Two blows against ageism

Ideas

Two blows against ageism

Joe Biden and the Covid-19 pandemic have revealed the public’s esteem for the old

Janan Ganesh

“No place for sissies,” was Bette Davis’s terse dispatch from that mysterious land: old age. Few popular artists have dwelt as much on what it is to be a woman of years, in the workplace, in social life and, with the delicacy of Code-era Hollywood, in bed. All About Eve was just one of her turns as someone whose desire does not wane even as the opportunities to act on it do.

Her elemental presence aside, the Davis canon rewards viewing now because it corrects our idea of ageism as something recent and tech-driven. What comes across, if anything, is the sadistic earliness of a person’s social ostracism back then. If people were expected to bow out of the good life at 40, that works out at something like 65 in new money. Mores have more than kept up with the elongation of lifespans.

Knowing how well the modern world has suited me in my 20s and 30s, I have tended to go along with the notion of it as vindictively ageist. The challenge is to reconcile that slander with the two most important events of the past year. Each tested the public’s disposition towards the old. Each has revealed a generosity that verges on deference...

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