“OK boomer” transcended TikTok virality and entered the public consciousness mere weeks ago, but capitalism moves faster than the media cycle these days. Earlier this month, Fox filed an application to trademark the phrase, with the intent to create “an on-going television series featuring reality competition, comedy, and game shows.” In other words, look out for a forthcoming Gen Z versus boomer reality show trafficking on generational angst.
Fox isn't the only company to try and trademark “OK boomer.” A man named Kevin Yen based in New York filed an application for a clothing brand on October 31. A Pittsburgh-based company filed to use the phrase on stickers and decals on November 12. The next day, a producer named William Grundfest requested to trademark it for a series of plays, lectures and concerts focused on “generational differences.”
Trademark attorney Joshua Gerben, who uncovered the Fox filing, told CNN that these applications are unlikely to get approved. “‘OK boomer’ has become a 'widely used message,’” he said, and “such a 'viral' phrase is incapable of identifying the source of a product or service — which is what trademarks must do to be capable of registration."
Companies like Fox may not cash in on “OK boomer” anytime soon, but the network’s eagerness to lock down the phrase suggests the generational divide is ripe for drama. But if the standoff between Gen Z and boomers feels aggressive, it’s because the stakes are really high in real life.
“You don’t like change, you don’t understand new things especially related to technology, you don’t understand equality. Being a boomer is just having that attitude, it can apply to whoever is bitter toward change,” said 20-year-old Jonathan Williams, who wrote the “undisputed boomer backlash” anthem that went viral on TikTok. The song is, obviously, titled, “OK boomer,” and starts with the line: “It’s funny you think I respect your opinion, when your hairline looks that disrespectful.”
“Gen Z is going to be the first generation to have a lower quality of life than the generation before them,” Joshua Citarella, a researcher who studies online communities, told the New York Times. He said teens today feel overwhelmed by the “major crises all coming to a head at the Gen Z moment.”
“Everybody in Gen Z is affected by the choices of the boomers, that they made and are still making,” added 18-year-old college student Nina Kasman, who sells “OK boomer” merch. “Those choices are hurting us and our future. Everyone in my generation can relate to that experience and we’re all really frustrated by it.”
You can shop hundreds of “OK boomer” products on sites like Redbubble and Spreadshirt, which offer items emblazoned with the phrase. But the teens selling “OK boomer” merch don't see it as selling out; monetizing boomer backlash is a way of reclaiming what’s theirs. Kasman told the New York Times she’ll use her profits to pay for college. “I’ll definitely use the money for my student loans, paying my rent. Stuff that will help me survive,” added 19-year-old Everett Solares. Sounds a little different from the intent behind Fox’s hypothetical “OK boomer” reality show, doesn't it?