OK, millennial. OK, Generation Z.
OK, OK, OK!
We Gen Xers get it. Latchkey kids we were in the 1970s and 1980s. Latchkey kids we remain in our middle-age-hood as you all duke it out for the oxygen online and we just let ourselves into the house and watch some “Love Boat.”
As the generation born between the two largest generations in current America — the baby boomers (76 million Americans born from 1946 to 1964) and millennials (74 million born roughly from 1982 to 2000) — we fewer members of Gen X (59 million born from 1965 to 1981) are used to being overlooked. We are used to being ignored. We are used to being left out of Important Discussions of Culture, Resources and Policies in America.
Our entire lives we’ve heard Marcia-Marcia-Marcia. We are the Jan Brady generation, the middle child who quietly puts up with the nonsense and noise from big brother and little sister in the back seat of our national station wagon. Reality indeed bites.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
Now there’s an extra generational sibling in the car: Generation Z (those born from 2000 on). And we Xers again are sidelined as the youngsters school the oldsters with the dismissive “OK boomer” — as in “whatever, older out-of-touch person.” Even in this latest round of intergenerational warfare, Gen X is cast aside. (Though we had to admire Gen Z for outdoing our own Gen X standard bearer for the eye-roll, pout and glare, Molly Ringwald.)
In case you’re a baby boomer or have the “boomer mindset” — which is what Gen Z is really railing against here — and in case you are out of the “OK boomer” loop, here’s a quick 411. (That is Gen X-speak for information, youngsters, the kind you got in the pre-Alexa, pre-Google caveman era when dialing those digits on a rotary phone could get you someone’s phone number.)
According to the think pieces published last week about what has become a collective, viral middle finger to older people, “OK boomer” was born out of anger over inheriting a mess that wasn’t of their making, as well as the age-old resistance to the older people who just don’t get it. (Don’t believe in climate change? OK boomer. Call me a snowflake for worrying about paying for college? OK boomer.)
“OK boomer” is all over social media. It’s been made into a song. That song has been remixed thousands of times on the video-sharing app TikTok. You can even buy hoodies that have the phrase.
A New York Times examination last week featured 19-year-old college student Peter Kuli, whose TikTok remix of “OK boomer” has become popular. Kuli told the Times that the Internet has given young people “a voice and an outlet to critique the generations who got us into this position. … Gen Z is finally putting their feet in the ground and saying enough is enough.”
Some defensive, over-the-top baby boomer responses seemed to make the Gen Z point. A conservative radio host in Rochester, New York, is being “OK boomer”-ed and more after he insisted that “OK boomer” is ageist and the new N-word. (Yes, he went there). Even Dictionary.com jumped into the fray, saying “boomer” is not offensive while the unprintable N-word “is one of the most offensive words in the English language.”
Gen X takes all this in, the middle child in the middle row, squeezed and left out. We’re like Thanksgiving — the underappreciated and arguably best holiday on the calendar. Thanksgiving asks for nothing except peace at the table, while Halloween and Christmas trample all over us. We’re like the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the quiet star drowned out by Bluejay and Husker fans. We’re like Bellevue and Keystone and all the overlooked neighborhood gems because everyone is me-me-midtown or me-me-McMansion in west O.
Well, we have ideas, too. We have anxieties, too. We are being squeezed between a bigger, demanding older generation whose music we loved and a younger, striving and way-less-private generation whose music we also love. But it gets tiring being in the middle, and we just want to say: OK, boomer, millennial and Z. Just put some Pearl Jam on already. And get to work.
Boomers have some points about paying your dues, being responsible and stepping up. But have they forgotten that they once marched in protest against their own hopelessly out-of-touch elders?
Z is right to be mad about inheriting big problems and right to be worried about whether they will be worse off than their folks — only to be called “snowflake” for raising those issues.
But is it really OK to generalize a group?
If there’s one thing we Xers have learned through years of being ignored, it’s that generations are social constructs that place people in a time period by birth and that’s basically it. Demographers haven’t really settled on exact years for generations, with David Drozd of the University of Nebraska at Omaha calling it more art than science. Defining groups by their generations alone discounts their many individual differences and experiences. And it denies the ways in which they adapt. You know who spends the most time on computer and phone screens? OK boomer, look in the mirror. It might be you.
When I took a completely unscientific survey of colleagues, friends and siblings, I got some predictable responses. A baby boomer reporter kvetched about how we Xers were spoiled hires in the 1990s, wanting plum assignments without paying dues. (OK, boomer. I went to a ton of boring meetings, too, and worked many late nights.) My millennial sister could barely hide her scorn for my Gen X-centered views. “Of course that’s your take,” she said.
Admittedly, I talked to no Zs. A certain major public school district did not jump on my request to interview students. And I was reluctant to give my teenager at home any new ways to roll her eyes at me. I might not be a baby boomer, but as the kids are saying, it’s less about generation and more about mindset.
In the end, we’re all smashed together in the family station wagon, and Dad keeps threatening to stop this car if the kids don’t stop fussing. While the other generations fight it out, we Xers just want to find our Walkman and a good mixtape to drown out the noise.