"That age ninety in the twenty-first century may turn out to be the same old ninety is a prospect that the hucksters of longevity refuse to entertain ..." - Susan Jacoby, "Chapter 1" in Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of New Old Age. Here you can order it from Amazon.com.
Joan Rivers, at age 81, was supposedly the poster girl for the "New Old Age" brand. After all, with all that cosmetic surgery she had been a steady consumer of the services the "hucksters of longevity" peddle.
However, had she recognized that she was not young, she might have softened her brittle humor. And she could have carved out for herself, as did Betty White, a fresh, more marketable persona. Instead, in what could turn out to be the last phase of her career, she seemed, well, out-of-touch.
Those sucked in by the "New Old Age" brand are making a lot of similar mistakes. At the top of the list is purchasing over-priced condos in retirement communities. Here in Arizona there are plenty of them. The "New Old Age" actually wind up living in ghettos for the aged, shut out from the influences of youth. Their talk is about yesterday's careers, the special event at the club house on the property, the personal trainer who is keeping them "young," and the grandchildren.
The "New Old Age" brand has also been the platform for the same kind of illusions we Baby Boomers had in college. We expected the next phase of our lives to be a kind of Disney World of satisfaction and joy. Instead, as Mary McCarthy portrayed in "The Group" it was a downright shock. There was no place for bright young women. At that time few of us knew how to carve out a place. The same is happening to the aging.
The front lines of the "New Old Age" are bumping into the reality that they have no identity and no slot to slip into. They might have been able to address that had they didn't expect that things would be just great. Like Baby Boomers after college, they are reeling in shock.
The third tragedy generated by the "New Old Age" brand is a bizarre form of narcissism. That's a self absorption which has emerged from isolation from the dynamics of life as it is. The aging drone about the price of everything, as if mild inflation has been a conspiracy against them. They share the dates of their doctor visits with everyone. They flood Facebook with photos not even their own relatives want to see.
How to push back on Brand "New Old Age?" Do what Baby Boomers finally realized we had to after college. Make ourselves marketable to a world which was indifferent to us. We had to learn to become interesting, useful, and different. In my 60s, I got it that I had to put together that persona, all over again. Only it had to be configured for a woman the world saw as not the "new 40," but as "old."