The quip “OK, boomer" is discriminatory and reinforces “ageism”, has warned the author of a French government-commissioned report on finding ways to bridge the growing generation gap.
The term went viral last month after a 25-year-old New Zealand MP used it to dismiss an older heckler during a speech about climate change.
Young people now use it on social media as a way of brushing off the views of "baby boomers" perceived to be out-of-touch, condescending or closed-minded.
Dubbed the youthful riposte to “snowflake millennial”, it has struck a nerve with one US radio host declaring the phrase to be “the n-word of ageism”. According to the New York Times, it marks “the end of friendly generational relations”.
In France, there have been a string of attempted translations, including the arguably cruel: “D’accord, presque mort” (OK, one foot in the grave).
That may explain why Gallic politicians have failed to see the funny side of the tongue-in-cheek put-down of scolding oldies.
Audrey Dufeu Schubert, a 39-year old MP from President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party, on Thursday took aim at the expression when handing in a special report on “”succeeding in bridging the generational gap and fighting ageism”.
“We’re talking about censorship of what old people have to say,” she told Le Parisien.
“This contributes to ageism, which is, in fact a form of racism or, at the very least, discrimination. It’s extremely prevalent in our society, whether in the media, at work, or in public policy.”
She said elderly French were far too resigned to being treated as second-class citizens and their voice needed to be heard.
“I was surprised during my work by the fact that older people often put themselves into a submission position related to (such treatment),without even realising it. It’s as if as they get older their voice suddenly carried less weight,” she told the newspaper.
“To fight against ageism is also to work on acknowledging this voice,” she said.
Some would argue that the elderly French population are quite capable of making themselves heard.
Tens of thousands have joined two national days of protest against changes to the country’s generous pension regime.
With a dwindling number of active workers funding a growing cohort of retirees given the ageing population, the government insists the pay-as-you-go system must modernise to avoid collapse.
Pensioners also made up the lion’s share of “yellow vest” protesters that occupied roundabouts earlier this year. Many accused Emmanuel Macron – at 40, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon – of "bleeding them dry".
Ms Schubert handed in an 87-point plan on fighting ageism that was ordered by President Macron.
It includes a raft of proposal to stamp out discrimination against the aged, such as obliging young people on civic service to spend two months with pensioners.
Other suggested measures include promoting "Grey Games" – ‘Olympics for oldies’ – and putting polling stations in retirement homes to keep the aged in the electoral loop. One recommends banishing the “mid-career evaluation” in most companies at 45 on the grounds it suggests those past that age are in decline.
Ms Schubert also called for measures to encourage more older people to take up high-profile jobs in media and film, claiming that the age gap in screen couples was often 15-20 years with men almost always older, whereas “in reality (it) is only two to three years”.
According to a study by student work specialists Student Pop, some 81 per cent of millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) see the expression “OK boomer” as a generational “rallying cry”, with some 81 per cent saying climate change is the main cause of inter-generational friction.
OK boomer went viral after Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick used it during a speech in support of a bill to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
"How many world leaders for how many decades have seen and known what is coming, but have decided that it is more politically expedient to keep [climate change] behind closed doors?" she said.
"My generation and the generations after me do not have that luxury. In the year 2050 I will be 56 years old… yet, right now, the average [age] of this 52nd Parliament is 49 years old."
As she spoke, another MP began to jeer from his seat, before Ms Swarbrick fired back: "OK, boomer.”
Michèle Delaunay, a former French Socialist official in charge of policy for the elderly, slammed the term as a “misunderstanding” based on an “Anglo-Saxon ageist fad”.
The truth is, she said, the young “need this boomer generation that represents 20 million people”.
“Today, they make up the backbone of social cohesion.”
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