Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ageism: the New Racism

Simone De Beauvoir

Simone De Beauvoir wrote in Coming of Age about the prejudice against the elderly in Western society. In the decades since, the maltreatment of the aging, especially in the United States, has worsened. The worship of and obsession with youth and the assumption that the old are repulsive, deranged, and damaged are the perpetual themes of the mass media. Only the bravest of artists and most radical  of counter-culture voices decry the "secret shame" of the bigotry against the old. Often that bigotry is subtle and sophisticated.

Take, for instance,  Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. Under cover of attacking the privileged rich, she calls the 62-year-old suspect in the Strauss-Kahn case "a crazed, rutting, wrinkly old satyr charging naked"  into the room. Whether or not this man is a rapist, her statement indicts all old men as repulsive. Yes, there are certainly old rapists. There are young rapists. If you want a portrait of young women child molesters and rapists, read John Irving's Until I find You. The generalization that one member of a class of people is evil, therefore the whole class is bad, is at the heart of most bigotry. Dowd, of all people, should realize this.

Today I read an essay in the Paris Review about Andrew Lytle ** written by a man who took care of him when "Mister Lytle" was 92 and the author 20. It is a tribute to both men. Despite the fascinating twist on sexuality in the story, I loved the author's precise, vivid description of  Lytle after which he writes,  

"I found him exotic; it’s probably accurate to say that I found him beautiful."

At 63 I am just beginning to be aware of the prejudice against me as an old man. I'm used to decades of experiencing prejudice from those who know I am gay.  This second bigotry is far more insidious, and potentially far more isolating. All I can think to do by way of combat is to post articles like the one above on Lytle and a few portraits of other old human beings I think are beautiful:

Louise Bourgeous and art piece

Bertrand Russell

 Bertrand Russell
With pipe

See also:

‘Frankenfolks’ And The Rise Of Ageism 

Agewise: Fighting The New Ageism In America by Margaret Morganroth Gullette

Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press, 2011

Jack Miller

(White Male, Age 63. Beautiful)

** Lytle was famous at Sewanee, where I got my undergraduate degree in Philosophy. I knew Allen Tate, of the essay, who was there when I was. We introduced Mr. Tate to our new, blacklight, hippie coffeehouse in 1968.

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