In the face of growing generational gaps between the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z, the youth have rallied around a response that has inspired a social movement, creating new channels of discourse and, inevitably, backlash. The devastatingly effective phrase of choice? “Ok boomer.”
The phrase originates from an online response to a TikTok video of a man with a new phrasing for an old stereotype: that younger generations are too immature to be taken seriously. Donning his battle armor — a baseball hat and a polo shirt — he declared, “The millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up.”
Gen Zers shot back — on TikTok, Twitter, and other social media platforms — with a beautifully simple sentiment, equivalent to a verbal or virtual eye-roll to the boomer mindset. “Ok boomer” became a widely used phrase to poke fun of anything from ruining the housing market to a tendency to take minor inconveniences as extreme personal offenses. It’s become so mainstream that a song fittingly titled “ok boomer” written by Jonathan Williams and Peter Kuli and popularized on TikTok has become Gen Z’s unofficial anthem.
A fire erupted as boomers rushed to accuse “ok boomer” as being a “generational slur”, “ageist” and even went so far as to compare it to the n-word. Comedian John Mulaney’s guideline, “If you’re comparing the badness of two words and you won’t even say one of them, that’s the worse word,” is certainly applicable here.
Even more ironically, “ok boomer” is just a glib response to boomers’ attacks on millennials and Gen Zers, with none of the bite. “Ok boomer” is the socially powerful version of “I know you are, but what am I?” to boomers calling members of younger generations “snowflakes” — even “millennial” was used in a derogatory way almost immediately after the nickname came into existence. There has been no shortage of boomers labeling millennials as financially illiterate industry murderers or Gen Zers as too young to understand the world. The punchline is that those generalizations were laughed off by their younger targets, but boomers blew up when the most shallow reflection of that rhetoric was detected.
What “ok boomer” doesn’t get enough credit for is that it did more than just respond to one man’s rant. The phrase has created a new avenue of social discourse that is accessible on an unprecedented level, and has led to even more intergenerational solidarity between millennials and Gen Zers. Before “ok boomer,” there was no widely accepted comeback to the boomer mindset. Past responses to boomers’ downward generational jabs were either humorous, or educated and formal. The former made the comebacks easier to connect with but was brushed away as just another sign of immaturity, whereas the latter took some effort to engage with and would likely be dismissed as naivete.
“Ok boomer” is the current intersection of the two: it’s a funny and purposeful statement that combines both Gen Z’s characteristically flippant attitude towards anything derivable, and its zeal for finding solutions to boomer-inherited problems. It’s more than just bitterness towards unfortunate inheritances — it’s a generational symbol. The phrase has received criticism for acting as a swift rejection of engagement and dooming the possibility of some universe without intergenerational differences. However, the sparking of such outrage among those who represent the boomer mindset proves that the phrase is relevant. It’s the first of many messages that the younger generations demand a legitimate change.
Gen Z’s generationally-defining war isn’t going to be fought in trenches or with militaries: it’s already here in the form of climate change, economic crises and outdated institutions. It’s this war that “ok boomer” is a rallying cry for, not the “generational war” that boomers are trying to will into existence. Gen Z is too young to remember an America before 9/11 and was born into problems that the older generations created — yet, it has the audacity to demand change and equality. That sheer dedication to ideology in the face of a dismissive boomer generation and disadvantages out of our control is the true power behind “ok boomer.”