The Age Wars: Generation Z under the Microscope
Every generation loves to bash millennials. But with the oldest millennials approaching their 40s, they technically can no longer be condescended to as “kids these days!” — zoomers are the newest representatives of youth culture.
There’s not a single generation that doesn’t love to disparage millennials for eating away their non-existent life savings on avocado toast — including millennials themselves, who love to self-ridicule to prove to all the haters that they are the “cool generation.” When that got old, it was the baby boomers’ turn to get a taste of their own vitriol: that is, when the “ok boomer” meme became viral, and boomers effectively replaced millennials as the butt of the intergenerational joke. But what do baby boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y think about the debutante generation, the zoomers? Here’s a summary of how Gen Z fares in this cross-generational conflict depending on whom you ask (in ascending chronological order).
Boomers often lump zoomers together with Gen Y’ers under the millennial label, which has partly fueled the beef Gen Z’ers have against millennials. This (mis)conception of a hybrid youth generation from the boomers’ point of view might explain why there seems to be widespread confusion about who popularized the “Ok boomer” refrain. Millennials might have been wrongly accused of making this slur viral: it actually seems to have been propagated by teenagers on TikTok as a reply to a video of a boomer deriding younger generations as “Peter Pan syndrome” sufferers. Baby boomers feel slighted by the “Ok boomer” meme, which they deem ageist and unfair against them. For them, this comeback reply is a lazy attempt on behalf of zoomers to dismiss the boomer generation: a symptom of cultural impoverishment as a result of the Gen Z preoccupation with technology and social media, especially TikTok.
Remember the short-lived time when Gen X’ers were called Karens? Before the appropriation of the term “Karen” by alt-right discourse, often used as a misogynist, belittling reply to feminist women’s voices in social media, zoomers used “Karen” to criticize white, entitled, alt-right Gen X’ers, regardless of gender, for spreading hate speech: that is, racist, homophobic, and transphobic views, often accompanied by a lack of interest in environmental causes and their growing support of the anti-vaxxer movement. But every generation is comprised of individuals, and thankfully, individuals cannot be pigeonholed into the negative stereotypes each generation carries. Megan Gerhardt, a professor at Miami University and a Gen X’er herself, pointed out in an opinion piece for NBC News that risk-averse Gen X’ers are managing well during the coronavirus epidemic, comfortable in staying inside and being idle. On the other end of this spectrum, she places zoomers, who, according to her observations, are even more prone than boomers to breaking physical distancing rules. Her explanation for this is twofold: Gen Z’ers were born and raised in the Internet era, and having been consistently exposed to an overload of crises in their newsfeeds, they might be specifically opting out of pandemic-related content, dismissing it as “fake news.” At the same time, and contrary to popular belief about zoomers, they are a generation that values face-to-face interactions, which may further explain their low compliance to coronavirus precautions.
Generation Y, a.k.a. Millennials
Contrary to the previous generations, millennials seem to be overwhelmingly positive towards zoomers (even if these feelings aren’t always mutual). Gen Y views Gen Z as an evolved, more politicized, and more woke version of themselves. For young-at-heart millennials, there seems to be a latent craving for the zoomer seal of approval at play; still, it would be unfair to downplay their support of Gen Z’ers as simply assuming the “cool mom” role. In fact, for Gen Y’ers, zoomers represent hope. Raised tech-savvy and not having the burden of coming of age well into a global recession, zoomers radicalized social media. They raised awareness for a plethora of social movements, such as the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, and Fridays for Future. Contrary to their nihilistic Gen Y predecessors, who had a liberal mindset but felt overwhelmed by the helplessness of becoming adults in a collapsing economy, zoomers developed a pragmatic approach to dealing with social issues. From hijacking racist hashtags on Twitter to render them useless to organizing mass school strikes for climate, inspired by zoomer environmental activist Greta Thunberg, their hands-on political approach has sparked hope for a less violent and more fair future.