Nobody was a friend. Everybody was a potential enemy. He tried his best to do good in his own way, but he kept tripping over his own feet and delusions. Not exactly a shining beacon of the Baby Boomer generation.
Neither am I, if you want to know the honest truth. And that’s not meant as a slight against baby boomers, either, whoever or whatever they are. It’s simply a recognition that people who graduated high school in 1967 have a whole different set of experiences than those who graduated a decade later, and should not be lumped into the same box of crayons. And yet we are. Somehow I’m a baby boomer, because that’s how the sociologists branded me.
Anyway, let’s make a deal, millennials: I promise not to rant about your little tics and quirks, at least not in public.
And you promise not to say “OK Boomer” to me.