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Spectator Podcast Debate: Charlie Nash vs Cosmo Landesman on the Generational Divide

Published on 21st November 2019

The following transcript is from a Spectator podcast debate between Charlie Nash and Cosmo Landesman on the generational divide, and the emergence of the phrase "OK Boomer," which took place in November 2019. Moderated by Spectator assistant editor Lara Prendergast.

Lara Prendergast: 'OK Boomer.' It's the dismissive retort that Gen Z, those born after 1995, have come up with to insult Baby Boomers. These youngsters blame the Boomers for everything from climate change to the housing crisis... The phrase has taken the internet by storm, spinning off into t-shirts and mugs, and a Kiwi legislator even used it in parliament recently. So, do these young Zoomers have a point? No, says Boomer Cosmo Landesman in this week's magazine, and he joins me now together with 21-year-old Charlie Nash, a contributor to the Spectator USA, who's here to defend the Zoomer generation. Cosmo, let's start with the definition. What do you see 'OK Boomer' as meaning, and where did it actually come from, the phrase?

Cosmo Landesman: 'OK Boomer' comes from American teenagers and it's a term, it's the catchphrase that has taken over the internet. And the correct usage of it is when some older person, that is anyone over 30, does something that you find rather condescending, or they don't understand a piece of technology, or they challenge your worldview in some way, what you do is you kind of roll your eyes and you go, 'OK Boomer'. It's like a dismissive shrug of the shoulders. It's this month's 'whatever.' It's replaced that kind of term.

Lara Prendergast: Charlie, you're a Zoomer, did you roll your eyes when you read Cosmo's piece this week.

Charlie Nash: I mean, Cosmo's piece was very funny, I enjoyed it. There were a few things that I slightly disagreed with.

Cosmo Landesman: Okay, well where did I go wrong?

Charlie Nash: Well, one thing I flagged, and it was just a minor thing, but when you said that Boomers are often mocked for their idealism. And I guess that's true with the Woodstock-era Boomer who grew up in that kind of drugs, rock and roll age, but the people who were slightly after that who are still considered to be Boomers, I guess their biggest fault is that they aren't idealistic at all. I mean, they tend to back centrism, they tend to back a political system that doesn't work for the younger generations.

Cosmo Landesman: Well, they all moved from changing the world to changing themselves. That's another thing with the Boomers. What I was interested in is the way the Zoomers have used Boomers as a term of contempt when so much of their thinking and their culture and their ideas is basically an off-product of Boomer culture. I mean, for example, the whole internet thing. You know, Steve Jobs... and the whole kind of use of technology and that we're going to change the world through these platforms and everything, it's all Boomer babble, and I think it's a bit of a cheek to roll their eyes at us older people and say, 'OK Boomer'.

Lara Prendergast: You also say you're not very impressed with the response, you say it's too soft. What would you like to be hearing Zoomers saying?

Cosmo Landesman: Well that's the other thing. Charlie just verified it with this conversation because he was so sweet and nice and charming to me instead of giving me the vicious kicking I was hoping for. You know, there is a good critique to be made of the 60s, but the Zoomers can't sort of be bothered. They're not engaged in a kind of cultural history or a cultural critique. They're just into the next sort of text viral sensation... They need a little more intellectual muscle or just a bit more aggression.

Lara Prendergast: Charlie, Cosmo says in his piece that if Zoomers, which I guess would be you, 'were ever to pick up a book and read a little social history, they'd be horrified to discover that we didn't destroy their future, we made their future.' What do you say to that?"

Charlie Nash: Well, I mean it's mixed really. There's an argument to be had that there are Boomers who have the same political worldview as the Zoomers today. There's actually quite a few. Zoomers are, I guess, directly inspired by Boomers with the whole anti-Boomer political view, but equally it's indisputable that there are elements of the Boomer generation that have kind of ruined the Zoomer generation. I mean, the housing crisis, for one. That's a big issue. A lot of young people can't afford to own property, certainly in the London area and the big cities in America too, and they blame the Boomer for that. And they blame the Boomer for having this centrist political worldview which has benefited them, but hasn't really benefited the younger generation. 

The whole 'OK Boomer' thing, sure, it's not a completely intelligent response, but it's simple and it encompasses the whole philosophy I think quite well.

Cosmo Landesman: But it's not a critique, it's a t-shirt slogan, and that's fair enough, there's always a place for that. I'm not against that, but when you portray the Boomers as somehow... I mean the whole ecology movement in its modern phase stemmed from Boomer concerns, so I don't think you can knock them for that. The thing about your generation is that it has bits of Boomerism into it, but it doesn't have any of the hedonism, and whatever you think of the 60s generation, by God, we had fun. Whereas your lot don't ever seem to have that. There doesn't seem to be that passion for music and dance and getting out of your head. You don't even have sex anymore, according to various surveys, so I don't understand what you guys do all the time.

Charlie Nash: I mean, I guess my response to that would be that the Boomer generation had the luxury of being able to have fun.

Cosmo Landesman: Oh you can't blame us for that, Charlie. Come on!

Charlie Nash: Sure we can have a bit of fun, but the reason we're so serious is because things are a bit more screwed up for our generation. I mean we can't think about having drugs, rock and roll, dancing, and all the rest of it when our future is so hazy at the moment. Certainly with property, but with jobs. And every other aspect of Western civilization seems to be on the decline, so I guess we're so serious because we have to be. And this kind of split with the Zoomers between the far-left and the far-right, which seem to be the most popular factions for the younger generations, seems to be that desire for radical change.

Cosmo Landesman: But Charlie, the point is that if you're not completely doing things that are gonna embarrass you in ten years' time, when will you do them? I mean, these are your golden years of screwing up, embarrassing yourself, having fun, you know? And you're saying, 'No, we're too busy being sensible'.

Charlie Nash: Oh, I mean the Zoomer has done plenty of that. Especially with Twitter and Facebook, it's worse than ever. I mean, we've all messed up... I guess that could be another aspect to it. Maybe we don't have the luxury of being able to make as many mistakes because of things like social media, where those are held in the future against you."

Cosmo Landesman: That's probably true, but remember the time of the Boomers wasn't all idealistic. There was protests, there was the Vietnam War, there was incredible racism, there was poverty. It wasn't all like a utopian set up either. They had issues they were dealing with. But let me ask you this. In twenty years time, what will we look back on Zoomers to think that was really great and wonderful and to get nostalgic about?

Charlie Nash: Well hopefully, if things go to plan, some societal change. If not, then maybe we end up having a bit of a Boomer renaissance and going the same way. Who knows?

Lara Prendergast: Generations obviously respond or react to the previous one. Do you think what might come after you Charlie is a very sort of hedonisticgeneration that do want to party and have a good time?

Charlie Nash: I mean, maybe, and we see aspects of that in the Zoomer generation today. Festivals are probably nearly as popular as they were in the 60s. There's a lot of festival-going...

Cosmo Landesman: That's the once a year you decide to let your hair down.

Charlie Nash: Not that it's something I go to...

Lara Prendergast: And they're mainly Boomers at festivals.

Charlie Nash: I mean, to an extent, but Reading and Leeds are full of Zoomers.

Cosmo Landesman: Reading is not a good festival, any Boomer will tell you that.

Charlie Nash: You've been?

Cosmo Landesman: Yes I used to go to them.

Lara Prendergast: OK Boomer.

Cosmo Landesman: Yes, OK Boomer!