In America, nobody pays much attention to the elderly. Pharmaceutical companies and surgeons love them, they are a gazillion dollar industry when they start to fail, but otherwise have little buying power to interest the dons of the Corporate Nation. One of the diseases of aging that I fear is Old Fartism, little discussed, a chronic, debilitating disease for which there are no pills, joint replacements, diapers or nursing homes.
Old Fartism is a grumpy disease, a mental disease, mostly, which seems to afflict people from middle-age on. It’s symptoms are gradual, I would describe them as a hardening of the cultural and social arteries. It begins when people start saying “when I was a kid,” or any sentence beginning with “kids today…” The end of that sentence never seems to be that kids today are smarter and more creative than kids have ever been.
Old Fartism advances the notion that things were always better “in the old days…” Without TV, computers, cell-hones (Old Farts HATE texting, it rocks them to the core.) The fabled old days were always simpler, better, safer and more satisfying than the new days or the current days. But who raised the children who are inventing the new days? Did they come out of the clouds?
One of Old Fartism’s symptoms is cultural amnesia, in which the Old Days hover like a sort of Emerald City, an Oz. It filters out the old days, to eradicate disease, the suffocating lives of many women, the bloodiest wars in human history, polio, measles and once fatal diseases like appendicitis and flu. Old Fartism is intensely nostalgic, if that’s the right word. In the old days, wise and firm parents brooked no nonsense (there are no bullies in those old days, no draft, no cultural isolation for black or gay people or creative people, no Internet or gaming or blogs) and their kids all grew up to be disciplined and wise? Really, their old days were different from mine. I was holed up in a musty bedroom in Providence with a transistor radio my father took away from me and smashed because he suspected it was playing Rock N’ Roll. The angry old men were just as angry then, but nobody seemed to challenge them much.
Old Fartism is not crazy about change. They love paper books (me too) and remember when phone companies came to your house and fixed things and politicians tried to work things out. They remember nice doctors, too, who actually took time to talk to you. It isn’t that Old Farts are always wrong – they are often right – but Old Fartism isn’t subtle about mixing the good and the bad of the past. Life tends to be black-and-white, life not about changing but about standing still.
Old Fartism hardens the arteries in the way medical technology companies have not figured out how to market. Perhaps they will and people can get attitude replacements (think of the lawsuits down the road.) I think a lot about the mindset of aging, and I kind of like where I am. I am being careful about Old Fartism. At lunch the other day I started bitching about how different publishing used to be. I stopped and started planning my Podcast.