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The Generation Gap

by Zettel 

Posted: 23 June 2004
Word Count: 615

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The Generation Gap

This has become a defunct expression: redolent of Haight Ashbury and portentously pretentious rock music which stretched about two and a half yards of musical imagination into forty miles of bad road, indulgent guitar solos. The word ‘man’ as a kind of new age punctuation mark, drifts into a dazed consciousness here.

A ‘gap’ has to be between something (or things). Well, with pot-smoking, pot-bellied 50 year-old corporate executives drifting into new levels of short lived self awareness in corporate hospitality boxes at Eric Clapton concerts, things are getting a bit blurred. On the other side of the coin, kids now stop being kids when they become consumers with buying power: at about 18 months old.

In the old days the young guys in suits and ties were distinguishable from the old guys in suits and ties by their taste in music, soft drinks or coffee. The young guys yearned 26 hours a day for sex but didn’t know how to get it: while the old guys got it as a kind of reward for long service, but really had no idea what to do with it, least of all how to share the enjoyment of it with their partners. Now, no self-respecting hippie is under 45 and puritanical 20 year-olds back capital punishment with aplomb. “What did you do in the war daddy?” elicits a response in terms of burning draft papers and the American flag, and being chased around Grosvenor Square by ‘fascist’ bobbies.

I guess the generation gap was supposed to be between the ‘old’ and the ‘young’. Well in the best traditions of South American dictatorships, the ‘old’ have been disappeared. Indeed when lying on hospital trolleys or in diminishing numbers of geriatric wards, they have become literally invisible. Oldness is now possessed only by people so ill, demoralised or poor, that everyone else can pretend they don’t exist without threat of reprisal. The old of the ‘older generation’ have become the new young, seeking emotional lebensraum in their children’s youth. Indeed in terms of self-perception, human beings now move from being ‘young’ to nearly dead with no intervening step.

‘Age is just a matter of attitude’. Not if you have arthritis or osteoporosis it isn’t. The inspiring, indomitable Alvin Straight in David Lynch’s superb film, ‘The Straight Story’ is asked by a young guy “what’s the worst thing about being old, Alvin?” With poor sight, rheumy eyes and a weak back requiring the permanent aid of two sticks, Alvin wryly replies “remembering what it was like being young”.

Refusing to define yourself by the chronological fact of your years of life is one thing; re-defining the experience and wisdom of middle and old age in terms of an artificially prolonged youthfulness is another. Thinking deeper and wider; tempering impatient, thoughtless reaction with considered, deliberated action is as valid and useful a contribution to the common weal as snowboarding at 55 and chatting up the youngest-looking granny you can find at salsa classes for the over 60’s.

As parents and grandparents we should stop muscling in on our children’s youth. We should take a pride in those things only we, because of, not in spite of, our age, can do. How can young people respect us if we do not respect ourselves? No point of view or attitude is of value simply because it is old, (nor young for that matter); but neither matured wine nor wisdom can be manufactured overnight either.

Young people will listen to us if we have something relevant and distinctive to say; not if we try to sing our old words to their new tunes. Down with ageism. Long live sageism.



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Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 18:03 on 23 June 2004  Report this post
I read this with such enjoyment! It's challenging and witty. More than once it made me laugh. I especially liked the idea of moving 'from being young to nearly dead with no intervening step.' (I'm doing the best I can myself in that pursuit!) The only reservation I have concerns some of the punctuation. For example, the colon in the first sentence could perhaps be replaced by a comma. And the second sentence should, I feel, have either two commas or none. There are some others but I'm sure a good sub-editor would sort these out.
Welcome to the group, Zettel. More please!

Jim Beard at 18:10 on 23 June 2004  Report this post
Hi Zettel and welcome to the Journalism Group.

Down with ageism indeed. Being of the older generation, and having gone to Eric Clapton concerts though not in hospitality boxes, I trust that I can speak on behalf of my generation. I'm not sure that we define ourselves at all these days, least of all by age. I prefer to think that the majority are simply enjoying their lives having jumped through the earlier hoops of child rearing, mortgage paying and all the other things that were thrown at us in our earlier and middle years. Those who are searching for a long lost youth may not be muscling in on their children's youth but simply trying to relive a part of their life that, in reality was not up to much first time round. In hindsight the swinging sixties were not all they were cracked up to be.

There is a feeling that we have been either let down or just unlucky as we move towards retirement with the promised land of disposable income through company pension schemes proving barren.

I agree entirely with your views on the younger people listening to us if we have something relevenat to say and trust that most of us do.

For those, hopefully in the minorty, who do refuse to grow old in a dignified way your report should be compulsive reading.

Best regards


James Graham at 20:07 on 24 June 2004  Report this post
As someone who was young in the fifties, the pre-rock, prehistoric age of Dean Martin and Rosemary Clooney, I hugely enjoyed this article. It's full of sharp wit and word-play, but there are serious points too. I think a lot of older people nowadays, especially after retirement, feel more free and more alive than when they were teenagers. I don't really know how universal this is, but people I know in my age group (including myself) have this recollection of a youth that was rather 'held down' - by dominating or possessive parents (affected maybe by war, depression, the insecurity of their own youth), and by extension a greater deference to all kinds of authority. So we feel that recapturing our youth isn't quite the best road to a full life now! Looking forward to your next article - and poems?



Account Closed at 12:35 on 26 June 2004  Report this post
Hi Zettel,
This was great fun! It says Tony Blair in jeans and Mick Jagger, Madonna, Sting RETIRE! We seem to have lost the definition of middle aged, passing it upwards till it reaches retirement age.

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