Intergenerational conflict is as old as time itself. In Ancient Greece, Socrates apparently said that ‘Children now love luxury; they have bad manners, they show disrespect to elders and love chatter in a place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households, they no longer rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannize their teachers”. He probably wouldn’t have been too out of place as a journalist in the 2010s, when a new headline about millennials ‘killing’ everything from the diamond industry to the paper napkin industry seemed to bombard us almost weekly.
In the 2020s, this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere: political cartoons still crack jokes about our use of smartphones; eyes are rolled and tongues are clicked whenever a young person dares to voice their opinion in a room full of people aged over 45. According to the headlines, we are lazy, self-serving, immature, overly sensitive ‘snowflakes’ who know nothing about how the world works. By 2019, we had had enough. We snapped. We retaliated in the only way we knew how. And so, the “Okay Boomer” meme was born. Since then, it has taken over the world: at the time of writing, the tag #Okayboomer has 69 million views on TikTok, and the phrase can be found on hoodies and t-shirts. ‘Okay boomer’ has even made its way into politics, with 25-year-old politician Chloe Swarbrick using it in response to heckling from another member of parliament. It’s easy to see why the meme caught on so quickly. It’s short, snappy and hilariously dismissive. It signals that you want the conversation to be over and will not be dragged into a debate about climate change or Brexit or whatever apocalyptic crisis is happening this week. It’s cutting. It’s disrespectful. It’s practically impossible to draft a clever response to it.
It’s important to note that the idea of a ‘generation’ itself is an artificial concept. Nonetheless, categorising people into different age groups can be useful when it comes to defining the shared experiences of different age groups in society. Generations may differ across countries and societies and may be defined by different events: for example, a ‘boomer’ in the US may remember the moon landing very differently to a Russian of the same age. Loosely, ‘boomer’ or ‘baby boomer’ refers to the generation born immediately after the Second World War until roughly 1964. They grew up in an era of political strife, witnessing the Watergate scandal and the first ever impeachment of a US president. They saw a dramatic shift in racial relations, especially in the US. They also grew up in a time of conflict, facing the Vietnam war and the threat of the Cold War igniting into a full-scale conflict. Finally, they came of age in a time of revolution, witnessing the Summer of Love, the legalisation of abortion and of birth control pills across multiple countries and the very first whispers of the feminist and LGBT rights movements as we know them today. They were the rock and roll generation. The hippie generation. The generation of revolution and evolution.
If you think some of this sounds eerily familiar, you aren’t alone. Both millennials and Gen Z (with the former being born between 1981 and 1997 and the latter between 1997 and 2012) also witnessed significant political strife. We have seen the third ever impeachment of a US president and the growing polarisation of politics thanks to the rise of populism. We’ve seen movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ grow and influence dialogue on race relations in an increasingly diverse world. We have also seen countless wars and conflicts across the world and, many would argue, the growth of another cold war between the US and China. Arguably, we too live in an era of sexual revolution, with growing acceptance of non-heterosexual relationships and gender identities outside of the traditional gender binary. The legalisation of gay marriage across the world, something which seemed impossible even 20 years ago, now seems mundane to the average millennial or Gen Z. We may not be a generation of rock and roll and flower power, but perhaps we too are generations of evolution and revolution.
Here is a thought: given these similarities between us, the baby boomers might help us avoid the mistakes their generation once made. Who better to guide us through this difficult era than the people who have, literally, been there before and seen it all? It is also worth noting that both sides could benefit from more positive relations: loneliness amongst older people is at an all-time high in many Western countries, and younger people often find themselves feeling increasingly desperate to break away from the technology that seems to have invaded every second of our waking lives in favour of genuine, human interactions. Maybe, by building bridges between old and young, we can start to gain historical insight that will help us to build a better world for the generations who will come after us.
[Luisa Barclay- she/her – @luisabarclay]
[Photo credit: emma/flickr.com]