Wednesday, June 5, 2019

How ill white hairs become a fool.

The other day I did something unusual.

I had lunch away from my desk.

With a friend.

Even more unusual, a friend my age.

I know I’m not the only one in the entire agency who’s been working since the early 80s. There are probably five or a dozen other people my age. But it’s easy when you are so much older than everyone else to feel isolated, estranged and more than a little alienated.

Mostly, no one knows what you’re talking about.

That can wear on you.

Like Moses in Exodus, you might feel like you’re a stranger in a strange land.

When I had lunch with my friend, even though we had never met in person before, there was no estrangement. There was a connection.

There was no commonality of experience between us, or even culture—I’m a New Yorker, he’s from England and lives in Paris. But there was something there.

Not too long ago I was harangued, as we are so often harangued, by an HR email from the holding company. There’s an industry now that advertising holding companies buy into. It’s the Compliance Industry. 

It’s an industry supported by the legal-industrial complex and operates on the assumption that you are guilty of harassment until you are proven innocent. (You can only be proven innocent if you take an hour out of your day to watch a crudely produced video written at a third-grade level. In fact, you're penalized if you go through it too quickly. You can't harass people--except for being able too read fast.)

I watched the video—cringed through it, to be precise. It had the subtlety and nuance of a propaganda film produced by Der Stürmer.

There was the requisite talk in the “harassment video” about ageism. But not a single person in the video was north of 40. In the picture below, the woman on the left in this photo (reading, of all things, a newspaper) suffers because her friend implies she's old and tired. 

I should look so good.

Here are two more pictures purportedly showing diversity. You’ll notice no one is overweight or over forty.

But we’re inclusive, right?

And we have plastic plants.

There’s a lot of talk in the agency world these days about ageism. Frankly, I don’t see a lot really happening beyond talk.

I’ve yet to see an effort made to understand how difficult it is to work with people who share none of your cultural references, who 90% of the time don’t really know what you’re talking about or care. I’ve yet to feel a scintilla of empathy for people like me who have no age peers around. Simply because “you are the only one,” you’re ostracized.  After all, you are the only one.

On Sunday night I finished up Robert Gottlieb’s memoir, “Avid Reader.” Gottlieb has had an almost 65-year career as an editor of some of this century’s and last’s most-notable books. He was editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, editor-in-chief and president of Alfred A. Knopf and he took over for the legendary Wallace Shawn as editor of “The New Yorker.”

Toward the end of Gottlieb’s book, he writes:

…naturally as I get older and older and the students get younger and younger, my frame of reference rings fewer bells—most of yesterday’s admired and successful books or plays or movies mean nothing to today’s twenty-year-olds; names central to me and my coevals are simply unknown to later generations. It’s all in the nature of things: Just about everyone…eventually goes over the cultural cliff…Time marches on. The torch passes. You’re young, you’re old. Accept it…Yes, it’s sad to be out of touch with the moment, but it’s sadder to be having to prove to yourself and the world that you’re hip to the latest zeitgeist…

I’ve been told the average age in an agency today is 31. I am very nearly twice that number. And it’s not easy.

Mostly it’s not easy because you know you can add more to the agency (not more work alone, rather, more value) and nobody really wants you to, because, well, you’re too old. If if they want you to, they don't want to reward or pay you for it, because you're old and you're supposed to feel lucky that you're not out on your ass. They're doing you a favor, dontcha see?

Maybe I'm way too sensitive. I probably am.

But one of my favorite lines from Shakespeare, from Henry IV, Part Two is: "How ill white hairs become a fool..." But Shakespeare was only 33 when he wrote those lines, and he might not have been able to see things from an older point of view.

Like this (sorry, Will) "How ill white hairs are treated today."

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