[-empyre-] Old Ageism
davinheckman at gmail.com
Sat May 5 23:37:38 AEST 2018
Thanks for sharing your comments on ageism. An organic model of culture
loves a multitude of temporalities, a variety of stages living in time in a
variety of ways, every node a potential edge, every edge a gift. An
industrialized culture flattens then flatters demographic groups, offering
us metastatic culture instead of metastability.
I watched my father.... one of the most amazing people I've ever
known.... a working class man, a poet, artist, freak of the silent
generation, who made a living as a bartender, and then lost his job as the
blue collar bar he worked at was bought and repackaged for what is now a
very trendy neighborhood.... He suffered under the fear that the world did
not want him. We loved each other. And that, I think, kept him going.
But there was a lot of pain.
I think the thing that makes ageism so toxic is that we all know the scorn
that awaits us.... and that activates everyone who is not yet old against
It cries out for revolution....
On Fri, May 4, 2018 at 8:00 AM, Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> (in line with the open call this month. this essay might be of
> interest. thanks, Alan)
> Old Ageism
> Old Men
> by Ogden Nash
> People expect old men to die,
> They do not really mourn old men.
> Old men are different. People look
> At them with eyes that wonder when...
> People watch with unshocked eyes;
> But the old men know when an old man dies.
> I've been trying to figure out how to approach ageism, which has
> come to me in spades, and will come to you as well; there's no
> escape, no retribution, no complaint that resonates. It shows in
> subtle ways like racism or sexism; like racism and sexism,
> however, it also shows in ways that tell the truth but tell it
> slant. And unlike racism and sexism, it remains by and large
> unacknowledged, or given lip service at best. One just has to
> examine the treatment of older men and women on The Simpsons to
> see how acceptable this is. We're expected to be feeble,
> forgetful, weak, out of touch, confounded by computers and
> cellphones, adjudicating at best in relationship to the world of
> fifty or a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago. We're not
> expected to be able to teach, to think clearly, to speak without
> repetition and reminiscence. We're expected to wallow in
> nostalgia for the good old days. The poem by Nash says it all;
> we're expected to die, to fade away, to disappear, to be a
> nuisance at best. We're expected to go into hospices or nursing
> homes or die in our sleep or in traffic accidents whose fault is
> only our own. We're expected to dote on grandchildren and
> populate the National Parks, the network news hours, and
> television (never online), until we conveniently disappear.
> For some of us, of course, this isn't a caricature, but a sad or
> happy truth. But the characterization is applied across the
> board and affects hires, and the ability to function as a valued
> and active member of a community; in other words, we're forced
> This is true in the cultural domain where, for all its identity
> politics, the old are ignored or seen as 'subjects' for others'
> works. Which leads to the issue of 'begging letters' (a phrase a
> friend of mine has used), and here I have to speak of my own
> experience. I'm an artist/theorist/whatever who is as active as
> I ever was, and my thinking/work is as present/presenced as it
> ever was. (I'm not alone in this; I'm describing what so many
> people I know go through constantly.) If I apply for a job or a
> show or a residency or other cultural opportunity, most often
> (not all the time), one of two things happens; I don't hear back
> at all, or I'm put in a position where I have to constantly
> pester the organization or person in charge, to be heard, to be
> considered at all. I'm simply no longer on the cultural horizon
> - there are other, younger, more exciting, people on the scene,
> and it's a scene I'm excluded from. It's never put that way, but
> it's the case. We're expected, by the age, say, of fifty, to
> have completed our work, our 'product' if it's such, and to be
> content with that, to have moved on (perhaps to grandchildren?).
> Our rage is internalized, goes nowhere; as friends have said,
> literally, "It's no fun growing old" and a good part of this is
> the isolation that's forced on us, particularly in the realm of
> cultural production. (I speak to that because that's where I'm
> active, that's where I am.)
> Oddly, given the filter bubbling at work on social media, I'm
> largely speak/writing to the converted; this text won't go
> anywhere outside of those in agreement. And if it does, what
> would it matter?
> (Personal note - in 1974 Kathy Acker and I made the Blue Tape
> together in New York. Recently, because it's been twenty years
> since she died, there's been a minor resurrection of the piece;
> a number of venues in the United States and Europe have shown
> it. Every time I'm asked for permission, I'll agree and add that
> the tape itself is over forty years old, and I've continued
> working and would you be interested in seeing what else I've
> done? Only one place asked; when I sent copies of the work etc.
> in, it was ignored. I understand that KA is a cultural icon at
> this point, but the tape was the produced by both of us, and in
> every showing, I'm effaced; it's as if I didn't exist. I can
> give other examples.
> In all of this I feel I'm taken to be an "old man" or "elderly"
> what whatever, and that already pejorative characteristic
> becomes fundamental. It's also something I internalize, and hate
> myself for doing so. When I walk down the street I literally see
> myself through others' eyes, I see an old and useless man with
> nothing to say, with nothing of value in the world. It's an odd
> and miserable, hateful reflection, but I can't help it at this
> point. It what happens. It's concrete. It's an autonomic
> reaction. Part of this may be that I'm in a small town,
> Providence, which has underlying hatreds as a local flux (which
> is true of almost every small town I've lived in). But unlike
> racism, for example, it's not acknowledged; it's just there. My
> image comes back constantly to haunt me, and if I live and work,
> for example, for another twenty years, I'll live with this every
> day, without community engagement, with constant begging
> letters, with a fundamental isolation that, at least according
> to the papers I've read, also leads to early death.
> I apologize for going on like this and recognize that there are
> a lot of people in worse situations. The problem with ageism,
> however, is that it's invisible and unacknowledged, and that
> allows it be pervasive everywhere, to gnaw at the soul.
> There used to be groups like the Grey Panthers, that tried to
> counteract this; now there's the AARP with positive heart-
> warming stories about successful older people. But these are
> people who have had cultural capital in the first place, and one
> might speak of an AARP ideology that creates a pleasurable but
> utterly fake horizon. It's not the truth and it doesn't speak
> to the truth that we bare, that we bear.)
> What is to be done? I honestly don't know. I'd like to see
> ageism added to sensitivity trainings. I'd like to see people
> hired or shown on the basis of their work, their intellect,
> their commitment, and not on the basis of age (while it's
> illegal to take age into consideration for teaching positions,
> it's done all the time; at one job opening at an Ivy League
> university, the cut-off was 40). I know none of this will
> happen. I'd like to find a way to channel our rage (which we too
> often turn against ourselves); that won't happen. With the fast-
> forward evolution of cultural memes, productions, technologies,
> and politics, these concerns will appear even less important to
> society at large (if there is such a thing). And here, as I
> mention above, the filter bubble comes into play.
> For that reason, I'm asking, if you agree with the above, please
> share. Maybe outreach will make a difference to someone.
> Thanks, Alan
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
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