Every morning, over my depressingly austere geezer breakfast of coffee; dry, unbuttered whole-grain toast; and an unsweetened half of a grapefruit, I conduct an informal survey of popular culture while reading the news on my tablet. I have recently noticed the new millennial put-down directed against we "out of touch" baby boomers: "OK, Boomer."
Snide, dismissive, condescending, and passively aggressive—it is the perfect semantic equivalent of the classic adolescent eye roll long-directed by prior generations toward older people who "just don't get it." Perhaps in much older times, the elderly were venerated and their wisdom respected, but those days are long gone.
The smug certitude of youth is nothing new. There has long seemed to be the (usually) unspoken assumption among the young that people must grow more and more stupid as they age, since everything seems so clear to them. This inability to see the seemingly obvious must be attributable, they reason, to becoming addled and corrupted by the cares of earning a living, while the young are as of yet uncorrupted by such prosaic concerns, and can focus on the "big picture."
Of course, what we really did eventually learn as we aged is that, if the solution to a problem seems really simple and obvious, then we really didn't understand the problem in the first place. Reaching this epiphany involved an often painful and costly learning curve. And, of course, at some point, beliefs eventually leave the realm of mere gratuitous opinions proffered to pals around a keg or bong and evolve into important, high-stakes life decisions. Then, the formerly young typically find themselves in the truly terrifying position of "becoming their parents."
I suppose that there is a bit of generational karmic payback involved, seeing as how we boomers coined the phrase "never trust anyone over 30" and were never shy about lecturing our parents with our wisdom. More than a few parents in the 1960s were treated to overwrought tirades on the moral bankruptcy of their bourgeoisie lifestyles from their college student children, shortly before the kid demanded a check for his college tuition so that he could continue to study under the charismatic Marxist professors who had "opened his eyes" to the emptiness and moral decadence of the middle-class lifestyle that funded junior's studies. Many of us were pretty insufferable.
And many of us engaged in some real brain farts. Some were smitten with a beatific vision of a new agrarian utopia, of an Aquarian Age, where they would live in harmony with nature in communes and would toil in shared purpose—"living off of the land." Little consideration was given to the how part of this undertaking and to their complete lack of experience in agriculture beyond sprouting avocado seeds in kindergarten. These English, art, and political science majors eventually found themselves staring forlornly at unyielding dirt. And, of course, the sharing part proved problematic, as some people were less interested in sharing in the labors than in sharing in the meals and parties.
The attractions of the siren-song of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll endured longer, at least until we saw the casualties among our friends mount up, and it morphed into the horrors of disco. My advice if your kids ever discover your hidden cache of platform shoes, bell-bottoms, leisure suits, and Bee Gees records: Either insist that they were planted by your detractors or bite your tongue and silently endure their "OK, Boomer" remarks.
The 1960s idolization of youth endures to this day. Consider the common Hollywood "out of the mouths of babes" narrative. In this dramatic device, a young child, possessed of youthful clarity and purity of spirit, saves the day by providing the wisdom that the adults need but are too blind to see. While the parents of a young child, whose primary interest is sticking a fork in a power outlet or stuffing dried beans in their nose, may be skeptical of the realism of this narrative, most audiences find it emotionally satisfying.
Predictably, there are those adults who are cynically willing to exploit this narrative for their own agendas. Witness the current example of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl who is currently touring the world as the poster child for climate change. Despite her lack of scientific expertise, we find her lecturing us nearly daily with hysterical accounts of the dystopian future awaiting as we fuss about trivial matters like cost, technology, economics, and jobs. She may not add anything substantive to the discussion, but gosh, does she ever feel strongly about it! And for many people, that is what matters.
At this advanced stage of our lives, when we romanticize a distant era in which displaying any sort of attitude toward a parent would earn an impudent young whippersnapper a quick clout to the head or a trip to the woodshed, we should realize that we are ourselves complicit in the current state. Our generation created this monster. So, instead of seeing "OK, Boomer" as a shot across the generational bow, we should just reply with a gentle and knowing "Far out, Milli." Δ
John Donegan is a retired attorney in Pismo Beach who, when pressed, will own up to having once owned a pair of Earth Shoes, and some bell-bottoms. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.