by E.C. Fish on March 28, 2012

As those of you keeping score at home might have figured out, I turned fifty back on the ninth– ’tis a clammy tale– and I’ve spent the ensuing days searching for bright sides to look on. One straw I’ve grasped at pretty tightly is the notion that for a person who writes about politics and culture, being an aging person in an aging society is a positive boon, for more than the obvious beating of the alternative: in a country increasingly dominated by the concerns of the aged and aging, my newfound status as a fish oil belching, fibre farting ME TV fan makes me both a qualified expert and an embedded reporter for what is bound to be one of the most significant stories of the next couple of decades.

The influence of this story on politics is already readily apparent. When we talk about projected Federal deficits, we are speaking of nothing else but the costs of an aging population, and as you may have noticed we’ve been talking about Federal deficits for a very long time. It’s some of what we talk about when we talk about unemployment, with aging managers, professionals, and cash strapped workers alike hanging on to jobs well after what would have been retirement age in previous generations displacing younger workers, and jobs that used to go to high school kids now serving as a sad kind of “second career” for those not lucky enough to hang on.

As for culture, it doesn’t take many skipped fridge and bathroom runs during commercial breaks to realize that it is brought to you by the needs of an aging population, and that those needs have been shaped in turn by a youth worshiping culture that grew up around them. As the largest demographic cohort, and thus the largest market, in the nation, baby boomers and immediate post-boomers– people born between the end of World War Two and 1965, roughly– have been leading the culture around by the nose pretty much since birth, and show no particular signs of letting go.

Thanks to that youth fetish, it’s also plain that they–we– are not going quietly. Fifty, we are told, is the new thirty (which by my calculations makes ninety the new dead), and for a generation never particularly keen on acting its age the expectation is of youth continued by hook or by crook. Age seems to be considered a kind of disfiguring disease, and while some sensibly treat it with diet and exercise, many more head to the marketplace for mechanical devices and chemical compounds that will let them party on despite toxic lifestyles.

Appeals to the comfort and (especially) vanity of aging Americans abound. This particularly seems to apply to men of a certain– that is, my– age. Penile vacuum pumps are no longer just a gag line from the Austin Powers movies, but are hawked quite openly on television, along with treatments for erectile dysfunction and “Low T”, a newly discovered medical condition that used to just be the normal decline of testosterone levels in men over forty. Treatments for that last “condition” include what are fundamentally anabolic steroids, just like the athletes’, taken in the cause of “eighteen holes with your buddies”, and while all these products place the desire for tumescence firmly (as it were) in the context of a committed long term relationship with a slightly younger and much healthier appearing woman, one can easily see how occasional  acute creepiness could become a common side effect.

It’s this spectacle of youth grown older, and especially the accompanying Peter Pan shit,  that has me worried that my generation might make for a spectacularly bad batch of old people. Don’t get me wrong– a vigorous and active old age is or ought to be the goal for anyone currently drawing breath, and a lot of things people my age and older aren’t acquiescing quietly to are and have always been agist crap. Having changed so much else in this society, it’s no surprise that boomers and post-boomers would change this as well. Nor is taking advantage of medical science where appropriate– yes, even for that if need be– anything to be frowned upon. Much of what medical science says on the subject of aging, if anyone were to bother to listen to them before requesting the latest prescription nostrum advertised on cable, has a lot more to do with eating right, getting some exercise, and learning how to handle stress properly than it does with downing a capsule. It’s just that I’m hoping that all these vigorous and active old people can put their unprecedented advantages to decent use. I hope that along with the agist assumptions we don’t also reject wisdom and dignity.

People my age and older, by virtue of sheer numbers, have a disproportionate amount of economic power and political influence. We have a real shot at tackling that  project of changing the world that we used to natter on about, and an all too obvious possibility of blowing it completely. And there’s the rub– people my age and older have always had a disproportionate amount of economic power and political influence, and look where that’s gotten us.

Many happy returns, y’all. And stay tuned…

(Photo courtesy Jim Kotz)

E.C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susan Budig March 31, 2012 at 5:02 am

That wasn’t too bad, Fish.

Thankfully absent was any sentimentality.


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