That’s the title of an article in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, and it speaks to why my talk is resonating with younger people. Starting with the Advanced Style book, Mireille Silcoff describes young people’s fascination with the accoutrements and achievements of the old old. “Scratch the surface of youth culture, and a kind of Eldertopia is revealed,” she writes. “This is a place where 20-somethings in German orthopedic shoes, veal-colored plastic Bubby glasses and reams of ugly macramé sell more of the same to the like-minded on Etsy. A place where you’ll find GQ magazine pushing “Geezer Chic” and countless pages on Tumblr and Pinterest with names like “Cool Old People . . .”
This makes me feel indescribably hip for having been photographed with Advanced Style diva Debra Rapoport at Etsy last week. A bigger takeaway, though, is the sentiment behind most of the comments on these sites (and some questions I’ve gotten on Yo, Is This Ageist?): when I’m old, this is what I want to be like. Aspirational images and role models are enormously valuable. The earlier we find them, the sooner we become “old people in training.” These models provide alternative versions of beauty, antidotes to bland and gleaming youthful abs. They alleviate anxiety and build empathy. They support friendships across four living generations, a blessing as families expand across time and beyond traditional kinship. Those in turn refute the myth of intergenerational conflict that pits the old and young against each other.
After my talk at the Cooper Union, a friend wrote, “You’ve found a fantastic mission: raising consciousness that older is far better than the stereotype that enslaves us all. You have a natural audience in the wave of boomers among whom you surf. In a perfect world, the youngers will learn from us.” They’re obviously learning from the old old, in a delightful symbiosis, without waiting on the boomers. Hooray for that.