Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Age of Denial : Memo to All Boomers: How Is It That You've Transformed the Rite of Turning 50 Into a Celebration of Your So-Called Youth?

February 09, 1996|DENNIS ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So you're turning 50.

Hahaha.

Er, take that back. Maybe the joke's on us.

You would think all those yuppie-haters out there would be laughing at the prospect of Dockers-wearing baby boomers going Grecian, power walking instead of jogging, taking Depends breaks in between puffs of their Arturo Fuentes.

But oh, no. Just the opposite.

Just as in the past, you have managed to turn a traditional passage of doom into a celebration of your youth and culture--yet another opportunity to party in the pages of the media that you so clamorously control. Oldstock?

The Beatles are No. 1 (again--yawn). Everybody wants to sell you a miracle drug. Hollywood chronicles your every breath (from "The Graduate" to "Forrest Gump").

And one thing's for sure: As the 76 million of you begin to hit 50 at the rate of one every 7 1/2 seconds this year, you will change the concept of aging as much as aging will change you. You are, after all, so vain.

What used to be old will be young--a feat only you boomers could accomplish. From a new vocabulary (can you imagine calling Cher a senior?) to age-sensitive marketing (Act Young. Drink Pepsi!) to new products (girdles for a new generation), the world will bend over backward to make you feel like lads and lassies (though you will go through more life changes than an Oliver Stone plot).

"Fifty is still an age where you can still have one foot in youth," insists 43-year-old Michael Lafavore, editor of Men's Health magazine.

That's half true. America's life expectancy has reached new heights, 75.6 years, and is climbing. But the other half involves spin control. Even at 50, you don't want to be called middle-aged, Mr. or elder (not to mention politically correct terms like "gravity challenged"). That would be rude. You would much rather be called dude.

"When I teach," USC marketing professor Michael Kamins, 42, reveals, "I hate it when they call me Dr. Kamins. I prefer they call me Mike."

Keen-eyed marketers have learned your lesson, Mike. Not only are they expanding their traditional target audience (18 to 49) to include the 50-plus crowd, they've even invented a new name for middle age. They call it "mid-youth," Mister.

"No one here talks about middle-aged people," says Alison Kaar, spokeswoman for LensCrafters. "We call them emerging presbyopes." "Presbyopes" refers to the farsighted, as far as we can see.

"The story in marketing is not selling to how old people are," Kamins says, "but the age people think they are."

And boomers measure themselves as much as 15 years younger than their chronological age, experts say. Or as Gail Sheehy put it in "The New Passages," (Random House, 1995) her paean to incessant self-improvement, "Fifty is now what 40 used to be."

Mercedes-Benz is hip to that. In a twist of advertising irony, the German car company is invoking a famous line from '60s singer Janis Joplin: "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz." Redkin hair, skin and body products have a new motto: "To Preserve and Protect." And Revlon is using a beautiful Melanie Griffith, 37, to promote "Age Defying Makeup."

Then there's the Circuit City commercial that portrays a suited yuppie out-blasting a grunge rocker in a park-bench boom-box battle. (As if.) Or the Caffeine Free Diet Coke commercial that has an older woman boxing a younger man and winning. A Coca-Cola marketing spokesman is proud to say, "It's the first ad campaign in the soft-drink industry dedicated to the 40-plus market. No caffeine. No sugar. No limits."

Will you ever age?

"What we can look forward to is people who not too long ago were staring at lava lamps, smoking dope and listening to Iron Butterfly--they're basically going to be in diapers," says Bob Garfield, editor at large for Advertising Age magazine.

"How are advertisers going to reach those people? I don't think its going to be pretty. I can actually envision Jimi Hendrix being invoked to sell Arthritis Pain Formula. It's going to be a laugh riot."

Even girdles and butt-pads, the untouchable domain of grannies, are being marketed as Slenderizing Manshape Undergarments, Super Shaper Briefs and Bottoms Up Corsets.

(If these don't work, sagging body parts will no doubt be the next big thing. You'll call it skin relaxation--and twentysomethings will be stretching their chins and cheeks just so they can fit in.)

Plastic surgery is at an all-time high among boomer men, according to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. Dr. Randal Haworth, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, estimates that one out of four of his patients is male--and most of those are boomers.

"What's so ironic," says the 34-year-old, "is that these are the same people who espoused protest and 30 years later are succumbing to modern pressure, the antithesis of what the '60s stood for."

Punk.

But he's right. Pectoral and penile implants are in. Breasts are back. And everybody wants a nip-and-tuck (though they don't call them face lifts anymore, of course: "facial rejuvenation" is the proper term).

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|