Academic journal article Generations

The Age of Anti-Aging: Media Hype and the Myth of the Ageless Baby Boomer

Academic journal article Generations

The Age of Anti-Aging: Media Hype and the Myth of the Ageless Baby Boomer

Article excerpt

As a journalist, my perspective on aging is somewhat unusual, in that in 1972, when I began writing my book, Senior Power: Growing OldRebelliously (1974), I believed I'd somehow found my way to the cutting edge of a new frontier in the movement for social justice. Opposing ageism was a cause I was sure everyone would see manifest in their morning mirrors. Until that period, few in the "Movement" had taken old age very seriously, especially as a looming issue of inequality.

By the time my book came out in late 1974, Simone de Beauvoir's The Coming of Age (1972) and Sharon Curtin's Nobody Ever Died of Old Age (1972) were among the very few trade-press books on the topic. Robert N. Butler's Why Survive?: Being Old in America (1975) was just on its way to winning the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. My book, from a small West Coast imprint, wasn't in publishing's major leagues, but I had hoped it would add a bit of momentum toward confronting the persistent issues of poverty in old age faced by so many.

As both a first-time author and a new father at age 28, I'd arrived in San Francisco from Minneapolis in time to witness the aftermath of the media-vaunted Summer of Love, as well as the acceleration of the antiwar and socialchange movements. I was offered the book project shortly after spending a year as an editor at Rolling Stone magazine and expected Senior Power to be a limited endeavor. However, after two years immersed in the subject, while also working full time, I found myself fascinated by the depths of issues in aging that remained largely unexplored. I also became increasingly baffled by the undercurrent of resistance to aging, even as a dynamic topic for American journalism.

Now as a "grandpop" (what my 4-year-old grandson calls me), I remain just as confused about how my baby boomer generation continues to be largely unaware of the ageist undertow in America's youth-consumed consumer culture. While one aging baby boomer after another confronts the convoluted challenges of aging, often through care for their elderly parents, the longterm expectation that the huge generation of 78 million would foment an era of change has dimmed as media attention and political campaigning has zeroed in on the 83.1 million Millennial (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015).

Ageism-the Beat Goes On

America's commercial and political chase after youth dollars and votes has placed a drag on the country's ability to prepare for the challenges and opportunities of today's much vaunted longevity revolution. Public understanding remains lacking in our nation's need to address such disparate areas as family caregiving, older adult-friendly and safe environments, affordable (and universally designed) senior housing options, elder abuse prevention, and, especially, the widely predicted retirement-finance crisis.

At the same time, the media's appeal to older Americans too often translates into marketable nostalgia for the Sixties (cue PBS pledge break here!) and with fiftieth anniversaries, some of them truly historic (Selma, the moon landing, three shattering assassinations), and some of more questionable gravity (Woodstock, Altamont, and, yes, the Summer of Love). My view, from more than a half-century in the countercultural epicenter of San Francisco, is that the headlines have largely missed the essential stories of (cue The Who) "M-m-m-my Generation."

In paging through Senior Power recently, I came across passage after passage that read as true today as they did when I typed them on my Remington manual. Certainly, there have been improvements, such as enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, with its requirements for wheelchair access to public buildings and transportation.

As for the baby boomer trinity of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, though, the sexual revolution has long since gone the way of cable TV, both in the crude stream of bleeps and with shows like Frankie and Grace, in which Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda wrestle in their 70s with relationships of all kinds. …

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