In the last several posts I have challenged the “hucksters of longevity” as Judith Viorst calls those who purvey “the untruth that no one need fear growing old anymore because science - any day now - is going to fix whatever it is that ails us.”
Viorst makes that statement in a review of Susan Jacoby’s new book, Never Say Die. Jacoby’s book is a broadside indictment of the legions of marketeers who are trying to cash in on the population explosion taking place among those 65 and older by connecting the products they hawk to heavily varnished images of old age.
If you are involved in anyway in marketing to people in their 60s and beyond, you may find the reading of this book to be a bit uncomfortable, but you should also find it an enlightening and productive reading experience. It will not an experience that quite squares with the AARP image o aging. Remember, it was AARP that came up with the expression, "30 is the new 50."
Nonsense, says Jacoby, and according to Viorst makes a good case for why AARP is wrong on that account and is not working in older people's best inerest in promoting such a view.
Jacoby exhorts us to grow up and accept aging as it really is, not as some 30-year-old copywriter who is terrified by the idea of turning 40 sees it. I see a lot of advertising directed at older people that I judge as being counterproductive – that is, it will more like repel older consumers than attract them.
Try and imagine life as most 70-year-olds experience it instead of how you would like it to be for you. You likely have at least five chronic conditions and if you are a woman, a good chance of having a parent you must care for and quite possibly a husband who has needs you must attend to.
You are supposed to be retired but an incredible amount of your time is spent taking your aging parent (or parents!) and maybe your spouse to doctor appointments. Perhaps sitting in a doctor’s waiting room one day you pick a magazine and start thumbing through it. Suddenly you come across an ad for a retirement community. It beckons you with some trite headline like, “Fallen Oak Estates – retirement as it should be.” You slam the magazine shut in disgust. “What do ‘they’ know about life in the retirement years.”
If you are in your 30s or even 40s the picture of old age that Jacoby draws probably confirms a bias that you have against old age. But if you’ve read the previous posts on this subject you’ll recall studies I mentioned that revealed people in their 70s reporting a higher incidence of happiness than people in their 30s and 40s did. Is it that people in their 70s tend to be self-delusional? No, it’s more the case that the gap between what they expect from life and what they get from life tends to be narrower than it is for many younger people.
Jacoby’s book is long makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of old age that is very much in keeping with the great gerontologist Robert Butler’s perspective on aging, as Jacoby’s reviewer Viorst reminds us: Butler said, “I'd love nothing more than to wake up one morning and read a newspaper article announcing a cure for Alzheimer's. But we have to plan for aging as it is - not as it might be if a magic potion appears. . . ."
Read Viorst’s review here.
Buy Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age here.