Today is the nineteenth anniversary of me launching the .org, so perhaps it was fitting that I used the topic of nostalgia as a launching-off point for my class discussions this past week. By having my students look at the arguments around them about whether or not things were better “back in the day” than they are now — for example, by comparing the old-school rap of my early years to the mumble rap of today — I tried to get my students thinking about the presumptions that go into those kinds of arguments, and how those assumptions influence topics beyond popular culture. Needless to say, a lot of students took these arguments and immediately applied them to American politics, since so many of them have lived through such massive sea changes that even they can get hit with nostalgia for the way politics used to be when they were younger.
Of course, trying to convey the modern history of the Internet as a tool for interpersonal communication to current first-year college students can be difficult, since most of them can’t even remember a time before Facebook. With all the social media services and apps out there these days, young people don’t need personal webspace in the same way that my generation used to, back in the days of Geocities and Xoom and those little five-megabyte accounts of personal space that some of us used to get from our dial-up ISPs. I’m not sure if most people these days, regardless of age, need their own website, but I certainly need one as a promotional arm for my publishing career, and I’d argue that the .org enhances my teaching career as well, so I’m sure that websites like the .org will continue to exist for a long time.
Now that I’m the same age as many of my students’ parents, I’m thinking about the differences between generations a lot more than I used to. This is something I’ve always kept in mind — there’s a reason why you always hear news stories every August about the newly-released Beloit College Mindset List, because college/university instructors need to be aware of these things as they try to reach students and adapt course material to their needs and experiences — but this most recent milestone has been a huge one for me. I wish that this resulted in me having an easier time communicating with my students, since I probably share more in common with their parents than I have at any other point in my teaching career, but due to the explosion of available media online, as well as young people being able to isolate themselves with the media they like thanks to smartphones and tablets and such, using popular culture as a reference point in education is more problematic than it’s ever been. (About the only commonplace that seems to still touch on a large cross-section of students is football, and at least I wound up in the right state to talk football in.)
When the whole controversy over the phrase “OK boomer” started a couple of weeks ago, I had very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s founded on a stereotype that’s proven wrong by several people I know, so I was tempted to dismiss the phrase as just another counterproductive counterattack on the people who are doing so much harm to people like me (and the planet we all live on). I couldn’t do that, though, because inasmuch as generational labels can be used to accurately depict general attitudes and mindsets (and I’ve written about that before), there’s more than a kernel of reality at this attempted rewriting of the definition of “boomer,” and it’s an expression of frustration that’s deeply justified and may, perhaps, just need to be turned to better uses.
I wouldn’t have ever thought to use the phrase “OK boomer,” not only because of all the good baby boomers I know, but because I went to school with a lot of people my age who, even before we all turned eighteen, displayed a lot of the same traits that are being targeted by the whole “OK boomer” thing. Maybe those traits are more common in older people, or people born during a certain span of years, but neither age, nor date of birth, are the real issues here. What is so malignant, so repulsive, and so ultimately destructive, is the attitudes and actions of these people, so why not focus on those?
As much as I disdain some of the name-calling in politics — I don’t care about how big a politician’s hands are, or if they have burst blood vessels in their eyes, or any of that irrelevant crap — I don’t think the word “asshole” gets used nearly as much as it should, especially when it comes to describing the politicians in power now. Not only is asshole a concise word whose meaning is immediately clear, but being labeled an asshole is dependent entirely on the choices one makes, not the things about one’s identity that can’t be controlled. Assholes come in all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, genders, political persuasions, sexual orientations, creeds, and any other classification you can think of. Assholery does not discriminate.
If people are going to insist on destroying the planet and allowing innocent people to die, just so they can add to their already-overflowing bank accounts, then what does their age matter? Why don’t we just call them for what they are — assholes — and dismiss their sophomoric bleatings with a hearty hashtag “OK Asshole” to let them know that we’re not going to bother trying to reason with their unreasonableness, because we have more productive things to do and they’re not worthy of our time or thought? It’s a more accurate term, it’ll piss off the recipients more (and I’d argue that’s a good thing), and it puts the emphasis where it belongs: Attitudes and actions that we’re being expected to accept as normal, even as our friends and family and planet continue to die around us.
I’m guessing that Twitter’s language tools would prevent #OKAsshole from ever trending, but with a movement as large as this, failing to get on a trending list shouldn’t be that much of an impediment. If nothing else, it makes the argument for returning to the days of personal websites like the .org, where I can type “asshole” as many times as I want without being flagged by some server somewhere. Thinking about those halcyon days of the World Wide Web definitely evokes a strong sense of nostalgia in me, if only because there weren’t so many assholes in the news back then. If we want to rid ourselves of these modern-day assholes, though, we have to do a lot more than start a trendy hashtag; we have to work to get those assholes out of positions of power, in government or business or whatever, where they can keep hurting us, and if you think I’m an asshole for saying that, well, #OKAsshole.