A good friend passed on a DVD of my This Chair Rocks talk to a filmmaker acquaintance, who had a serious critique. She found the talk compelling and called me “a smart and wise cheerleader for this next passage,” but continued, “What I felt missing in her talk was death. She moved quickly over it, saying that her big surprise was how little older folks feared death. I think she is wrong, but she has been immersed in this research far longer than I have. I think we [all] fear death; it is the great unanswered question.
People often suggest that I give a TED talk, and of course I hope this opportunity comes my way. In the meanwhile, I searched all TED talks tagged with aging. Nine come up:
There's no one I'd be happier to hear that from than cultural critic and feminist Margaret Morgenroth Gullette. Resident Scholar at Brandeis University, Gullette is the author of Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America and has influenced my thinking enormously. She was kind enough to forward the invite to my upcoming talk at Cooper Union to frends with this introduction: "Ashton Applewhite is the very clever inventor of the blog Yo Is This Ageist?, where she offers snappy retorts to ageist hits and usefully decided opinions about age protocol. We need an anti-ageist movement, for sure. Ashton is already in it." I'm hoping for lots more company.
I attended my first Age Boom Academy for journalists in 2008 and have returned several times since. This year was particularly rewarding, because now I’m able to put the speeches in context and because I’m honing in on a specific question: why are Americans, individually and collectively, so deaf to all but the negative messages about old age? After all, no one wants to die young, and no one disputes that the elimination of premature death is a remarkable achievement.
On March 21-25 I attended the 12th annual Age Boom Academy, a seminar for journalists covering “the myths and realities of aging in America.” Billed as a Joint Program by the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and the Columbia Journalism School, it was sponsored by the Atlantic Philanthropies, AARP and The New York Times and took place at Columbia. (Previous Age Booms were held at the International Longevity Center and hosted by Bob Butler, whom I sorely missed. It was terrific and I’ll be writing about it more substantively, but in the meanwhile here are some thoughts from assorted speakers that stuck with me.
“There’s an interesting story in the paper today about aging,” said my partner yesterday morning. He and I and I are inveterate fans of the Sunday New York Times Style section, where the lead story was that of Bob Bergeron, a therapist in New York whose suicide at 47 had taken everyone by surprise.
I didn’t make up that battle cry, but I’m appropriating it. It’s Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s line, and I read it in Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America, her superb screed against ageist practices that are being institutionalized by powerful cultural forces: free-market capitalism for starters, along with anti-unionism and eroding job seniority the weakening of ADEA and small-government dogma. An age scholar at Brandeis, Gullette has enlarged my viewpoint in the best possible way — and gotten me further riled up.
I encountered that chilling phrase, “age apartheid,” in a New York Times Magazine piece by Ted C. Fishman, whose book The Shock of Gray was published last month. He’s talking about China, whose older workers have been largely excluded from the economic boom. “No country sorts its population more ruthlessly by age,” writes Fishman.