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Rosen: Generation Z-speak scorns Baby Boomers

“OK, Boomer” is a hip expression making the rounds on social media, popular among Generation Zers and Millennials. (Gen Z: Age 7-24, Millennials: Age 25-39.) The expression mocks Baby Boomers (ages 55-73) in a smugly dismissive manner and lumps in Gen Xers (ages 40-54) for good measure. It can also be accompanied by an outstretched arm with the thumb pointed downward, like Roman audiences in the Coliseum signaling the killing of a wounded gladiator.

Generational conflict is nothing new, no doubt starting with the second generation of Homo Sapiens. Parents traditionally frown on the language, dress, music and revolutionary ideas of the “younger generation.” In turn, their kids make fun of their folks’ disapproval. That tends to dissipate over time on both sides as the adult offspring later say things like: “The older I get, the smarter my father gets,” “If I knew then what I know now,” or “Good grief, I’ve become my mother!”

“OK, Boomer,” sounds like Z generation’s version of “never trust anyone over 30,” the catch phrase of 1960’s radical left-wingers oft echoed by Abbie Hoffman. And it’s something of a reboot of “whatever,” still in usage today, mostly by slackers. That word originally meant “anything,” as in “whatever you want” and was also used to emphatically express wonderment, as in “whatever did he mean by that?”

Repurposed, “whatever” became a weapon of evasion, resentment and disrespect, reminiscent of Steve Martin’s signature bit, “Well EXCUUUSE me!” on “Saturday Night Live” and Archie Bunker’s dismissive “whatever” to Meathead when Archie got caught in yet another gaffe.

Wielders of “whatever” refuse to admit error or acknowledge misdeeds. Its nuanced variations include:

  • Aggressive ignorance – Someone makes a flatly false statement.

He says: “Ben Franklin was our greatest president.”

You respond: “But Franklin was never president.”

He: “Whatever.”

  • Feigned disinterest

You: “If you don’t make your overdue payments, they’ll repossess your car.”

He: “Whatever.”

  • Obliviousness/Embarrassment

You: “Your fly is open.”

He: “Whatever.

  • Indifference/Dismissal

You: “Weren’t you supposed to mow the lawn this weekend?”

Teenage son: “Whatever.”

  • Denial

You: “Did you get that dent in the car when you borrowed it last night.”

Teenage daughter: “Whatever.”

  • Defiance

You: “Your allowance is suspended until you clean up your room.”

Teenager: “Whatever.”

  • Disapproval

She: “Let’s ditch school and go to the mall. I know some totally cool guys we can hook up with.”

Girlfriend classmate: “Got a test, can’t.”

She: “Whatever.”

“Whatever” is embellished by rolling the eyeballs for dramatic, condescending effect and is used as a verb when you “whatever” someone. Gen Zers “OK, Boomer” someone.

Saying “OK, Boomer,” isn’t a rational counterargument. It’s just a brush off. As if a Gen Zer’s knowledge, experience, wisdom and superior generational identity supersede the views and judgment of their elders. Overprotected by helicopter moms, coddled as school children and shielded in college from language and viewpoints that might offend their hyper sensitivities, they believe Boomers have left them with a country mired in endless wars abroad, rife with economic privation and inequality, racial strife and imminent climate Armageddon.

This is paranoid self-pity on steroids. George Will once observed that the problem with the history-impaired younger generation is that “they haven’t read the minutes of the last meeting.” America, today, is a prosperous nation with a standard of living greater than at any time in our history and the envy of the world. Actual racial discrimination is less than ever. Our expansive welfare-state safety net for the needy and the middle class is broader and increasingly more generous. War and conflict among nations is a constant of human history and always will be. By historical comparison, the magnitude of our current military engagements and our active duty force is relatively low, as is defense spending as a share of the budget and GDP.

It’s hard to imagine how these fragile anti-Boomers could have handled the Great Depression or the peril of America and the free world at the time of Nazi Germany’s Blitzkrieg through Europe and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hitler’s and Japan’s existential threat to humanity was far more imminent than today’s possibility of a two degree increase in global temperatures by the year 2100.

“OK, Gen Zers,” it’s not all your fault. You’ve been brainwashed by progressive propaganda in school, liberal media, Hollywood, TV and social justice warriors. Try using your vaunted critical thinking tools to overcome it. When you grow up, you may know better.

Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com. 

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