Lyman Stone: The Boomers ruined everything
The death rattle of a meme is heard when some legit news outlet—The New York Times, NPR—takes notice and spies in the meme a cultural signifier, perhaps even a Larger Metaphor. Deep thinkers hover like vultures. The world surrounds the meme, engulfs it, suffocates it, drains it, ingests it. By the end of the week, Elizabeth Warren is using it as the subject line of an email fundraiser, next to a winking emoji. The shark, jumped, recedes ever deeper into the distance. Rocca’s segment airs. The meme is finished.
The particulars of the downward spiral change from meme to meme, of course. The end came for “OK Boomer” mid-month, when it was reported that Fox was trying to trademark the phrase for the title of a TV show.
TV—as in cable and broadcast? Fox? With this news, “OK Boomer” was immediately rendered as exciting and cutting-edge as the Macarena. You might as well freeze it in amber. Google Trends charted the ascent and the quick decline.
Having peaked nearly two weeks ago, the meaning of OK Boomer may have already been forgotten by its millions of users. Dictionary.com, the meme reliquary, is here to remind us: OK Boomer was a “slang phrase” used “to call out or dismiss out of touch or close-minded opinions associated with the Baby Boomer generation and older people more generally.” The essential document was a split-screen video, seen in various versions on YouTube and TikTok. On one side, a Baby Boomer, bearded, bespectacled, and baseball-capped (natch), lectured the camera on the moral failings of Millennials and members of Generation Z; on the other side, as the Boomer droned on in a fog of self-satisfaction, a non-Boomer (different versions exist) could be seen making a little placard: OK Boomer.
In an irony-soaked era, a word is often meant to be taken for its opposite, and so it was with OK Boomer. OK means “not okay”—OK here means (borrowing a meme with a longer shelf life) “STFU.” Many Boomers were thus quick to take offense, since taking offense is now a preapproved response to any set of circumstances at any time. One Boomer even objected to the plain word Boomer, calling it the “N-word of ageism.” Once again, Boomers are getting ahead of themselves. No one has yet begun referring to the “B-word” as a delicate alternative to the unsayable obscenity Boomer. My guess is that it will take a while.
Other Boomers, if you’ll pardon the expression, insisted that the national disgrace of “OK Boomer” would require the intervention of the heavy hand of the law, lest the injustice go uncorrected. A writer for Inc. magazine, a self-described Gen Xer, earnestly advised employers of whatever age to keep an ear open around the workplace. Casual use of the phrase, she wrote, could be a “serious problem.”
“If you have an employee, of any age, dropping the ‘Ok, Boomer’ line against any employee who is over the age of 40, you have to take it seriously,” wrote Inc.’s employment expert. “You can’t dismiss it as harmless banter.” Indeed, no banter should be deemed harmless any longer without prolonged and skeptical consideration. In the case of “OK Boomer,” its bantering might fall afoul of federal law banning discrimination against employees 40 and over. “A joke … can lead to patterns that create a hostile work environment, putting the company on the receiving end of a lawsuit.”