Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Getting old sucks

During my post-lunch dérive, I saw in front of one of those monolithic apartment buildings on 57th Street a heavy-set, gray-haired woman in a T-shirt that read "Getting Old Sucks." I wasn't sure how depressed to become over this, to find that our voracious youth culture now bullies even its victims to adopt its characteristic medium (the slogan T-shirt) and to promote the essence of its value system. Now, one could argue that she is subverting the medium and the message, and the discomfort I felt at seeing her was testimony to how effective she was. But you could also argue that she was forced to resort to an alien, self-abnegating attempt at cool just to get someone like me to even notice that she exists at all.

Youth has long ceased to be about age, being instead an all-purpose ideal posited to make consumers of all ages feel inadequate and insecure. Everyone can now be tyrannized by the pressure to be young. The old woman was no more disturbing than the baby with a cute T-shirt on, except that the baby is worse, as it evinces a set of parents with no qualms about using their own child as a cool accessory. Once, there was a dignity to the wisdom of maturity which offset the inherent appeals of youth, the freshness and innocence. Now, youth has been stripped of those qualities, made instead into a relentless prod to be better than you are, to be happier than you are, while maturity has lost all dignity, as its wisdom has been rendered useless. Knowledge is worthless, because the cycles of fashion obey no logic, adhere to no traditional notions. Cool, which is the quality youth now is advertised as possessing instead of innocence, is the anti-wisdom, offering a more direct, more effortless route to happiness than knowledge or wisdom, which it suggests will only make you old (which sucks). One doesn't know how to be cool, one is cool. Ads make sure we know we aren't cool, and leave us no hope but to imitate the avatars of cool they put before us. Everybody learns how to live from the media now, and from its images of the cool and youthful. The old, stripped of their former function as teachers, find themselves worse off than their erstwhile pupils, thrown back upon the cool merchants that have usurped their role, trying to learn themselves what can't be taught, what can only seemingly be bought, but which of course can never really be possessed, even by the ad campaigners who themselves dreamed up these despotic images of the good life.

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