Generation Frustrations: Boomer Humor and Gen-Z Irony


Pexels and White77

The younger generations of Gen Z and millennials often have quite different humor than the older generations of Gen X and baby boomers (Photo courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to Pexels and White77).

Welcome to part two of Generation Frustrations! This time I’ll be addressing the differences of humor between each generation. This comes as a divide between society’s standards, both of young and of old. Gen Z and Millennials may have dark and strange humor that flusters the older generations, and the Gen X and Baby Boomers may have offensive or troublesome jokes that the younger generations don’t find acceptable. Are these differences really defined by generations, or is it just a matter of how aging affects humor?

Gen Z-ers and Millennials, according to the older generations, have some strange humor. Whether it’s knowing every iconic Vine by heart or just finding humor in the absurd, they have a unique style of humor that some of the older generations don’t quite understand.

“I would understand if older generations didn’t get our humor. I think media has changed over time and with that comes different kinds of [comedy],” said sophomore Jaimee Smith.

There are two things that define these generations’ humor: heavy contextualism and neo-dadaism, which are big words for some pretty simple ideas. 

Heavy contextualism is how Gen Z-ers and Millennials are all fluent in the happenings of the internet. Memes can be thought of as growing inside jokes — the original joke has more and more additions as it gets more popular, and understanding the original just makes it that much funnier. 

For example, take this meme, a single panel of Thanos from Marvel’s Infinity War saying “The other three panels”. This can only make sense once you know the original meme of Thanos and a baby Gamora talking. Gamora says, “Did you do it?” Thanos replies, “Yes.” Gamora says, “What did it cost?” to which Thanos replies, “Everything”. The former meme would only make sense once you understand that the “cost” that Gamora is asking about is Thanos’ sacrifice of “the other three panels” of the original meme. Because the latter meme circulated social media, when the former meme came out, those who understood it found it hilarious. 

With Millennials growing up during the boom of electronics and Gen-Z not knowing a world without the internet, it makes sense that it rules so much of their culture and humor. They’re avid technology users who are fluent in both the memes of Reddit and the videos of Vine and Tik Tok. This aspect of their humor is something that none of the generations before have had, which explains one of the rifts between the old and the young. 

“I understand it well. I make memes every day…[I often use] apps where you can look at funny memes and old vines…I find some funny, [and] irony can be very funny,” said Smith.

Neo-dadaism is a throwback to the period of modern art that began around the first World War.  Its purpose was to mock the meaninglessness of the modern world, going against many societal standards. What does modern art of the early 1900s have to do with this generation’s humor? It can be thought of like this: if dadaism was anti-art, absurdist memes are anti-humor. Absurdist jokes both serve as a criticism to society’s standards of humor and, in many ways, are so unfunny that they becomes funny.

In an ever-changing world of social revolutions and societal change, it makes sense that their sense of humor reflects this. As some of the people most inspired for change, it’s exactly on brand that their humor criticizes society in the first place. 

Moreover, the standards of society greatly define each generation’s sense of humor. Each generation grew up in a different state of the world, and their humor reflects this. It’s especially apparent in the younger generation’s nihilism and dark humor. 

“I think it can be funny. As long as it’s not too dark, as long as it’s not touching on something like [dark events in history]. [As a coping mechanism], I think people like to cover themselves up with jokes, and they use that as a coping mechanism to make [them and] other people feel better,” said Smith. 

Humor is known as a common coping mechanism for deep struggles, and the younger generation’s exasperation with the world they’re living in isn’t any different — they use dark humor to cope with these frustrations

“Much of newfound comedy comes not from lack of sympathy, but from empathy in subjects so serious they are unbearable to discuss without humor– even if that humor comes from a place of bitterness,” said Tara Fredenburg of White Station Scroll.

In many ways, these younger generations find humor in what isn’t very humorous. It’s non sequitur, ridiculous, and in many times dark; it would be considered highly “taboo” by previous societal standards, which is probably why the older generations find it so strange and alarming. 

On the other hand, something that greatly irks younger generations is that the older generations can have tendencies of offensive or racist humor. While this is obviously unacceptable in this day and age, there’s a psychological reason for why this happens, and it’s not just the flimsy excuse of “that was just how it was like back then!” It actually has to do with aging itself. 

“Our prefrontal cortex starts to atrophy…in other words, the frontal lobes lose their sharpness.That’s the part of our brain that controls executive functioning, like our ability to… apply filters and inhibit inappropriate thoughts. Everyone gets strange ideas popping into their heads that they’d rather not say. Most of us are able to keep these thoughts in check, but as that cognitive ability starts to decline, you may find older adults blurting out things they might have kept to themselves in the past,” Business Insider explains.

It was also found that, since the idea of death draws ever closer, they fall victim to what is known as the terror management theory. 

“[As they’re more aware of their mortality], they cling to the traditions and the conventions of their society in a stronger way. The theory is when you think of death it creates a fear, and one way of reacting to that anxiety is to cling to identity, to try and gain a sense of belonging, or even a sense of protection,” said Steve Taylor, a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University. 

In this way, their fear can manifest into racist ideas because it’s much easier to get out their frustrations on a defined “other” than deal with their own fears and insecurities. The clear distinction is to be made, however, that none of this justifies racism in any shape or form, but it takes a deeper psychological meaning than just “that’s how it was like”.

The older generations are known for having a more “traditional” sense of humor. In fact, studies have found that the older you get, the more you stray away from absurd humor. Between the choices of a traditionally structured joke versus nonsense humor, those under 20 found them equally funny; those over 20 had a gradual decline in their enjoyment of the nonsense jokes; those over 40 make a sharp decline. However, this may not always be the case, as humor is a matter of personal opinion. 

“I think we all, as individuals, [find that] different things hit us as funny. Different people have different senses of humor,” said Gen X-er Cindy Ludwig.

Overall, there are many factors in what defines someone’s humor, from how they view the world to what they use as coping mechanisms to how aging affects the brain. The younger generations may very well undergo the same changes that the older generations have, including their stray from absurd humor. As to if history will repeat itself or if these younger generations truly do have unique humor, only time will tell!

Check out Generation Frustration’s previous installment, The Technology Mentality, and the next installment, Politics Conflicts!