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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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1. WTK - September 3, 2009

Well, ya see, Big Bopper, nobody wants yesterday’s paper. No one wants a President who’s not on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. If the content of the content isn’t as important as the intent of the content, then who needs experience and perspective? Just let it fly and fling it, steal someone else’s sandwich and eat it, just save the leftovers in cling wrap, and pawn it as an original. Plagiarism WAS a dirty word but now it IS the content, dutifully passed along the brigade line. The victim of this immediacy and parrotting is investigative journalism. Remember when journalists created the content and not just ‘reported’ the content? Nonetheless, I find this all amusing and enjoy feeling the wind change direction. What would Gutenberg think?

2. markswill - September 3, 2009

Lucky you’ve still got a proud thatch of luxuriant locks to be ruffled by the changing wind, but some of us haven’t got any of that, much less gainful employment from the comfort of which we can laugh at the tornados. (5 points if you get the obscure musical reference).

Otherwise, and as ever of course, your comments are brutally pertinent

Tom Stewart - September 7, 2009

1960s instrumental beat combo The Tornados released an EP in ’62 which contained the track Ridin’ The Wind.
5 points?

markswill - September 7, 2009

Well I’d give you five (remember that?) but can’t for the life of me figure out the relevance. Mind you and rather spookily, I just saw ‘Telstar’, the biopic of Joe Meek who produced the EP of which to speak. Good film, too.

3. WTK - September 3, 2009

I think that was the Pantywaists’ single, “Wind In My Gonads”, or a quote from the ancient poet Testicles. Do I get my 5 points?

4. OldHack - September 4, 2009

The Jeremys and Jemimas – good-looking or otherwise piss me off too.
From a fellow dinosaur.

5. Paul N. Blezard - September 4, 2009

Mark, 50 is the new 30; 60 is the new 40. Have you thought about penning a column for Saga magazine?!

Alex Ramsay - September 4, 2009

“50 is the new 30; 60 is the new 40” – yes, but 70 is always 70

6. Pete - September 4, 2009

I rather like the format of the Sony eBook readers. The “page” has a paper-like look and is very comfortable on the eye, and the idea of packing it invisibly with weighty tomes is quite appealing. One thing about the actual ebooks – despite the fact that there are no print or significant warehousing costs they tend to stay at full as-printed price and you never see them featured as 3 for 2. There’s money in them thar files… Fair point about the Waterstones staff though.

7. John Leaver - September 4, 2009

You’re right about how older people’s talent is often wasted. Two things affect this – managers won’t admit this but they often feel intimidated by more experienced staff, and younger employees are cheaper

8. Helga - September 5, 2009

What the hell is a “Plaxo” profile?

9. markswill - September 5, 2009

What indeed? Plaxo is some kind of business-inclined social network scam, sorry, scheme which informed me that so-and-so had listed me as one of their ‘friends’. So far, so Farcebook (which I also have deep reservations about), but then I keep getting e-mails telling me that people “I know” (but don’t) have joined Plaxo and that their birthday’s coming up soon or that they just been promoted to assistant vice-executive widget sourcing of a company I’ve never heard of. My attempts to get to the bottom of who or what’s behind Plaxo have proved fruitless, so I’ve decided to have a bit of fun with it by making the most preposterous claims about my own glittering success and am waiting for the first begging letter from one of my so-called “friends”.

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