Sunday 15 December 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Stop whining, old ­people - OK Boomer is not as bad as a racial slur'

Under fire: New York DJ Bob Lonsberry’s remarks about the use of ‘OK Boomer’ were met with scorn
Under fire: New York DJ Bob Lonsberry’s remarks about the use of ‘OK Boomer’ were met with scorn
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It's the phrase that seemingly came out of nowhere to become the most ubiquitous retort of the year.

Guaranteed to annoy the person its directed at, it has been described as 'withering', 'condescending' and, of course, 'offensive'.

Yup. I'm talking about 'OK Boomer', the latest internet phrase to achieve wider currency in the real world and in the last few months, OK Boomer has somehow managed to become a bizarrely divisive and contentious phrase.

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It's the latest indignant war cry from millennials and Gen Z who have had enough of being spoken down to by the 'baby boom' generation - those born roughly between 1946 and 1965.

Tired of being portrayed as a weak generation who are cosseted and spoiled and think the idea of taking a risk is trying to open an avocado without slicing one of their fingers off, OK Boomer is the younger generation's way of dismissing the gripes and arguments of older people.

It is, I have to say, a bloody infuriating phrase - usually delivered with smug satisfaction whenever someone makes a point that the endlessly whining modern millennials don't like. And that's what makes it so effective.

For something that started as a minor aside on the 4chan web bulletin board a few years ago, it has only now exploded into the mainstream consciousness. Perhaps the most famous of these recent examples came a few weeks ago when 25-year-old politician Chlöe Swarbrick said it in the New Zealand parliament to dismiss an older politician who tried to interrupt her speech about climate change.

Then a contestant on The Apprentice used it against Alan Sugar in a row over tattoos, and now the expression seems to be bloody everywhere. It's the perfect summation of the increasingly fractious generational bickering which has become such a hallmark of popular culture in recent years and it immediately sets people at each other's throats.

But while old farts of my own Generation X tend to grit their teeth whenever they hear it, that merely proves one thing - the phrase works. As a casual dismissal of a point of view, or a particular individual, it's loaded with contempt and derision and has the capacity to infuriate the person it is directed at.

But that's exactly what a phrase like that should do. Let's be honest, every generation thinks the one before them was stupid or selfish or completely out of touch.

My parents were boomers, although when I was having my own adolescent arguments with the folks, the only expression I had was "f**k off, hippy", which doesn't sound quite as good.

But what makes OK Boomer such an interesting colloquialism is how it frequently exposes the biases and insecurities of older people. After all, we're constantly told that millennials and Gen Z are weak and quick to take offence but if the reaction to these words are anything to go by, snowflakery is not confined to the young - the oldies are just as quick to whine when they don't like something.

American radio host Bob Lonsberry came under fire when he exclaimed that "boomer is the n-word of ageism".

Warming to his theme, he further expounded that: "Being hip and flip does not make bigotry OK, nor is a derisive epithet acceptable because it is new." As you might expect, his remarks were met with derision and justified scorn and he also managed to walk himself into the kind of race row that can finish a career.

OK Boomer is this generation's version of "talk to the hand", another similarly dismissive phrase which was always guaranteed to make the recipient want to pick up the nearest blunt object and start swinging.

But the reason these two words have gained such traction is because we're now going through a generational schism unparalleled in previous years. That's not because the kids born after 1980 are somehow biologically different (although it does sometimes seem that way), it's simply because social media has utterly changed the means of expression and how people communicate with each other.

One of the most frequently levelled accusations against young people is the way they can inflate any perceived slight into an act of monstrous oppression. But when you see an older guy stamping his feet and saying that boomer is as offensive as the n-word, you have to wonder who holds the greater persecution complex.

There is something deeper at work here as well. It's an indication of the genuine hostility and resentment that many young people feel towards their parents' generation.

You can argue the rights and wrongs of such collective culpability all you like, but there is a burning sense of resentment felt by many kids and, as irritating as they can be, they also have a point - they're inheriting a world where optimism is in short supply. So use the phrase all you want and do it quickly before it goes out of fashion, which given the speed of popular culture will probably happen by Tuesday afternoon.

But seriously, old people - it's a bit rich to accuse modern youth of being big whiney babies when you think OK Boomer is as bad as a racial slur.

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