Boomer meme brouhaha lost on me

Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick drew considerable attention when she used the phrase ‘‘OK boomer’’...
Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick drew considerable attention when she used the phrase ‘‘OK boomer’’ in Parliament last year. PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
It's bad enough dealing with an identity crisis wide awake, but I was semi-comatose.

In my slumberous state, I was sure I heard the radio announcer say baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1954.

What? That would mean I didn’t qualify by one measly year. How would I cope with having to be from a generation identified by some letter of the alphabet I would never remember?

It was not OK. I was not OK.

As soon as I could be bothered, I checked with the help of Mr Google. Phew, I was a boomer after all. I must have misheard. The era didn’t end until 1964.

It seems being called a boomer is something I should be enraged about. Rather than seeing it as an abbreviation of the term baby boomer, I am meant to get my full-length briefs (oh the contradiction) in a twist because it can be used to deride.

The "OK boomer"’ meme (would it be boomerish to confess I do not really understand memes?) drew considerable attention here last year after it was used by Green MP Chloe Swarbrick in Parliament when National MP Todd Muller interrupted her impassioned speech on the Zero Carbon Amendment Bill. (Wonderfully, the parliamentary television captioning service recorded the remark as "OK, berma". Was that caused by a boomer in denial?)

Boomers, or at least those the expression "OK boomer " is used for, are supposedly likely to be resistant to technological change, climate change deniers (or unwilling to accept the part they may be playing in destroying the planet), prone to marginalising members of minority groups and critical of younger generations’ ideals. Such views are not necessarily confined to people of the baby boomer generation, so people from other eras can also attract the "OK boomer" slight.

Such labels can only upset you if you allow them to, and, if you are resistant to technology as I am, you do not participate on social media and can sail happily through life oblivious to such feeble barbs.

Karens, many of whom are also baby boomers, might find the stereotyping around their name harder to take. In a recent ruling around a Newshub story which dubbed a woman shouting about someone parking as Milford Karen, the Media Council said it was concerned by the use of the term Karen.

It said it was a pejorative that had risen to prominence this year to describe a woman perceived as entitled and using her white privilege to complain and get her own way. It said it was derogatory and designed to insult and the media should be careful in its use.

As it happens, there are plenty of real Karens in Aotearoa. A flick through the most popular girl baby names in New Zealand shows Karen topped the poll in 1957, 1964, 1965 and 1967. In the years 1955 to 1973 inclusive it was never out of the top 10.

And, because this was the baby boom, in each of the years 1957 and 1958, the number of new Karens exceeded 800. To give some perspective, last year a mere 255 babies were given 2019’s most popular name, Amelia.

Perhaps I am carrying my fear of missing out too far, but why has no-one ever thought of using the name Elspeth instead of Karen? There are not many of us — we have never appeared in the top 100 girls’ names — so there would be few of us to be offended if non-Elspeths were accused of "doing an Elspeth" when they were throwing a hissy fit of some sort.

Sadly, I do not think it would work. It is to do with sound. An E beginning is just too wimpish and unsatisfying. In a New York Times story, Miriam Eckert, who has a doctorate in linguistics, explains that when you say a K or a T there’s a complete blockage of airflow and a sudden release. Karen is "a harsh sound you can really spit out" and that aligns with the stereotype.

Back to the boomerdom front, I cannot see why I should be offended by Green MP Ricardo Menendez-March, who is the seniors (what a silly label that is, we don’t call young people juniors) spokesperson, wanting to ask "are you OK, boomer?"

Perhaps he was being a little cute, although he could argue he was channelling the sentiments of Meghan Markle, who has exhorted us to ask each other if we are OK.

I am OK, and thanks for asking, but sadnesses this year for me and people I care about make the mad spending and enforced jollity which surrounds Christmas seem more incongruous than ever.

So don’t ask me what I am doing for Christmas, or I might just do an Elspeth.

Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.



I fall over berms, in the street.
I do not fall over bermas, which would be embarrassing for a boomer. Moreover, 'briefs' are court appointed legals.

Blaming "boomers" is a Green phenotype. It must be a relief to blame the environment for your own failures. You also can blame boomers for your inadequacies. Blame the wealthy for your poor life choices. Blame fast food for your diabetes. Blame your parents for your poor libido. Blame the statues for your debt. The choices are endless.






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