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Hipster culture is having a senior moment

Betty White, Samuel Halpern, 'Breakfast at Sulimay's,' NJ Lady — what's old is cool.

May 09, 2010|By Tricia Romano, Special to the Los Angeles Times

"In the most basic sense, it's, 'Kids say the darndest things,' except that it's not kids," said Halpern. "You love somebody who says exactly what they think."

Noxon sees the online fascination with the elderly as double-edged, however. "It's not like we're taking their advice. We laugh at their advice," he said. "That's what I find a little bit condescending and snarky: Look how clueless and yet how also true it is. It's that ironic hipster pose we're all so accustomed to."

That hipster attitude is apparent in the website, designed to offer status updates on the status of the old actor's mortality. Its minimal design features a photo of the 89-year-old actor and the words " Abe Vigoda is Alive" — the word "alive" apparently ready to be swapped for "dead" at any moment. (Vigoda is such an elderly icon that an L.A.-based indie band actually uses his name as a moniker.) A more bizarre salute to an icon of bygone days is, featuring deceased "Golden Girl" Bea Arthur in bizarre photo collages with, yep, mountains and pizza.

Even Betty White's celebrated Super Bowl Snickers ad, which features a football team berating a teammate for playing like "Betty White" (i.e. an old, weak woman) is rooted in a bit of mean-spirited humor.

Justin Halpern insists that Betty White is in on the joke — "part of the reason it's enjoyable is that you know that they get it too." But Noxon likens the treatment of Betty White, Bea Arthur and other seniors to that of "stuffed animals," turning our fear of aging into a cutesy joke.

In many of these recent depictions, though, there's also some reassurance that one can age not just gracefully but fabulously. After all, these olds are hip to the newest music ("Sulimay's"), they dress much like we do (Flowers), and they exhibit endless youthful energy (White).

"I get e-mails, 30 a day from girls who are 12 to 15 who are like, 'I live in the Midwest, I don't see this here, so now I'm not afraid to be old,' " said Ari Cohen, a 28-year-old blogger behind Advanced Style, an earnest fashion blog chronicling the stylish senior citizens of New York City.

Indeed, Cohen started his blog because he noticed fashion connections between hipsters and the elderly. "Kids are dressing in vintage clothing — you have to realize where your influences come from. You see that lady on Madison Avenue doing it way better than the 22-year-old," said Cohen.

The recent premiere of "Sunset Daze" — a reality show on the WE network set in a retirement home where sixtysomethings go wild — coupled with White's appearance on "SNL" hints that mainstream Americans might be ready to embrace the elderly as more than just an Internet meme.

The Fountain of Youth may not exist in the physical world, but on the Internet everyone can be forever young. As Noxon said, "It's a way of reassuring us that as we get older, we are not gonna be dour and out of touch."

At her red carpet debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year, Ruth Flowers said she was the belle of the ball, with autograph and photograph seekers galore. "They say, 'I want to be like you.' And I say, 'No, you want to be like yourself,' " she said. "But you know, if I can show them something, if they like the crazy things I do, that's all for the good."

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