Monday, March 22, 2004

Keep Young and Beautiful

They call it the 'Forever Young' syndrome and it doesn't take reading more than a few sentences into the recent newspaper story detailing the 'obsession' this 'cultural disease' has inspired, to see where this missive is moving. (Hint: anything containing with the words 'obsession' or 'disease' generally denotes disdain.)
According to University of Toronto Professor (and academic killjoy) Marcel Danesi, growing up is now linked to growing old - a state of affairs most of North America apparently wants no part of. He's literally written the book about this new phenomenon and 'Forever Young' is its titular (I said tit!) call to arms.
From his research involving interviews with some 200 teenagers and their (decrepit) parents, Danesi concludes that the commercial entertainment media's 'youth sells' preoccupation has infected people so throughly that they're not only trying to look and feel healthier and fitter longer, but they've further decided that adding adolescent immaturity to the mix is the key to immortality.
"Good living," he says, "keeping your youth, having as much fun as you can. It's empty because there is no wisdom behind it."
Double 'Huh?'
He continues. "Everything that keeps the culture thinking, reflecting, seeking understanding is missing."
Triple 'Hu... well, you get the idea.
As I read through the article, pre-packaged phrase follows bullshitty buzzward, amplified by pseudo-academic conclusion, impressing me not so much with its scholarly mien, as with it's style of cherry-picking recent social history, dressed up as legitimate methodology.
There's a name for guys like this - and that name is Crabby Appleton.
How else to explain to explain his 'all fun barred' view of modern middle-age?
There may be something here; there may be the glimmer of a kernel of an idea, but the conclusions he draws seem half-baked; scrawled in crayon, rather than writ in stone.
You have to believe it's generally pretty dangerous to be spouting theories that encompass entire generations; call them edgy, or courageous or daring - but that only makes it risky, not right.
Danesi mines the 20th century, mixing historical fact with personal opinion.
He points out that one hundred years ago most of the world's population simply couldn't afford an adoescence for their children. The struggles of that society precluded an extended period of lighter hearts and fewer responsibilities - children passed into adulthood "almost seamslessly" he observes. (Really?)
Freud stepped in next with theories of adolescents grappling with the anxiety and confusion of accepting their new identities as adults - a theory that may hold whole fistfuls of water balloons, but doesn't exactly draw a straight line between having no adolescence at all, then suddlenly having difficulty accepting th state of adulthood. When did they know they had to get worried? That stage isn't so much glossed over as missed altogether.
There's tons more - so I'll do the cherry-picking - but essentially Daneci continues on his historic tour of youth through the ages, moving us through the 50's (the beginning of a youth culture) the 60's (youthquakers all - dropouts, beatlmaniacs, hippies and potheads and so on) and on through the 70's and 80's and the society we now live in, rife for the first time with troubled teens, bullies, anorexics, druggies and a generation of youth obsessed with their looks. If Danesi was reading the 6 O'clock Evening News he'd holler: "This just in!"
Danesi then focuses on television and the media - the twin threats to our medical and physical health and safety and pulls a few more anecdotal rabbits out of his various hats. He accuses adults of trying to emulate the 'tough and cool' images we are bombarded with along with our children and warns us all that the adolescent ideals we're all coming to embody (egged on by corporate America) then exemplify include those associated with gang violence and the like.
He wraps the mess up with an observation that teens feel nothing but contempt for the middle-aged, and no longer value the folk-wisdom of the elderly.
"Nobody looks to the old for solutions. And nothing has replaced them. Society has lost its anchors," says Danesi unable to keep a hint of panic out of his prose. But he has a solution: he believes authority should return to the family, no through punishment, but by encouraging adults to offer guidance and mature examples for the young. A solution remarkable but for the fact that he isn't its original author - check out Socrates, Plato and Pliny for various diatribes on whippersnapperdom.
How to refute the charges? Read history, then observe current society, examine its endless and imaginative attempts to "... think, to reflect, seeking understanding" through an exploding publishing, film and television world (I'll grant him not all of it worthy of hosannas) then explore a middle-aged generation that like no other before is attempting to place the needs of the elderly and youth at the top of the political agenda. This is a generation that votes, travles, reads the newspaper and participates in its community. If it goes to the gym in between, is that so wrong?
If it weren't for the image Danesi has shoehorned into my mind of gangs of roving elderly Sharks and Jets, dropping out of the pack every so often to have their skin tautened or their bottoms re-inflated, I'd consider the article a complete waste of my (limited) middle-aged time.

Keep Young and Beautiful
(Written for 'Roman Scandals' 1933; Lyric: Al Dubin, Music: Harry Warren)

What's cute about little cutie?
It's her beauty, not brains...
Old father time will never harm you
if your charm still remains...
After you grow old baby,
you don't have to be a cold baby...
Keep Young and Beautiful,
It's your duty to be beautiful...
keep young and beautiful,
if you want to be loved.
Don't fail to do your stuff
with a little powder and a puff.
Keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved.
If you're wise, exercise all the fat off,
take it off, off of here, off of there...
when you're seen anywhere with your hat off,
wear a Marcel wave in your hair...
Take care of all those charms,
and you'll always be in someone's arms
keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved.


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