TOM UTLEY: I can forgive today's ungrateful youth
3rd August 2023

TOM UTLEY: I can forgive today’s ungrateful youth – but please don’t ask me to deliver their takeaways

You don’t need me to tell you there’s nothing new about the generation gap. As we all know, parents and grandparents have been exasperated by the young since the dawn of time, just as younger generations have always rolled their eyes in irritation at their elders . . . and betters, I would add, but then I’m 69.

So it came as no shock to me to read that ageism is rife on TikTok, the video-sharing app loved by young people who have nothing better to do with their lives than stare at their smartphones all day long (and if you think that remark is itself discriminatory, I guess you’re right).

Indeed, the only thing that surprised me about yesterday’s report was the sheer depth and scale of the prejudice vented by the young against my generation of baby-boomers, born in the years after World War II and now in our late 50s to mid-70s.

In this age of social media, the generation gap seems to gape wider than ever — wider even than in my own youth, when older people used to rail against us long-haired layabouts who were fans of The Beatles or a bunch of dangerous subversives calling themselves The Rolling Stones.

The very idea that Mick Jagger might one day become ‘Sir Mick’ would have sent many of my apoplectic elders to an early grave.

(Stock Photo) The only thing that surprised me about yesterday’s report was the sheer depth and scale of the prejudice vented by the young against my generation of baby-boomers, writes Tom Utley

For those who missed this week’s story, an academic analysis of 673 videos about my age group, posted by TikTokers aged 16 to 40 and viewed by more than a billion people, found that only fractionally less than half — 49.3 per cent — contained negative stereotypes, portraying us as selfish, senile, spoiled and out of touch.

We also stood accused of depicting the young as addicted to technology, self-obsessed and hypersensitive. (Dare I suggest these videos imply that we may have a point?)

Nobody should be surprised, however, by the apparent irony that the young who champion woke causes such as transgender rights, and claim to abhor every sort of ‘-ism’ under the sun, were found to be the very worst offenders when it came to ageism.

After all, we boomers tend to cling to absurdly old-fashioned ideas, such as the theory that females don’t have male genital organs. I’m sorry to say that many of us think it terribly unfair that strapping 6 ft 4 in males should be allowed to scoop all the medals in women’s events, or use the ladies’ lavatories and changing rooms, for no better reason than they wish they’d been born without them.

Another belief, shared by countless people of my age but rejected by many of our juniors, is that if you’re paid to turn up for work on a Monday morning, then turn up you should. Some of us think this applies even to young people who have been partying all weekend and therefore don’t feel up to it.

On that point, I write with particular feeling, since I’ve lost count of the number of times in the course of my career when I’ve been summoned into work on my day off, with a sore head myself, because the youngster who was supposed to stand in for me decided that he or she would rather be doing something else, such as sloping off to the pub for the hair of the dog.

Other bones of contention between the generations include my age group’s stubborn belief that schools and universities should teach the young how to think, not what to think, and that it does students no harm to be introduced to ideas with which they may disagree.

For example, many of my fellow boomers, myself included, believe that the British Empire wasn’t all bad — indeed, that it was preferable to some of the regimes it supplanted.

Many of us also regard Nelson and Churchill as national heroes, and insist that capitalism has done far more to promote the health and happiness of the poor than any other economic system yet devised.

At the risk of bringing a ton of abuse down on my head, I must confess that on all these points, and many more, I side with the majority of my age group against the Tweeters and TikTokers of our children’s age — or at least, the most vociferous and intemperate among them.

In the interest of harmony between the generations, however, I must admit that the under-40s have a number of legitimate grievances against us baby-boomers and at least some reasons for envying us.

Yes, I know that my lot are forever banging on about how tough we had it in the years of genuine austerity after the war — and it’s true that even middle-class boomers like me lacked many of the luxuries in our childhood and youth that millennials and Gen-Zs take for granted.

I’m thinking of central heating, dishwashers, free films, music and books, affordable foreign holidays, the astonishing variety of exotic foods available in shops and restaurants, and video calls to the four corners of the Earth.

(Stock Photo) I must admit that the under-40s have a number of legitimate grievances against us baby-boomers and at least some reasons for envying us

But in other ways, I have to admit that we had a better deal than the young. Take the cost of housing as an obvious example. Last week, I wrote that one of my sons and his wife — both highly qualified and experienced full-time teachers at large state schools — had moved with their two young children to Bristol, largely because they could no longer afford the crippling cost of childcare in the capital, on top of the £1,500-a-month rent they were paying for a poky two-bedroom flat they were fast outgrowing.

I didn’t have room to add that on the very day they moved out, eight desperate couples came to view the flat they were vacating — and it had been snapped up at a rent of £1,850 a month before the sun set. That’s what it’s like for young house-hunters in London these days.

Indeed, the thought of actually owning a home is wildly beyond the dreams of any of our four sons — though all have professional careers and better degree grades than mine.

Yet when we were their age, my wife and I were able to buy the freehold of a pretty terrace house, in a central location and in excellent decorative order, on my wage alone as a junior journalist. The price was what then seemed a princely £52,000.

Funnily enough, a photograph of the identical twin of that house, just two doors down from where we used to live, appeared in the papers this week in connection with a dispute over somebody’s will. It was valued at a cool £1 million.

Ok, it was a struggle to pay the mortgage, but we managed to get by without a penny of parental help, while Mrs U could stay at home to look after our children (only two of them, in those days). It’s simply unthinkable that we could afford to buy today, if we were starting out now.

Add the fact that those of us who went to universities had all our tuition fees paid by the state, with maintenance grants thrown in, and it’s no wonder that so many of the debt-saddled young think we boomers were spoiled rotten.

(Stock Photo) With the fact that those of us who went to universities had all our tuition fees paid by the state, it’s no wonder that so many of the young think we boomers were spoiled rotten

And now, to rub salt in the wounds, the old-age pension keeps rising in line with inflation, as workers’ wages stagnate.

Meanwhile, many boomers have been able to retire early, with more than 3.4 million over-50s who have yet to reach retirement age now classed as economically inactive. No such luck for the young, who appear doomed to carry on working until they drop.

Little wonder, then, that so many of the under-40s are resentful — or that politicians with an eye to the future are beginning to suggest we boomers should do more to pull our weight.

This week, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride even went so far as to suggest that economically inactive baby- boomers should consider taking such jobs as delivering takeaways, traditionally done by the young.

Well, I’m all for a truce in the war between the generations.

But if the minister honestly thinks I’m going to spend my dotage darting in and out of the London traffic on a motor scooter, just to bring curry to some ungrateful millennial who sneers at me on TikTok, he can jolly well think again.

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