Magazine article Aging Today

America's "Age Wave": An Apocalypse or a "Golden Age"?

Magazine article Aging Today

America's "Age Wave": An Apocalypse or a "Golden Age"?

Article excerpt

America's "age wave": an apocalypse or a "golden age"? Aging in America: A Cultural History By Lawrence R. Samuel Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, $31.13, 208 pages ISBN 978-0812248838

Lawrence Samuel is a consultant to organizations working with Americans in the "Third Age"-the 70 million baby boomers who were born between 1945 and 1964 and are now turning age 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day. In his new book, Aging in America: A Cultural History, he writes as an advocate for strengthening their social engagement and effectiveness, for creating positive cultural meanings of aging and for enhancing institutional and personal capacities for meaningful lives and relationships. His book aims to assess the prospects for achieving this vision by helping us to understand how we have arrived at our current situation in the last half century.

Samuel's story begins in the 1970s, when aging took on new visibility in American culture. He demonstrates the discomfort and aversion most Americans displayed toward aging-both the personal unhappiness over declining strength and aching bodies; and the social concern over the medical and social costs of an aging population. He shows what has changed and what has remained the same. The basic narrative is woven together from several threads: scientific and medical efforts to retard or to "cure" aging, as well as to enhance the health of an aging population; consumer goods and services designed to help baby boomers retain their youth-or at least look younger; the ongoing strength of ageism despite strong efforts to emphasize healthy, socially engaged and positive images of aging and attitudes toward older people; and to a lesser extent, politics and intergenerational relations.

As the baby boomers moved into their 40s, the 1980s witnessed the arrival of products such as Clinique's high-end skin care line, which advertised itself as producing "Daily De-Aging at any Age." Samuel has little patience for de-aging and anti-aging products and services, including overblown promises of medical and biogerontologicial research. From his perspective, such products and services were (and are) forms of denial, responses to fears and negative attitudes toward aging and occasions for certain politicians to roll back the welfare state by exaggerating the financial burdens of Social Security and Medicare. Rather than endorse rapidly expanding efforts of some biogerontologists and biotech companies to find a cure for aging, Samuel prefers the approach of Sherwin Nuland's The Art of Aging and of other writers who see aging as a natural phase of life and emphasize the importance of maintaining health over prolonging life. …

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