‘OK boomer,’ the newest written chapter in history of youth counter culture

TikTok popularized the phrase “OK Boomer,” in an effort to retort against the perceived ignorance of older people. However, there may be a deeper historical meaning behind its inception.

The phrase, “OK boomer,” spread from the social media platform TikTok and flooded corners of the internet. “‘OK Boomer’ Marks the End of Friendly Generational Relations,’” the New York Times reported Oct. 29. It became a rallying cry for millions of disgruntled youth to voice their disapproval over certain political, social and broader societal issues, to which individuals born from 1946-64, ‘Baby Boomers,’ turn a blind eye.

In the eyes of young people, it is the older generations that have seemed to give the cold shoulder to issues such as climate change, gun control, civil rights and others. The spirit behind the formation of this newest call to arms, however, is nothing new, and stirring the pot to rebel against older people in power is a part of history that has a meaningful impact.

For youth activists like Erica Overfelt, president of Period at Mizzou, rebelling against society is not the main goal of her organization. The main goal is to educate. With activism, she has found that those who are initially critical of her cause often become supportive once she is able to give them insight as to why her beliefs are important.

“A lot of the comments and backlash we get comes from ignorance,” Overfelt said. “One thing that did surprise me was that a lot of the backlash comes from older women. I would say that is ignorance … if you tell them, ‘well, you may be a woman who doesn’t need to worry about this, but there are other women, non-binary and transgender, who have to worry about getting tampons,’ they’ll say, ‘oh okay.’”

The issues, like those Period at Mizzou discusses, in a way, mirror concerns of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Young people across the nation were beginning to look toward forming their own path, which, compared to the previous decade, was a drastic change. In 2019, however, issues such as climate change, the rights of political refugees and LGBTQ issues, have come into the greater consciousness of society.

The issues which are propagated by college-aged activists, unlike the ‘60s, focus on the broader global society. The perception of youth today is also impacted by the fact that college students over 18 initially were not granted the right to vote until the 26th amendment was passed in 1971. At the same time, other court cases ruled in favor of students, making them legal adults in the eyes of the law. Before 1971, they were still considered minors.

MU graduate student and professor Craig Forrest specializes in the history of youth in education. His dissertation, “We are Not Children,” focuses on the evolution of the constitutional rights of college students, particularly concerning a piece of law known as “In Loco Parentis” or “the act of parents relinquishing their control to an educational institution.” For Forrest, the evolution of “In Loco Parentis” correlates with the way older generations have viewed young people for decades since the 1960s.

“Students being activists for their own rights really happened throughout the 1960s, which was a direct result of the fact that legally they were considered minors by society and by the universities,” Forrest said.

While the way students are viewed in the law books has changed, the perception of young people by older generations still tends to lean toward the idea that they are somehow lazy or entitled.

“ ... Today, you have administrators who look at college students as young adults who possibly do not have the best judgment, they want to try and restrain their worst impulses.”

The reaction of these people against activism and phrases such as “OK Boomer,” is one which is mixed. With some viewing it as an ageist slur, and others seeing it as an example of how the decisions of adults have failed youth today.

New Zealand politician Chlöe Swarbrick, 25, used it as a response to political hecklers when they attempted to interrupt her speech supporting a bill concerning the climate crisis on the floor of parliament on Nov. 6.

Perspective is something Overfelt believes is crucial in having older people, or those who are against certain policy changes, understand why activism in and outside of the menstrual movement is a necessary ingredient in bringing about change. However, it also comes down to the way in which people, particularly those of the older generation, get their information.

“I think a lot of people that don’t understand the menstrual issue are older,” Overfelt said. “Just because there were so many issues in the past that were never brought to light about the current issues … I think we, Millennials and Generation Z, are also able to spot fake news easier, while the older generations succumb to fake news more often, which can make causes like the menstrual movement look really bad. It is so easy for people to manipulate the facts.”

Phrases like “OK Boomer,” stem from a deeper desire to make the world better, an act which has been dismissed by older generations throughout history, not just in the late 2010s. From Forrest’s point of view, these kinds of generational conflicts, are just another part of the ongoing story of human history.

“I know when I was Generation X, after the Baby Boomers, we got the same thing, that we were slackers,” Forrest said. “The implied overtone is ‘God help us the world’s going to come to an end, this younger generation isn’t capable of running their own lives, or that they are going to destroy society,’ … There is nothing different today about young people en-masse today than when I was a student.”

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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