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Aging Disgracefully September 3, 2009

Posted by markswill in Media.

Ageism is a bit of a cause du jour right now, so I might as well latch onto it before the next media fad hits (which if the heaving shelves of my local newsagent are owt to go by will, I suspect, be Katie Price’s rape claims). What with my near neighbour (but sadly barely even an acquaintance) Arlene Phillips’ sacking from some t.v. dance-a-thon and recent radio moaning from old hoofers like Donald Trelford and Prime Minister-in-Waiting J. Lumley, it’s blindingly clear that those of us past 55 have had it as far as meaningful careers are concerned unless, of course, we’d achieved wealth, success and/or cast-iron reps for both earlier on in life.

This may sound like the bitter tears of Petra Von Kant, but they aren’t. I have in the last year realised, as perhaps I should’ve done earlier, that ageism is something not worth fighting if you want to stay even slightly sane. After all, the emphasis on youth in every area of life these days is not something a bitchy old hack is likely to change, or even a coven of ‘em (which is surely the appropriate collective noun). But that admitted, there are some odd paradoxes which I feel antsy enough to carp about.

There are, after all, a few captains of industry in prime middle age  – even in the youth-fixated media – and yet they make little effort to recruit or even promote older staff on the basis of merit or experience for reasons I cannot quite fathom. I did actually ask a successful publisher friend who’d just boasted that he had all these “brilliant young turks” working for him why this was, and he replied that we (we’re exactly the same age) lacked the sharp thinking and the energy that they did. And yet a few years later in anticipation of a declining print media market (there’s sharp thinking for you), I was happily working 16 hour days on a potential launch aimed precisely at the older audience who were still buying newspapers and magazines, a launch that never happened largely because the breed of young turks he referred to just didn’t get it and so wouldn’t get behind it.

A little later I found myself doing some consultancy for a company who had hitherto, quite literally, employed two people to do the two jobs I was now temporarily engaged on. And because of the breadth of my experience, it was a relative breeze. So in both cases, the benefit of hiring someone older were obvious, but of no perceived lasting benefit. For evidence of that you have to join B&Q’s sales staff or possibly set-up your own company aimed at selling classic vehicles, musical instruments, boats or bits for ‘em… which I’d do in a trice if I had the capital or, ahem, the experience.

It’s also fascinating how most of the content, if not the editing of the media supported by older readers is consigned to those of a younger generation. Last year I myself was replaced as columnist for a classic car mag (at Christmas, naturally) by someone a good 30 years younger who couldn’t possibly know that much about the crocks he was writing about because he hadn’t been around back in the day (and has subsequently proved as much). Same goes for all the photogenic young Jemimas and Jeremies whose cute facials grace the columns they scribble for the nationals on topics clearly designed to appeal to the likes of, well, me. 

I guess there’s some serious strategic thinking here – but then again perhaps not – along the lines of trying to encourage younger readers to buy newspapers, magazines, watch telly and so forth. Conversely, it’s excruciatingly embarrassing to read or watch some old person trying to ‘get down with the kids’, as it were, when they express inappropriate and plainly fake enthusiasms for stuff they don’t understand… or actively hate. (But then that’s presumably why Elbow and Radiohead are successful). However the reverse is also true and the sooner media moguls and, indeed, the advertising industry, recognise this and tailor their products accordingly, the better for all concerned.

My thinking on this was originally informed by the belief that after a decade or two’s dalliance with the ‘new’ digital media, younger readers would gravitate towards the more tactile, tangible and, dare I say it, intellectually rewarding attributes of the older, inkier media that my generation grew up with and still prize. But now I think that’s a vain hope and in the long run – say 20 or 30 years – print media will be all but dead. The signs are surely there: browsing in Waterstones the other day I was bombarded by posters for Sony’s digital (e)Reader (wonder how their staff feel about being drip-fed their P45s?), and the young turks who work in the online departments of all the publishers who give stuff away for free online are hardly likely to champion the original sources of their content (even though they may get a rude awakening when it’s no longer there… and they’re still to young to apply for now over-subscribed positions at B&Q).

By which time I expect and even rather hope I’ll be dead, my only regret as I sit here listening to my latest Spotify playlist and multi-tasking my Facebook update simultaneously with my Plaxo profile (I’m just so fucking hip, see) being that I didn’t re-train as a hedge-fund manager in my 30s… In which case I might now be enjoying a massive advance for my memoir of how I helped engineer the crash of 2008 which Amazon and Waterstones will be shortly be downloading onto a zillion e-Books.

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