By the time I post this 4X4, the “Okay, Boomer” meme is already passe. It came into my consciousness only a couple weeks ago because my husband has become fascinated with the different ways it can be used even on those who are not literally Boomers. Among his chess friends on social media, he’s known for trying to reason some of them away from extreme or “crank” ideologies. I’m not sure if I’m stereotyping, or if everyone knows these types of ideologies run amok among chess players, but I do hear Dave typing emphatically in the evenings quite a bit, and he assures me his chess friends need his guidance. He was recently very amused that he was able to say to a young curmudgeonly player spouting off in his chat, “Okay, Boomer! Wait, aren’t you too young to be acting like this?” Dave enjoys the irony of him being the literal Baby Boomer in this conversation trying to update a much younger person. His experience inspired me to use this current cultural conversation to help my students activate argument skills I know they already deploy but they may not realize they can transfer to academic settings.

My weekly writing circle prompt was: Explain, define, or tell a story about the meme “Okay, Boomer!” My MWF morning class lit up when I wrote the prompt on the board. A few asked “What is a Boomer?” and ten others jumped in immediately to explain and to throw out several examples. If you are curious, just Google, “Okay, Boomer” and you will receive many, many links. You can even buy a t-shirt and coffee mug. My favorite is the video of the New Zealand MP holding up her hand to a heckler in the background as she says it. 

I was pleased with the jokes, stories, and cultural analysis that my students were able to produce and read out in just 20 minutes. I’m trying to teach them argument and how to recognize and use rhetorical appeals and how to assess fair and unfair argument strategies, so I was intrigued when one student read out a veritable manifesto which I’ll paraphrase thus: You Boomers refused to listen to us Millennials when we offered organized arguments with facts about climate change, racial profiling, minimum wage vs. living wage, and so on. You told us to get off your lawn, made fun of us “snowflakes” for crying about our student loans, and said we were lazy even though Millennials work more hours and do more community service than previous generations. Who can blame Gen Z for holding up a hand and saying “Okay, Boomer” when you start talking? They’ve learned it’s no use trying to communicate with you, so why try? 

At that moment I was relieved they knew I was a Gen Xer and presumably out of the argument. Obviously, these students weren’t making academic arguments, but in the sample of cultural banter (and sometimes generational warfare) they generated, one can see appeals to logic and credibility as well as emotion and timing. The Millennial self identifies to stand in as an older sibling supporting the Gen Z reaction. Using his ethos (authority/credibility) he spouts off specific accusations older folks lobbed at Millennials and the specific social issues those accusations were meant to distract us from. He explains how logic was used and ignored and he ends with an emotional/values appeal to explain Gen Z’s reaction of shutting down any cross-generational conversation. Though one can argue the forensic battle style of his argument is “unfair,” on a performative level his response makes the case for trying to maintain fairness in arguments with those who may seemingly have less power than you. If you call people names like “snowflake” and complain about them all the time, eventually they won’t bother arguing or even just talking with you any further. 

What does this little anecdote from my class add to our teaching ideas? Well, for me, I was reminded that students come into our classes with a repertoire for arguing and communicating. My job as a writing teacher is to help them tap into and recognize that repertoire and add strategies, genres, and ideas to it.