Here's My Absolute, #1 Best Story About 'OK Boomer'
In which I write a story, do a radio interview, and tell you how it all happened.
Recently, I wrote an article about “OK Boomer.” What what happened next is pretty amusing.
If you don’t know OK Boomer — well, it’s basically a Generation Z vs. Baby Boomer thing. The best summary I can give you is from an article Taylor Lorenz wrote in The New York Times about the viral video that started it all:
[A] white-haired man in a baseball cap and polo shirt declares, "The millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don't ever want to grow up."
Thousands of teens have responded through remixed reaction videos and art projects with a simple phrase: "ok boomer."
"Ok boomer" has become Generation Z's endlessly repeated retort to the problem of older people who just don't get it, a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids.
Teenagers use it to reply to cringey YouTube videos, Donald Trump tweets, and basically any person over 30 who says something condescending about young people -- and the issues that matter to them.
After I wrote about this for Inc., I wound up doing a radio show in Los Angeles. It turned out to be one of the more amusing appearances I’ve done in years.
It’s also a good opportunity to unpack “the story behind the story,” about how media coverage happens.
By the way, I’m Bill Murphy Jr., and you’re reading Understandably. If you haven’t signed up to get the daily email newsletter, this is your chance!
Here’s the chron:
Tuesday afternoon. I’m looking for something cool and unusual to write about. I come across Taylor Lorenz’s article in the New York Times about “OK Boomer.” (I’m skeptical of “trend” pieces sometimes, but this one was quite good.)
I’ve seen this phrase hundreds of times before; never knew the origin story. So I write about it for the daily newsletter, and also post it as a story on Inc.com.
I go to bed. Overnight, the story turns into a moderate hit. I’m gratified. I move on, thinking about the “official” launch of this website and all the other things I need to write.
Wednesday around noon: I get a cryptic message via the clunky old system I long ago sent up for readers to contact me. (Need to fix that.) It just reads: “I'm a producer for KCRW … Trying to get in touch with you urgently to ask if you're available to join us on the show for 10 minutes in the next hour.”
By this point, I’ve basically forgotten about “OK Boomer.” So I’m a bit freaked out. I like doing TV and radio, but it’s rare that anybody is that eager to get me on air RIGHT NOW. What did I do wrong and why do they need to talk to me?
Anxiety creeps in. It’s how I roll. I reply cryptically: “In meetings - What about?” (I also Google “KCRW,” trying to remember if this station is in Los Angeles or San Francisco or somewhere else. Also, is it talk radio or NPR?)
It’s all OK. It’s NPR, and they want to talk about the “OK Boomer” article. I’m on for 10 minutes with Madeline Brand who hosts the show “Press Play.”
Fun highlights from my perspective:
I mention my article about the book Warren Buffett read when he was 7, and how its 1930s-era author went off in it on lazy and entitled “young men of today” (the same people who later grew up to become the Greatest Generation, defeat the Nazis, all that).
Asked if I’m actually Generation X myself, I point out that I’m literally wearing Chuck Taylor high top sneakers. Good credentials.
When they play a really horrible, loud song that consists of a guy screaming “OK, Boomer” over again, I get to refer to it as “the worst song ever for a first dance at a wedding.” (I’ve probably recycled that joke about 1,000 times over the years, so it’s nice to share it with the good people of Los Angeles.)
The live segment ends. Later, they send me a link to the archive, and of course I cringe as I listen to myself. Nobody’s voice sounds like they think, right?
Here’s a link to the segment, in case you’re interested.
It’s just a 10-minute appearance, probably forgotten quickly in the grand scheme.
But I think that’s sometimes how media works: short, inconsequential thoughts, buried — but then sometimes managing to pile up and break the surface.