“Every generation blames the one before.”
— Mike + The Mechanics
So I guess "OK Boomer" is a thing now. And I gather I'm supposed to be offended by it. Certainly, some people seem to be.
The saying — a dismissive eye roll from Generation Z to their elders — is suddenly all the rage. It appears on hoodies, headlines, tweets and memes, this catch-all response to old folks’ nonstop nagging and criticism. Some members of the Baby Boom generation are not amused.
Maureen Dowd of The New York Times sees it as “intergenerational war.” Steve Cuozzo of The New York Post says the young ones “really, really hate us.” Bob Lonsberry, a conservative radio host, declared “boomer” — no joke — “the n-word of ageism.”
Granted, these are media types — not real people — so we should be careful about generalizing. I, for one, can't say I really feel "hate" from young folks. But to whatever degree I should be taking this seriously — "You darn kids, get off my internet!" — I find that I can't. I keep laughing instead.
It strikes me as funny that some in my generation, which defined itself by an insolent rejection of the old, are traumatized by a younger generation's insolent rejection of us. Am I the only one who remembers when the hippies warned, "Don't trust anyone over 30?" Does no one else recall when Pete Townshend sneered, "Hope I die before I get old"?
Then how dare any of us clutch our pearls over a little intergenerational sniping? Besides, it's not as if the kids don't have a point. Our record is certainly mixed.
I'd say our music was better than theirs, but they have better television — and more of it — than we could've dreamt. Boomers made great strides in civil rights for black people, women and the LGBTQ. But we dropped the ball on climate change, failed to address a rigged financial system. And we — the white cohort of us at least — bear blame for the catastrophe of Trump. We deserve both credit and castigation. Every generation does — even the "Greatest."
When I was a kid, I used to tease this old man in the neighborhood for being an old man in the neighborhood. "Keep a'livin'," he'd always retort. And I did. And here I am, just turned 62 and wondering how the heck that happened. The Gen Z kids will too soon enough wonder the selfsame thing. The big wheel keeps on turning.
Usually that confers perspective and context, the soil from which wisdom grows. But you couldn't prove that by these overwrought responses to young people's taunts.
I'm remembering teenage battles with my mom as I write this. As it happens, I've got Nat King Cole playing in the background. He was mom's end-all and be-all. She didn't want to hear any noise from my room about P-Funk getting funked up, Papa being a rolling stone or midnight trains to Georgia. As far as she was concerned, music stopped when King Cole died. I got sick of hearing his name, scorned him on general principle.
But I remember one day mom deigned to listen to the Stylistics with me. Afterward, she sniffed that "Betcha By Golly Wow" was actually a pretty song to have such a silly title. It was a backhanded compliment, but I felt vindicated by it just the same. I doubt she needed my vindication — adults didn't need that from kids back then. Still, somewhere in the intervening decades, I decided Cole wasn't so bad either. I just had to learn how to hear him — and I did.
So the kids may "OK" this Boomer to their heart's content. Because as they will eventually discover, that old man in my neighborhood was right.
Keep a'livin' indeed.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. firstname.lastname@example.org