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Friday, January 20, 2012

3 New Generations of Idiots

Just because the syntax that reliable pop-culture mavens use to inform us about trends is available to everyone, does not mean everyone is qualified to use it.  With that said, I am hard-pressed to think of a phrase more popularly abused than the declaration that (something old) “is the new” (something better).  You know, brown is the new black, pale is the new tan, smart is the new sexy, etc?  (believe me, I could go on - and if you can’t, go ahead and Google “is the new”)  Even in an age where simply saying something in a public forum is about 80% of the credibility you need to make people believe it, these announcements hardly qualify as trendsetting. Nowadays, these notices seem more wishful thinking than actual trend reporting, and are usually bald attempt by folks who want to make what they have look more like something they want.   But nowhere is this facile pronouncement more frequently abused then when talking about aging.  Pundits everywhere are trying to shave off a decade (or two) simply by hoping it so.  There’s no doubt that technology, medical care and healthy living have increased not only how long we live, but how much we enjoy it.  But even with that said, we are still very much the ages we achieve, and in the interests of reminding everyone just how young they aren’t, here are 3 ages which are aren’t the new anything:

1.    The Golden Age.  The Baby Boomer generation has always taken great pride in breaking stereotypes, and redefining their generation as it grows older.  But no matter how great they were, 60 is not the new 40.  60 is the official age to stop: stop dying your hair, stop wearing anything low cut, low rise, push up, etc, and stop using the word “sexy”.  60 is the age where you can no longer be insulted by someone calling your “sir” or “ma’am” - or for that matter, “grandpa” or “grandma”.  60 is when “incontinence” stops being something you think you may have forgotten from Geography class and the most embarrassing reason you’ve had to visit the drug store since you were buying condoms as a teenager.  60 is the age where you can legitimately look at new technology like it’s some kind of dark sorcery that you should mistrust at all costs and call all professional athletes ‘kids.”  More importantly, 60 isn’t the new anything.  At 60 you’ve had all of the new you’re going to get.  The only thing “new” at 60 are the occasional new diagnoses from your doctor and the “new” friends and family members that you’ve known for years that only senility can offer.  Wake up and smell the AARP card, 60 is just 60.

2.    Stuck in the Middle.  Middle age is about as much fun as the Middle Ages; which is to say that it’s not a particularly enlightened time, and it’s marked mostly by unfair and unexpected persecution and pain.  And so, it makes sense that everyone who is going through this trying time has a fair bit of denial going on.  But all the hoping and believing in the world can’t change the fact that 40 is not the new 30.  Take it from someone who’s in between those two ages - the speed/strength peak that you hit when you’re 30 feels more like twenty years away than the ten it will be at 40.  40 is officially “creepy guy at the club” aged.  40 is realizing the closest you’ll ever get to a pro athlete is at a fantasy camp for other middle-aged guys like you.  40 is realizing how good it sounded to tell people you were 32 (back when you were wishing you could still say 28).  40 is excellent credit.  40 is every band you really love being on a “reunion tour” and a solid collection of khaki pants.  40 is the minimum age to be a “cougar” and the maximum age to wear anything with writing across the butt.  But the most important thing that 40 isn’t that 30 is, no matter what you dress it, drive it or party with it in, is plain old cool.  But look on the bright side, at least you’re not 60.    

3.    Adding it Up.  No generation likes to acknowledge its shortcomings, no matter how small.  This is how the last generation of widespread American racists refers to itself as the “Greatest Generation” and a generation defined by nearly universal drug abuse prefers to be known by the obsession with flowers that these hallucinations caused (rather than their more deleterious side-effects).  But Generation Y, which collectively holds about as much promise has a Hanson reunion, seems to have only two marketable skills: declaring its own relevance, and noting the unprecedented difficulty they have to endure just to be, well, themselves.  However, no matter how important they they think are, 20 is not the 30, the new 40, or the new (insert relevant age here).  20 is the enduring belief that the programming on MTV is both interesting and relevant (it's neither).  20 is recovering from a night of drinking with a stiff cup of coffee and an extra hour of sleep (rather than an entire next day).  20 is finding yourself, 30 is trying to make money off of what you found, and 40 is trying to keep what you found a secret.  While 20 may suck, it’s certainly not difficult.  The only thing difficult about 20 is having to deal with it when you're 30 and/or 40.  Don’t worry though, 20-somethings, you’ll have those extra decades soon enough - and then you’ll know why we're laughing. 

* * *

I am, if nothing else, a lover of new things.  I have never really understood the appeal of antiques, remakes or rebuilds.  The idea of newness, hell even the smell of it, inspires an optimism in me that little else can match.  New houses, new cars, new gadgets - all a testament not only to how far we’ve come, but also to where we’re going.  But not all new things are so universally good.  In fact, if I’ve learned nothing else in the years preceding this writing, that the one thing that indisputably gets better as it gets old, is us.  Time spent declaring the faux youth of your old age is exactly as productive as simply wishing yourself younger.  Why bother?  What you're really looking for, youthfulness, if nothing else, is the ability to live in the moment where you are - not longing to rush forward or look back.  Besides, the real message of the age-old command to act your age is to not live by someone else's definition of what that age is, but rather to make sure you’re not acting a different one - especially one that’s off by a decade or two.    


Kristina said...

With that attitude, you will feel and act older than you are!

Turning 40 was a little rough, but I've done more in the last 3 years, than i have the other part of my life, which was taken up by young kids and school. 2 day concert series, bar crawls, cliff jumping, tubing, SNOWBOARDING!!!, crazy fun dress up parties, etc. I'm not planning on stopping any time soon exploring new things.

as for 60, my sister is 55 and very active and beautiful! She's not ready to decide her life is over! :)

Eric said...

I'm sorry to point out, too, that you'll have to add that "The things people think in their late 30's about the generations that were and the generations that will be are not the new anything."

Every 35-ish (adjust for life expectancy) human since language developed has had this same rant - and even if they knew that, most have probably thought that there was something different this time around. Them at 35 complaining about 20somethings and 60somethings just isn't the same as when their (now 60ish) parents did it at 35!

The only thing you can really be certain of is that, when the current crop of beer swilling 20somethings stop playing beer pong until 3am on a work night and join a softball league to "get back in shape", it's only the first step on the road that will lead inexorably to their joining a kickball league in their late 30's, asserting that you're as old as you feel in their 40's, throwing away AARP mailings in their 50's, and complaining about young democrats ruining the country in their 60's.

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