So the Rupert Murdoch-founded American TV network Fox wants to trademark the phrase ‘OK boomer’. Is that the most ‘boomer’ thing ever? Taking a grassroots invention and trying to throw money at it until it’s shiny and corporatised, part of the dastardly capitalist machine that’s left Generation Z and millennials somehow worse off than their parents? Innovation and irreverence squeezed ‘til they bleed green? I hate to say it but… OK boomer.
What’s amazing is how quickly this has happened: from meme to takeover bid in – what? – a few months. The phrase ‘OK boomer’ was cooked up on TikTok, the social media platform that gives anyone over the age of 25 a brain hemorrhage. I tried to look at it once and it was like someone had plugged a GoPro in the brains of hundreds of over-caffeinated children I have never met and do not care about. As far as I can tell it’s like Vine crossed with the lost audition tapes of endless reams of stage school kids who will one day make me redundant in the next great pivot to video.
The OK boomer meme goes like this. There’s a clip of a baby boomer, boated with mortgage and pension scheme and – ugh – savings until they’re fit to burst like an exotic chicken Kiev served at a 1970s dinner party, sputtering something dumb about the kids today – “You’ll never get a job with all those tattoos on your face”, or whatever – followed by a smart aleck, face-tatted kid deadpanning: “OK boomer.” As The New York Times noted in a vaguely bizarre profile on the phrase: “It’s the digital equivalent of an eye roll”.
First it was TikTokked, and then – in a move worthy of the money hungry boomers it lampoons – it was merchandised. Gen Z-ers are selling ‘OK boomer’-branded T-shirts, mugs, water bottles, yoga mats, you-name-its. The movement even has its own terrible novelty song, imaginatively named ‘OK boomer’, a sort-of Soundcloud rap parody that laments old people “staring at our piercings”, among other such transgressions. It’s tempting to get onside with any generation who’d attempt to wage intergenerational warfare by taking the piss out of their own contributions to culture. Is Gen Z’s shit mumble rap a bigger scourge on society than boomers’ ravaging of the environment? Hard to say, so hard to say.
According the filing that Fox made, the company wants the phrase for “entertainment services, namely, an on-going television series featuring reality competition, comedy, and game shows”. An ‘OK Boomer’ game show, eh? What would that look like? A chance for the kids to have their vengeance on their forebears, perhaps? I think they already did that: it was called Get Your Own Back with Dave Benson-Phillips. Unaffordable rents? Low, low salaries? No pay rise in sight? You get a gunging! You get a gunging! You get a gunging! Big, derisive meme for you! Woo!
Look, lots of boomers are baddies, no doubt. Born between 1943 and the mid-‘60s, many happened to be in the right place at the right time, benefiting from, as the Guardian put it, “good pensions, secure employment and the fluke of buying at the outset of a period of rapid house inflation”. And did they pass any of that good stuff down? Shit, no! Millennials like myself graduated into a recession, while reduced housing stock (damn you, right-to-buy) has left millions at the behest of poorly regulated private landlords.
So it’s no wonder millennials and Gen Z-ers are fucked off. But I do wonder if a stupid meme is the best way to narrow the intergenerational divide. How many of boomers in your life log into TikTok on the regular? Yeah: none. Millennials and Gen Z-ers can purr “OK boomer” all they like – it changes nothing. The baby boomers have the money, the housing, the power. Do you think they give a fuck about skint, smug, self-satisfied 20-somethings taking the piss out them with a meme they will literally never see?
You’re just talking among yourselves, agreeing with people who already think the same stuff as you. That’s what pretty much all social media is, isn’t it? Earlier this year a report concluded that the most prolific 10 per cent of tweeters account for 80 per cent of all tweets; loud people talking to each other, loudly, over and over again. TikTok is the same thing but with the added nightmare of being filled with wannabe comedians who – best case scenario – will get an Urban Outfitters coffee table book commission and disappear.
It feels good to bounce against people with the same values as you, but don’t mistake that for progress. I’m glad the entrepreneurial kids are making private profit from their tatty OK boomer merch, but it doesn’t mean anything, does it? The joke is still very much on Gen Z and us millennials. I don’t know what the solution is. Gunge Rupert Murdoch? As Dave Benson-Phillips would say: crank it up!