Tuesday, July 18, 2006

My Back Pages

It has long annoyed me that whenever the topic of age arises in even casual conversation, it is always contextualized and evaluated. No one would think to discuss race, class, or even gender in the same way in which people casually discuss the social implications of one another's respective age. Of course, in order to avoid the serious implications of such conversations, these discussions are usually crouched in irony and humor, albeit usually banal humor. Come to think of it, it's not the contextualization or evaluation that annoys me. It's having to hear people uncreatively moan about how old they are, no matter how old they actually are. Even a young Bob Dylan wasn't immune from thinking of himself as old, though he was able to express his thoughts more creatively than the average person. Check out the nostalgiac longings of a 22-year-old Dylan in this 1963 song.

The problem with perceiving one's own age is that our subjectivity is skewed. We grow up for many years being told we are young. Therefore, the slightest hint that the status quo has shifted results in an unconscious conflict within our psyche, and of course, Freud tells us that unconscious conflicts are worked out in part through jokes. That seems to me to be a reasonable explanation for the banal jocularity surrounding this subject.

Our culture likes to divide experience into binaries. Following that line of thought, we are likely to tell ourself that any given person must be either "young" or "old." The question is in determining when that threshold is crossed. I theorize that whenever we are old enough to ask ourself this question (even unconsciously) we are likely to believe ourself to be in the secondary category.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work out neatly for many of us. The reason we are still in conflict and simply don't accept being "old," is that collective cultural memory is usually older than our biological age. For example, when Paul McCartney recently turned 64, the media made a big deal about it. The collective assumption was that everybody knew the significance of this event. However, anyone 38 or under (which represents a huge cross section of humanity) wasn't in existence when Macca first discussed in song the possibility of being 64. Thirty-eight is generally considered to be a fairly advanced age, yet anyone that age or younger was being given the implicit message that they are young. A cultural event that still resonates today occurred before their birth. (Of course, one of the prevailing themes of the media coverage regarding McCartney's birthday was the shifting implications of being 64, which again shows that one's age can be more theoretical than objective).

The upshot is that we are caught in a world in which age matters, but we don't know our age. It's a rough spot, so we work it out by making fun of the aging process.

As an aside, you may be wondering what would give rise to these ruminations in my mind. What caused me to think about my age? Was it my recent class reunion? Good guess but no. I caught the Arctic Monkeys performance on an SNL re-run last weekend. It wasn't that the band members had an average age of 18 that made me feel old, it was that during the performance they were obviously aping the Strokes (pardon the pun). Seeing a band that is a second generation derivitive of another band that didn't get big until after I was out of college...well, that just makes a fella feel old.


Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

You're only 28, are you not? Why are you worrying about being old?

10:22 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

I'm almost twice as old as you, Sandwich.

2:28 PM  

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