What’s age got to do with it?

by Madeleine Kolb

Stereotypes of aging are everywhere:  newspapers, magazines, movies,  TV shows, and those insulting, mock-humorous birthday cards for sale in most drug stores.

For those of us over 50 or 60, hardly a day goes by that we don’t encounter assumptions about our presumed decline and decay. We’re over the hill, we can’t learn new things, and before long we won’t even remember the things we used to know.

I get that a lot of this stereotyping comes from denial of aging, a fear of confronting one’s own mortality. I also get that younger people often condescend to people over 50 or 60 with the utterly mistaken idea that they’re somehow being nice.

They refer admiringly to a grandfather who “still” climbs mountains or rides a Harley or jumps from airplanes even when the engine’s not on fire.

As discussed in his TED talk, Dr. Bill Thomas, suggests that it does not occur to the younger person that he values his grandfather to the extent that the old man engages in activities associated with youth.

Recently, I came upon a twist on this attitude in an appalling concert review which appeared in the Seattle Times. This is how the author, Charles R. Cross, began:

Patti Smith is 66 years old, but at the Neptune Theatre Wednesday night she put on a vibrant and energetic performance that one would expect from someone 50 years her junior.

Mr. Cross’ review went on in that vein with four more sentences describing what a wonderful concert it was, followed by the word “but” and apparent astonishment that any one as old as Patti Smith could put on such a great show.

At one point, he also referred to her “…surprising awareness of the pop-culture mainstream.”

It occurs to me that the reviewer may actually have though he was complimenting the performer. If one strips away the the ageist language, he is saying that Patti Smith was vibrant and energetic and that her voice has never sounded better. Why not just leave it at that?

I love the way she shakes out her hair as she begins to sing. What do you think?

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