The dismissive remark, ‘OK Boomer’

The term "OK Boomer" is considered dismissive to baby boomers. Graphic: Tina Talavera/University of Miami
By Barbara Gutierrez

The term "OK Boomer" is considered dismissive to baby boomers. Graphic: Tina Talavera/University of Miami

The dismissive remark, ‘OK Boomer’

By Barbara Gutierrez
Baby boomers, Millennials, and GenZs share their sentiments about the generational divide.

It has become the battle cry for Generation Z and some Millennials: “OK, Boomer.”

The dismissive remark is aimed at baby boomers, those born between 1944 and 1964, perceived by the younger generation as out of touch, technologically impaired, and politically old-fashioned. The phrase, which may have debuted on the social platform TikTok, has exploded in popularity.

A New Zealand politician recently threw out the phrase at an older Parliament member who heckled her during a speech on climate change. “OK Boomer” merchandise is selling briskly across various online retailers.

“I don’t use it, but I know it is a phrase that is used when an older person says something offensive,” said Nicholas Molinaro, a 21-year-old biology major at the University of Miami. “A lot of older people are out of touch with a lot of topics.”

Some older folks view the phrase as another manifestation of polarization and intolerance for diverse views, which seems to be prevalent in today’s society.

Others blame it on pent up frustration by the newer generations who have inherited a planet plagued by the ravages of climate change, increasing student loan debt, and an economy that makes it difficult for them to lead independent lives. 

“They criticize us for constantly being on social media and yet many of them do the same,” said Cate Demosthenous, an 18-year-old freshman. “There are some things older people need to change.”

Cross-generational frustrations and conflicts are probably as old as the human species, said Walter Secada, professor and vice dean at the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development. He remembers when he was a young adult being angered by what was happening around him, especially the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

“Back in my day, when TV was black and white, anti-war and civil rights activists were not only called names—communist, unpatriotic, lazy—but also, we got arrested and shot,” he said. “I spent a week in the Miami-Dade stockades resulting from my participation in the anti-war demonstrations during the 1972 Republican Convention in Miami Beach. But in return, we demonstrated—some would have said rioted—and called older people names that make ‘OK Boomer’ sound like a term of endearment.”

For Donald Spivey, distinguished professor of history and Cooper Fellow of the College of Arts and Sciences, being a boomer is a tremendous source of pride.

“I attended college in the 1960s and had the experience, the honor, and the pleasure of coming of age in what was, without a doubt, the greatest era of consciousness-building in the American nation,” he said. “As a boomer, you experienced the world at war and at peace, the civil rights movement, and the many tumultuous social, political, and intellectual struggles around you every day.” 

Boomers can relish their past activism but should realize that Generation Z and Millennials are navigating different lives, said some of the students interviewed. They should also realize that some traditionally held social norms are no longer relevant. For instance, most GenZs and Millennials believe in embracing different gender narratives, said Abigail Adeleke, a junior who is studying journalism and psychology. 

“Many boomers say you have to wear a dress or earrings if you are a girl,” said Adeleke. “Well, our generation is more fluid than that.” 

Although she has not used the term, she can see why young people would use it. Many of them blame boomers, in part, for the effects of climate change and the ripple effect of the 2008 mortgage crisis, she said. 

“They feel like the boomers created some of these problems and now we have to pick up the slack,” said Adeleke.   

Some boomers are willing to accept some responsibility for what is wrong in today’s society. 

Sam Terilli, associate professor at the School of Communication, believes that it is better to accept that his generation “is not above reproach.” 

“One need look no further than the state of the environment and the toxicity of our politics if looking for a reason for a bit of humility,” he said. “I am not saying boomers alone caused the mess or that boomers haven't added anything positive to the world, but let's be honest. We have screwed up, too, and too often we lack a sense of humor.”