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Meme History: Generational memes

The idea that “parents just don’t understand" is not a new one.


Kyle Calise


Posted on Feb 18, 2024   Updated on Feb 18, 2024, 9:04 pm CST

It’s not a new concept that the older generation thinks the newer one is destroying the universe. Generational clash is a thing that goes back to the dawn of civilization, if not further. Socrates himself once argued that the invention of writing would make the younger generation lazy and more forgetful.

In meme culture, that manifests in a bunch of different ways, so today, we’re talking about not one, but three of them.

This was the cover of the May 2013 edition of Time Magazine. It says, “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.”

Obviously, the fact that millennials have more debt than their boomer parents, and are faced with rapidly growing housing prices during a period of stagnant wage growth was something that the headline failed to mention.

But meme-rs certainly didn’t.

Over the next few years, countless articles were published about how millennials were killing seemingly every industry imaginable, all while the twitterverse, and millennial meme creators writ large made their own mocking responses. This went on for a long time, but in November 2020, a quicker, more visual way for young people to engage in this part of the culture war was posted to reddit/r/dankmemes. Later known broadly as “Parents at my Age,” the original post gained over 61 thousand upvotes in the first month.

It grew in popularity partially because it borrowed elements from two pre-existing and fairly well-known memes: Trad Girl and Yes Chad.

“Parents at my Age” served as a visual and hilarious if sad way to take a position opposite those advocating that millennials would be fine if they merely skipped the avocado toast.

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via Instagram

But a shorter, more direct, punchier version, would, of course, be “OK Boomer.” Also not hugely popular until well after millennials had already killed everything, OK Boomer actually has its origins at least as far back as 2015, when it appeared in a 4chan thread.

The term had middling popularity on Reddit and Twitter in the following few years, but went mainstream later in the fall of 2019, after a user posted it to Memecreator, leveraging the ever-loved Doge meme.

More succinct, more immediate, and maybe more digestible than its predecessors, OK Boomer spread like wildfire across Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, and everywhere else memes are shared. And once it got its own rap on SoundCloud, it was able to spread all over TikTok as well.

Good slogans catch on in part because they’re so easy to understand, and in the case of OK Boomer, it became so ubiquitous that in early 2020, the term was even used by United States Chief Justice John Roberts during a hearing related to age discrimination.

Socrates obviously lost the battle about written oratory, but if that was really his position, one shudders at the thought of his reaction toward a young Athenian wearing an “OK Boomer t-shirt.”

The idea that “parents just don’t understand,” is not a new one. We just have webcomics and video to drive the point home now.

For more Meme History, watch this space and subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch new episodes as they become available.

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*First Published: Feb 18, 2024, 6:00 am CST