The generation gap is also an empathy gap
Boomers grew up in a fundamentally different world, so they have a hard time understanding why we’re struggling.
Welp, folks. The Boomers are at it again. As soon as a new social media platform takes off, it’s only a matter of time before some old cranks come along and ruin it. It happened with Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Now it’s TikTok’s turn. I’m too old for TikTok, but I was glad that Gen Z has—or I should say had—a place that was just for them, where they can goof off and lip sync the Cuphead Rap or whatever. It’s really one of the safest and most wholesome things teenagers could be doing.
Parents: If you don’t want your kids joining gangs, going to bracelet parties or doing various “challenges” that involve eating Tide Pods or setting themselves on fire, maybe just leave TikTok alone, okay? Go make some Minion memes or type-scream in all caps at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter.
TikTok is not for you.
I knew the end was nigh when I was scrolling through Twitter and saw the TikTok stamp on a video of some angry guy with wraparound shades ranting in the driver’s seat of his SUV. Angry Car Guy is a particularly obnoxious species of Boomer usually found on Youtube, scaremongering about the antifa apocalypse or living out some other rightwing fever dream.
My fears were confirmed today when I read a story in the New York Times about TikTok’s response to a Boomer rant on the platform. Some guy who looks like Glenn Beck was going off about how “millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up.”
As the Times points out, the entire platform collectively rolled their eyes and said dismissively, “OK, Boomer.” They fought back against the Boomer incursion with the only weapon at their disposal: memes. After his video was remixed and mocked thousands of time, the guy deleted his account, according to one commenter.
“OK, Boomer” is really the only appropriate response. Some might call it immature—a very Boomer thing to say—but there’s no bridging this generational divide.
It’s not like you can make a compelling argument that will convince Boomers that our problems are real or that the solutions we advocate are rational. They live in an entirely different reality with its own set of facts.
We don’t have “Peter Pan syndrome.” We want to grow up, but lack the material basis to do that. We’re not moving back in with our parents because we just want to sit around and play those damn video games all day. The cost of housing is prohibitively expensive and the kinds of jobs we can get don’t pay enough.
Often moving back home is our only play if we want to save up enough money to attain one of the primary markers of adulthood: home ownership.
Boomers try to apply what they know from their own life experience to the circumstances we find ourselves in today, but it’s apples and oranges. We cringe when we hear sentences that start with the words “when I was your age.” We’re not “back in [your] day,” Boomer.
Born in 1950, my father went to college in the Nixon era, when the minimum wage was equivalent to more than $10 an hour today and there were price controls to keep inflation in check. The median annual cost of tuition, fees, room and board at a public university was $1,400 ($8,875 in current dollars). Today it’s more than $20,000
Dad loaded milk trucks part time in the morning before class to pay his way through school. Working just 20 hours a week at minimum wage equaled a gross income of $1,600 annually, so he had just enough.
I worked longer hours for less money while I was in college—I spent my weekends dropping chicken wings in fryer grease until 5 a.m.—and it didn’t even cover room and board much less tuition, books and fees. I had to take out additional loans to pay for food and housing on top of those
When I was at the University of Texas, the Board of Regents attempted to pass an “infrastructure fee,” which students and faculty saw as a way to bypass state tuition regulation. I attended a town hall on the issue at which UT President Larry Faulkner smirked and said “When I was in school, college was practically free.”
From the tone in his voice and the context, you could tell he wasn’t trying to commiserate with us—he was rubbing it in. His comments felt particularly mean-spirited, given that Faulkner’s salary was in the high six figures and he wasn’t volunteering to give up either of the two country club memberships that the university paid for, which cost tens of thousands each.
While my dad graduated debt free, and the median rent at the time ($95 a month in Texas) was roughly a third of the monthly minimum wage income ($266), I came out of school more than $40,000 in debt in the midst of a dawning recession. The median rent in Texas was $830, which equaled about 80 percent of the federal minimum wage.
I paid off my debt in ten years, but all that money I spent on my student loans and paying the note on my landlord’s yacht could have been used as down payment on a decent house.
So let’s circle back to off-brand Glenn Beck and his viral TikTok rant. He frequently describes the younger generations as “Utopian.” But the policy solutions proposed by Bernie Sanders, the preferred candidate of those he is lecturing, aren’t unlike the policies that created the world in which the Boomers thrived.
As I mentioned earlier, Nixon implemented a high minimum wage and price controls. He’d be called a “communist” and a “Utopian” for this today. Many of Nixon’s policies were to the left of most of the field in the Democratic primary. Obama said Nixon was in many ways “more liberal than I was.”
Ironically, the same “rugged individualism” that Boomers preach to us destroyed the conditions that allowed them to get ahead.
Boomers elected politicians like Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton who gutted the social safety net, deregulated the economy and created this neoliberal hellscape that we’re barely scraping by in. Now they want to lecture us about how we’re “Utopian” and need to “suck it up.”
Boomers, who never fought in a war, make memes about how our generation is soft because we never fought in a war. Boomers, who were guaranteed a living wage, call us entitled for wanting the same thing.
Boomers, who lived in a time when all one had to do to attain a decent standard of living was work 40 hours a week doing practically anything, chastise us for lacking a work ethic when we have to bust ass just to break even.
Boomers, living off of social security that we’re all paying into, vote for politicians who want to privatize social security, so we don’t have it when we retire. If “never wanting to grow up” means never wanting to become a cantankerous creep with no empathy toward anyone younger than you, then I have two words: