October 19, 1998
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: There isn't a day without a reminder, some panacea, some antidote towards aging, being offered up for those of us dancing around the mid-life line - if we'll only take this, try that, eat this, don't eat that, we can stem the tide of time. The promises were being made in books and magazines, a legitimate doctor's and illegitimate quacks, all trying to entice us aging baby boomers into swilling from the expensive fountain of youth. If only we use this piece of exercise equipment, our flesh will stay firm and youthful. If we just take this elixir or herb or supplement, Ginkgo or St. John's Wart or homeopathic estrogen, we won't lose any mental ground. Our brain cells will zip zap as in the days of yore. We'll feel better than we have in years. Even the big drug companies are plowing down with increasingly lucrative road. We can, of course, succumb to the night and have our faces lifted, our breasts uplifted, our bodies restored to the golden days of yesterday. We can even slip a little botox, a strain of botulism, to our foreheads, paralyze our frowns, the grimace never more. It's men too, not just women, who are increasingly unveiling themselves of cosmetic surgery, not to mention hair transplants, not to mention Viagra.
COMEDIAN: They're going to advertise Viagra on TV. You thought those Afron commercials where the guy turned into a big nose were annoying -
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Has any pill ever hit with more promise, more hoopla, developed to answer a legitimate medical need, Viagra clearly hit a mark and insecurity, a hope, a fear, deep within the aging male psyche, the female psyche too for that matter, as women themselves started trying it. Nobody wants to be left behind in the great American youth restoring sweepstakes. Why do I find it all so hopeful and yet all so sad and slightly unseemly at the same time? Is this really the way we want to go, all trussed up and bucked up and full of recharged appetites? Aren't we in danger of making fools of ourselves? I guess we had it coming. It is, after all, in our bones, our generational genes. We were the youth culture - with our music and flowers and drugs and spilly passions, we flaunted ourselves back when at the older generation in general and our parents in particular, sneering when they let their hair grow, and donned miniskirts and bell bottoms, they seemed so pathetically groovy.
Now here we are, 30 odd years later, doing our parents' dance in spades, availing ourselves of every trick to turn back the clock. We will not go gently into that good night, not for a minute, and the marketeers of America have our number big time. Part of me says, okay, we are going to live longer apparently, so we might as well stay as healthy as possible for the long haul. But the franticness, the fear the denial that underlies this obsessive search, that's what's so off-putting. Do we really want to erase our faces -- not just of the hard won wrinkles but of the marks of laughter or sorrow? Was there a face more stunning, more grumpily luminous than that of Georgia O'Keefe, and what about the French actors Jeanne Morro, so provocative in their unlifted, late in life beauty, or the beautifully beat up faces of artists like Wyatt or DeKoening, or the agingly impish face of lioness Pauling? Are these not the faces of wisdom, of lives lived in pursuit of something bigger? To smooth them would be to erase time itself, to make a mockery of it. We are putting ourselves out of sync with our own narratives, or trying, insisting that there are no seasons to a life. And I'm not sure that ultimately that's going to make us wiser, not to mention happier. I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.