We live in a society enamored with both the new and the young, so being old is hard, especially while we watch old things fading. As you grow old you treasure the past and old things more and more, and your ability to keep up with new things and understand the young gets harder and harder. One of the hardest thing about being old is trying to stay young, both in body and mind. Menopause and erectile dysfunction are cruel reminders that staying young at heart can even feel foolish. Sagging flesh, hair loss, wrinkles, age spots, varicose veins, gnarled fingers tells others we’re old even though on the inside we still feel nineteen. But should we still try to act nineteen?
Getting old is both fascinating and cruel. For most of our time on Earth we feel our life is in front of us, but then that changes, and slowly we realize that we have little to look forward to and much to look back on. The tendency is to try to stay young in mind, and patch-up our our tired old bodies so we can keep going. Staying young at heart requires the existential endurance of Sisyphus. The trouble is acting young makes us look old and silly. Sure, a few like Mick Jagger can pull off wearing hot fashions and acting twenty, but most of us would look like pug dog in a funny outfit.
Today’s technology allows old pop culture and new pop culture to co-exist simultaneously. When I was young that wasn’t true. My parents had their old pop culture they mostly remembered, and we had our new music, movies, television shows and books that dominated the pop culture landscape. Back then, we even had a name for it – the Generation Gap. Today, old people can love new stuff, and young people can love old stuff.
Do I remain young if I’m watching the second season of Orange is the New Black and running Ubuntu 14.04 on a machine I built myself? Would I be younger still if I watched stolen copies of HBO shows on a Mac Air? I’m rather clueless about the latest trends in hipness. But I have noticed something about my peers. Some only listen to 1960s music and watch reruns of 1970s television shows, and they marvel that I listen to Katy Perry and Mumford and Sons. I do try to go back to my old favorite shows of youth, like The Many Loves of Dobbie Gillis and Star Trek, but I can’t focus on them. I don’t know if that’s because I’m too old, or the shows are too old.
Don’t get me wrong I do love some old stuff. I’m listening to 1967 albums this morning as I write, and I’m reading Possession about 19th century fictional poets because I love the 19th century. But I also read modern books like The Goldfinch and The Martian. Is my ability to enjoy contemporary pop culture keeping me young, or was I born with the genes that make me like contemporary pop culture?
There are many popular trends I can’t comprehend. I can’t get into video games. I want to. They look cool. But I buy them and just don’t know what to do. I’m also embarrassed by comic books and movies based on comic books – they seem too much for children. I’m going to catch a lot of flack for this, but I can understand Ruth Graham’s POV in her essay “Against YA” even though I read and loved The Fault in Our Stars. I’m one of those old people that read YA fiction – occasionally. I also read Pulitzer and Booker prize winning novels too. I’m not quite embarrassed to read YA, but I am for comics. Is that my 1950s upbringing showing? I wasn’t too old to enjoy music videos in the early 1980s on MTV, but I am way to old to watch MTV today without cringing.
At 62 I find it hard to relate to anyone under 40. It’s strange, but I enjoy the company of people born closest to 1951, the year I was born. Rarely, I’ll meet a young person that actively studies baby boomer pop culture, or parts of it, and I find that rather strange. We’ll have a common interest, and I’m more than happy to talk about the old days with them, but I can’t fathom why they like my old stuff. Was I any different in my twenties talking to old guys about Big Band music of the 1930s?
I think old and young people can share old stuff and new stuff, but I’m not sure we’re seeing it in the same way. And if old people enjoy new stuff, does that make them youthful? And if young people like old stuff, does that make them mature? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to think about.
JWH – 6/9/14