Back in 1965, only a couple of years after the term “baby boomer” caught on as a label for the generation born in the wake of World War II, one 17-year-old high school newspaper columnist tried to explain his generation to his skeptical elders:

“Although we still have to face our responsibilities someday,” he wrote, “our first impulse is to turn our backs and form a second society of our own. Someday we shall know for whom the bells toll but, for now, their sound is covered by the sounds of our hot rods and Beatles records.”

That young journalist was me. I wrote that bold, manifesto-like essay, “New Breed of Teen Creates Second Society,” in the March 2 edition of the biweekly newspaper at Middletown High School in Middletown, Ohio. It even won an award from a high school journalism association for best feature story, which helped make up for my failure to make the school’s basketball team.

More than a half-century later, I find myself rereading that piece to reacquaint myself with my high school version of me, now that my generation faces a new cultural assault from post-boomers.

I’m referring to the odd internet meme “OK, boomer,” which has gone viral globally as Generations X, Y and Z’s all-purpose retort to older people, bless our hearts, who just don’t get it.

Appropriately, this craze reportedly began on TikTok, a web application still almost unknown to those of us who are still wondering why Snapchat is any better than Facebook. In one well-known clip on TikTok, a man of senior years grumbles, “The millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up.” That brought thousands of replies, most of which were “ok boomer,” The New York Times reported.

The hashtag #okboomer went global. In New Zealand, Chlöe Swarbrick, a 25-year-old member of Parliament, went viral on video when she was heckled by an older member during a speech supporting a climate crisis bill. She casually responded with a terse, “OK, boomer,” and resumed her speech without missing a beat.

A more recently viral variation satirized news that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was preparing a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination: “Ok, Bloomer.”

But some attempts can be a tweet too far. Conservative Rochester radio host Bob Lonsberry, 60, tweeted this clunker of a protest tweet last weekend: “’Boomer’ is the n-word of ageism. Being hip and flip does not make bigotry ok, nor is a derisive epithet acceptable because it is new.”

Tsk, tsk. Thanks, Mr. Lonsberry for adding to my examples of how you don’t have to be a liberal to act like a PC “snowflake.”

On the other hand, my own millennial son, Grady Page, age 30, tells me he is “extremely critical of the idea that there’s anything new about a millennial identity.”

Today’s “OK, boomer,” delivered with suitable eye-rolling condescension, is only a “repetition of the generation gap” that I was writing about in the 1960s. “Only it’s worse,” he said, “because at least in the ’60s you had some sort of a real social critique that went along with that,” like the anti-war movement, the “war on poverty” and the civil rights movement.

“Now everybody’s just seeking to identify with products and tastes for things like avocado toast,” he said.

Hey, lay off the avocado toast. That’s one of the Generation Z fads that I find to be pretty good.

More seriously, I think he’s shortchanging the explosion of activism that we have seen around issues like climate change, gun safety and police brutality in his own generation, which has more reasons than mine to care about them.

Nevertheless, we agreed that if the “OK, boomer” meme encourages the generations to talk to each other more, it can be a force for good.

When I wrote my high school newspaper report (did I mention that it won a prize?), I focused on how my generation’s youngsters were trying to construct a “second society” all their own. Decades later, I realize that every generation tries to do that. It’s not a different society as much as it is an attempt to improve the old one.

I finished that essay with a line from a hit by the British rockers the Animals: “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good / Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

I think we’re still trying to do that. But now that we have fewer days ahead of us than we have behind us, we boomers have to face an unavoidable reality. We tried our best, but the future increasingly belongs to new generations. OK, boomers?

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.