It’s an internet meme, a T-shirt, it was even used by New Zealand’s millennial Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick to silence a heckler amid a powerful speech demanding action on the climate crisis.
The slogan “OK Boomer” has come to symbolise the frustration and anger at the behaviour of baby boomer leaders felt by millennial and generation Z voters – the people who are going to be left to clean up the ecological mess some of their grandparents still refuse to admit is being made. That’s not to mention the foul politics being stirred up by the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.
Having for years been (unfairly) mocked and derided as spoiled and entitled snowflakes, you can hardly blame them for snapping and responding in kind.
But what about generation X, those of us born between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s? We’ve mostly been sitting it out, trying not to get caught in the crossfire and hoping that it doesn’t explode over Christmas dinner.
I remember sitting opposite a fellow gen X-er lamenting the dismal state of British politics over lunch. “We let it happen though, didn’t we?” he said. “We didn’t get involved. Perhaps we should have. But we were too busy having fun.”
He had a point.
We sat in fields and listened to bands, or we found our way to warehouses and raved, we took a lot of drugs and talked dreamily about the second summer of love.
While this was going on, we cheerfully ignored the finger wagging and the tabloids’ outrage and we flipped them off when they called us a bunch of screw-ups. They’d have told us we were snowflakes if the insult was around back then.
Yes, yes, I know I’m making generalisations and speaking in broad brushstrokes. It is always the danger with these generational pieces.
Some of us did get active. We even managed the occasional riot, such as the one against Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax. We won that battle but her mission to dismantle much of the welfare state has been taken up by her boomer successors including Johnson.
We said we wouldn’t pay back the student loans Thatcher introduced, even though we did, and then we shrugged as millennial students got clobbered with far worse: fees of £9,000 a year, house prices they can’t afford, assured shorthold tenancies that leave them hostage to the whims of older landlords, crappy gig economy jobs, pension plans promising to pay out … oh, actually they don’t make any promises for most people these days.
For the most part, while things were going awry, we did what we do if our kids and parents start throwing turkey bones and cranberry sauce at each other. We ducked out. We fought for our right to party, and we had a blast, and then we turned our attention to making money.
Unfair? Here’s some more. We’re a smaller generation than either the boomers or the millennials, but you’d have thought we would’ve produced more than just the one prime minister by now.
And look at the one we did cough up: David, bloody, Cameron – the man responsible for delivering a godawful mess that his boomer successors (Boris Johnson is mercifully just on the boomer side of the mid-60s dividing line) have been gleefully exacerbating.
US presidents? None so far. Our French contingent has come up with Emmanuel Macron, who has been indulging in right-wing rhetoric of late in an attempt to fend off the far-right. Just like Cameron did. Macron should pay attention to how it ended for him.
We’ve produced plenty of business leaders, nearly all of whom have taken greed to new levels of obscenity. We were more evenly split than the boomers over Brexit, and Trump, but we can’t escape responsibility for helping them along.
And while the boomers swung heavily behind those monstrosities, they have at least provided some of their fiercest and most eloquent opponents.
We’ve mostly tuned in, turned on and dropped out. That needs to change. This election offers a chance to do that. The choices are fairly horrible, it’s true. But isn’t that partly our fault too?
Really, it boils down to whether we listen to our kids’ generations or to their grandparents.
Personally, I’m going with the millennials and gen Z. Instead of bitching about how woke they are, it’s time to take a stab at fixing the mess they’re being left with. I’d really rather not be on the next T-shirt with a slogan that’s a lot less polite.
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