The year the cult of youth took off

Ageism has become an acceptable – even celebrated – prejudice.

Have you found yourself grimacing at Zimmer frames on the bus? Do you revel in checking the latest census data to see the average age of the nation? Do you retweet sarky comments about ‘youthquakes’ shaking out the old fuddy-duddies? If so, you might be suffering from gerontophobia – the fear and loathing of old people – which is the most acceptable, widespread prejudice in society today.

Ageism is the one ‘ism’ that is given a free pass. Hating on granny is all the rage. Recently, former US president Barack Obama made headlines by talking about ‘old people… not getting out of the way’…

The phrase ‘OK Boomer’ went viral last year after a young person posted a clip of herself reacting to a ‘baby boomer’ complaining about ‘snowflakes’ and overgrown teenagers…

The instant popularity of the phrase signalled how normalised generational divides have become. There have always been tensions between younger and older generations, but never before has there been so much celebration of youngsters deriding their parents. Rather than rebelling against the old and changing the world, the OK Boomer phenomenon shows how little young people want to interact with older generations, instead preferring petulant put-downs.

Perhaps the most pronounced and sinister ageism came from the wave of interest in Extinction Rebellion (XR), Greta Thunberg and the climate-emergency panic. From Thunberg being named Time person of the year after blaming older generations for stealing ‘my dreams and my childhood’ to XR Youth proclaiming that ‘adults need to be accountable to the young people’, climate activism isn’t very oldie friendly. Instead of asking questions about what political changes might be made to help the planet, and, more importantly, the people living on it, environmentalism has veered towards a cultish celebration of youth. Fawning adults have handed over all moral authority to schoolchildren.

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