The Tender Activist: We’re not getting any younger

By : Scottie Campbell
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scottie campbellWarren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the wrong movie for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. If you didn’t watch the broadcast, you probably watched the video of the moment, gone viral and only recently unseated by a couple of precocious kiddies strolling in their dad’s office during a BBC broadcast. At the very least you may have heard about the award ceremony snafu around the watercooler, and goodness knows we no longer need to have witnessed something to have an opinion about it.

The immediate assumption heard ‘round the world: Bonnie and Clyde screwed up because they’re old. Beatty turns 80 this month and Dunaway is 76. Hate gets an express pass in the day and age of social media and the assumption was given Herme’s speed. “HOLY SHIT!” tweeted a Hollywood writer friend of mine. “This is what you get when you let two ancient vampires awakened before their time present an award.”

We would soon learn the error – and, indeed, there was an error – didn’t belong to the two aging stars; they were handed the wrong envelope. Heads are now rolling to ensure the mistake never happens again, because this is serious stuff, of course. Too late for the explanation though; the assumption was out there, nearly 33 million watched Beatty and Dunaway’s awkward moment. I use my friend’s tweet as an example of the social media jokes that riddled the internet, but even with this information his tweet remains in Twitterdom as of this writing.

It’s fair enough to note that I turned 50 in January, a marker that would find even the shallowest musing about growing older, but it’s something I’ve always thought about. Of all the hates we humans infect ourselves with – homophobia, misandry, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc. – ageism is the one I find strangest. In the other cases, there is the fear of those that aren’t like you, inexcusable but still understandable; but in the case of age, unless you have plans to fall asleep in your garage with the engine running, we’re all going there. It’s happened to me while I’ve been writing this, it’s happening to you as you read this.

When I was in high school in the early ‘80s, one of the teachers asked a Pakistani friend of hers to come speak to us and answer questions. Interesting man, but the thing that stuck with me the most had to do with age. In Pakistan, at least at that time, there was a prevailing thought that the ultimate would be to grow up in the west and grow old in the east. The teenagers long for the freedoms American kids have, particularly with regard to dating, but there is much more respect for the elderly. The gentleman described his mother whose memory was failing and perhaps was beginning to slide into dementia, but her word was still “the Word.”

It struck a chord with me because my own Nana was showing signs of Alzheimers. As true Americans, we greeted these early signs by poking fun at her, laughing along with her. If I’m honest, even as she digressed and slips of memory morphed into full-blown hallucinations, we handled it poorly. I personally was terrified of being alone with her, though that was unavoidable. I remember vividly hearing her exclaim from her room as I was in the kitchen, I went to ask her if she was alright. “As alright as you can be, suddenly realizing you’re on the other side of the world,” she said, still stunned. She had come to live with us in Germany where Dad was stationed; she woke thinking she was back in Largo until our dog Heidi went in to greet her. My heart still breaks thinking about that moment and wishing I had handled it differently somehow, some way, instead of silently wishing it would be over. Soon it was; she was only with us a few weeks when she passed.

I think I was most disappointed in the Beatty/Dunaway reaction because I like to think America’s attitude toward aging is changing. Jimmy Buffett is building retirement communities for fuck’s sake, where senior citizens will party to trop rock instead of trundling down to the multi-purpose room to hear a disinterested school chorus because Matlock doesn’t come on for another hour. Former news guys Marc Middleton and Bill Shafer’s media efforts for Growing Bolder now include radio, television, a magazine and documentary films on a mission to, as their slogan states, rebrand aging.

It could just be my inner Pollyanna with a dash of wishful thinking, but I feel like I hear fewer people saying things like, “Well, it’s too late for that now.” Over 50 and thinking of going to college or back to college? Why the hell not? It also seems like the concept of retirement meaning “doing nothing” is making less and less sense to us. Have you paid attention to the so-called blue zones, places in which people are living longest? Among the common key traits is these are people who don’t stop.

We look at Warren Beatty fumbling with an envelope and Faye Dunaway confidently announcing the wrong film and fear that will one day be us. We laugh and joke to avoid reality and their celebrity makes that easier for us. But the march of time is our global cadence, our combined inevitability, and it seems like it would be beneficial to spend those years resonating respect and kindness for each other, and ourselves.

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