For some time now, I’ve been feeling out of touch with my students. When I make pop culture references from a TV show during class (a sin I commit often), confused and befuddled faces usually stare back at me. So I double down and proceed to explain the reference. The students either dodge my eye contact sympathetically or tell me that their parents used to watch the show as if to put me out of my misery.
I am a “millennial” by definition (born between 1981-1996), but in moments like this, I feel more like a “boomer”, which used to be a term that referred to Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) until recently. This seemingly innocuous term has now been commandeered by Generation Z-ers (born between 1997-2012) to refer to anyone who is offensive, insensitive, or just “not with the times.” According to Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times, the phrase “ok, boomer” has now become a dismissive retort and “a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids” when confronting “older people who just don’t get it”.
While I get that it’s fun to blow off steam and to vent their frustrations by way of a feisty clapback, Generation Z-ers used to be lauded for their “radical inclusivity” and their ability to avoid confrontations, opting instead to resolve their disputes through pragmatic discourse (at least according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.). Moreover, Gen Z-ers were supposedly capable of “leaving differences aside to mobilize around causes that they believe in.” However, is it possible that this generation’s unique attributes have now been eroded or sandpapered away by trolling boomers?
It must be frustrating for Gen Z-ers to have inherited the problems created by the previous generations, but even more infuriating to be mocked by these very boomers for supposedly being lazy, entitled snowflakes. However, it is my sincere hope that this “ok, boomer” trend is just a passing phase and that Gen Z-ers will not become jaded and lose the wonderful characteristics that make this generation so unique and powerful.
Gen Z-ers have already and will no doubt continue to accomplish great feats, but – at the risk of getting “ok, boomer”ed – they shouldn’t forget that more can be achieved through inclusivity, pragmatism, and collective discourse rather than by taking cheap shots at boomers, no matter how much they deserve it. If it will help in any way, at least for the time being, I’ll put aside my hurt feelings and stop making outdated pop culture references during class.
Mark Kawakami, assistant professor at the Faculty of Law