Gen Z sparked backlash by calling coronavirus the 'boomer remover,' but actual teens say it's not a serious trend

ktenbarge@businessinsider.com (Kat Tenbarge)
gen z coronavirus boomer remover 2x1

CDC; Samantha Lee/Insider

  • Following Vanessa Hudgens' comment about death from the coronavirus being "inevitable" and so-called COVID-19 "trends" like the toilet-licking challenge, the idea and phrase "boomer remover," making fun of the virus' higher death rate among older people, is the latest quarantine meme.
  • While the celebrity faux pas and horrible coronavirus catchphrases paint a bleak portrait of attitudes among Gen Z and millennials, real teenagers argue that the memes shouldn't be taken at face value. 
  • Rather, the negative reaction to the "boomer remover" meme was more prevalent than the meme itself, according to teens who told Insider that most people in their generation are taking the pandemic seriously.
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In the age of the novel coronavirus, the generational divide exhibited by "ok boomer" memes has evolved into calling COVID-19 the "boomer remover," a darkly ironic nickname some younger individuals gave the sickness given its propensity to seriously affect people over 60. 

According to the site Know Your Meme, which tracks the origin and popularity of memes, the phrase "boomer remover" was first tweeted on February 29, when one user claimed that she heard someone call the coronavirus by that nickname in real life. On March 10, a Reddit user submitted a post on "r/memes," referring to "boomer remover" as the most enlightened term for the coronavirus, and the hashtag eventually trended on Twitter. 

One of the most popular drivers of "#boomerremover" was a tweet from March 12 that has nearly 700,000 likes that says a relative of the tweeter says students at their middle school were calling the virus the "boomer remover."

This tweet is cited in articles about how horrible the new meme is, how awful it makes millennials seem (despite millennials being in their late 20s, and middle schoolers being firmly Gen Z). Insider reached out to see if the relative in question could confirm the real-life trend; the interview request was declined. 

But actual teenagers and Gen Z-ers say the negative reaction to the "boomer remover" trend is overblown – starting with the fact that it's not even a popular meme about the coronavirus (though there are lots of COVID-19 memes). There are some viral, scattered examples of tweets and Reddit posts using the phrase, but it's no "ok boomer." 

High school senior Chas Steinbrugge runs a popular meme page on Instagram, "@trigomemetry," and spends his usual mornings scrolling through Twitter looking for funny tweets and memes. Apart from the day that "#boomerremover" trended, he hasn't seen any memes about the coronavirus that use the phrase. 

"In my experience, all the tweets I was seeing have been criticizing the phrase, rather than actually making jokes about it," Steinbrugge told Insider. "I'm sure on Reddit and 4Chan and other sites, they are most likely using it offensively, but I think people have drawn a line of what's appropriate during a pandemic, and I think that's definitely across the line for most meme creators."

Even teens and Gen Z-ers saying 'boomer remover' aren't serious about their elders dying – if anything, they're frustrated.

"Boomer remover" isn't the only trending coronavirus-meme making Gen Z look bad. There was Vanessa Hudgens who, at 31, is a millennial, using her Instagram Live platform to call a projected quarantine until July "bulls---." As she now infamously noted afterward, "People are going to die, which is terrible, but like, inevitable?" 

There was also a popular Twitch streamer, Kaceytron, who got indefinitely banned for saying she'd spread the coronavirus if she could because "the world would be a better place without old and poor people." And perhaps the most viral Gen Z faux pas came from college student Ava Louise, whose "coronavirus challenge" video showed her licking a toilet seat on an airplane, prompting "The View" host Meghan McCain to tweet "Put her a-- in jail!"

Of the three, both Hudgens and Kaceytron have seriously walked back their comments. Hudgens says her off-the-cuff remark was misinterpreted, and the Twitch troll issued a lengthy Twitter statement, during which she said she was worried about her family's financial situation during quarantine and was "mocking a system that I have felt has tossed the poor and elderly aside."

Vanessa Hudgens; Ava Louise

Screenshot Instagram/vanessahudgens, TikTok/avalouiise

21-year-old Ava Louise, however, still stands behind what she said in her response video to the backlash she received, which is that "Darwinism is doing its job by knocking you out with this virus."

"I know it's tragic, but Vanessa Hudgens wasn't wrong," she told Insider. "Grandparents die. It's what happens. And this is just nature taking its course no matter how we try to spin it and look at it."

Louise isn't as worried about being perceived as insensitive since it plays into the persona she's crafted – a real-life, in your face Regina George of "Mean Girls" or Chanel Oberlin of "Scream Queens." She also feels like she's one of few people her age to speak honestly about the generational divide, and how "boomers" (and pretty much anyone over age 40) misinterpret meme culture. 

"I've been very open about hating older people, and I grew up in this internet culture they don't seem to grasp," she said. "They don't understand it and they can't take a joke, they can't decipher a meme, they can't see what's fake or real on the internet. They refuse to change or grow or adapt."

Her "coronavirus challenge" video is a clear example of this, she says, because it isn't a real challenge. She invented a fake trend, resulting in mainstream media attention, and "boomers on Facebook" don't get that they're giving her more opportunities to capitalize on her newfound internet fame the more they hate on her. Her friend, internet personality Larz, doubled down on the stunt, posting on Instagram that he licked a toilet seat and contracted COVID-19. Louise told Insider that was also just a stunt.

"Regardless of what I say or do, I'm not racist or homophobic, I'm not hurting people, I'm not putting laws in place that hurt people," Louise said. "I've got moms and old men on Facebook losing their godd--- minds over me and threatening me and threatening to kill me. And I'm like, 'And? I'm not the one dying of coronavirus, you are.'"

Despite Louise's avowed frustration with boomers, anyone taking it that seriously is exhibiting the same naivete that Louise rails against.

 

Of course, young people are getting the coronavirus too, and some of them are dying. And many millennials are trying to convince their boomer parents and grandparents that the pandemic is serious enough for them to stay inside. On one hand, there's outcry over Miami spring breakers crowding beaches. On the other, CEOs and the president are urging people to go back to work to save the economy, even if people have to die, so the willingness to end hypothetical lives isn't constrained to the younger generation.

What teenagers really think of 'boomer remover.'

Insider asked the largest online forum of Gen Z-ers – Reddit's "r/teenagers" – what they really thought about the "boomer remover."

According to 17-year-old Zahra from Pakistan, the dramatics surrounding the meme are "quite overblown."

"It's just a meme, I don't understand how older people take them so seriously," the Reddit user wrote. "I do oftentimes find myself frustrated with their own attitude of 'Not my problem, I'll be dead by the time this has any serious impacts,' and that's where I think this boomer remover culture emerges from."

Another 16-year-old "r/teenagers" poster wrote that some people are taking "boomer remover" too far, and that even if boomers hold different opinions, they don't deserve to die from the coronavirus. 

"A lot of people aren't taking this seriously, which is a big issue, and that's why a lot of places are having to use force to keep people inside," they wrote. "I don't know if people are just uneducated or believe that it won't hurt them because of their situation, but it needs to be taken seriously and we need to do as much as we can to help."

Read the original article on Insider