Hip Middle Age…or middle aged hips?

I never think I’m going to get sucked in by the Olympics, and yet I invariably am. So my television viewing shot up above any kind of average scale for me since the night all those scary Chinese drummers opened the games a couple of weeks ago. Which is why my thoughts about culture and Portland have been a bit…scarce. Thank god the games are ending tonight!

The media are terrific at riling up interest; I mean that sincerely. They excel at finding the “personal” stories that will get me hooked into wanting to watch the athletes’ efforts, and into cheering them on as if I actually had an investment, which I guess I do from watching the personal interest stories.

But the most startling moment for me in these personal stories was the first time I saw Dara Torres interviewed, pre-games. I felt my eyes widen and the hairs on the back of my neck tingle – she called herself “middle aged!” Right there on TV. For the entire world to note. And Dara Torres is 41.

Torres is the perfect heroine for the time. We have a culture where the most significant population bump is still those boomers; okay, I have to say “we boomers,” because by most measures of that generation I’m part of it, slipping in across the tail end. And I’m pretty sure most of us don’t yet comfortably call ourselves “middle aged.” But there she was, on international television, with an impeccable physique and a recent winning record, referring to herself as “middle aged.” AND she kept doing it, every time she was interviewed in Beijing.

She talks a lot about not letting age impact your dreams. Commentator after commentator marveled at how she not only kept up but generally beat out competitors “young enough to be her daughters.” I think they sounded not only amazed, but also reassured and hopeful—her triumph over age meant they could do it, too.

At least, that’s what our generation likes to believe. That’s why the lines between generations are ever more blurred, at least in the eyes of those crossing those lines.

Technically, Dara Torres is NOT a baby boomer. She was born in 1967, so even the laxest generational analyst wouldn’t include her. But we’re adopting her, damn it! She’s an honorary baby boomer, brave enough to say “middle aged” and be proud of it! Or maybe it doesn’t actually take bravery; it’s only a technicality, after all…


shobiz said...

This will probably not go over well, but... gosh, I'm a Gen X'er, and I sort of thought WE were the middle-aged ones now. I mean... I'm 37, which is halfway to 74, just two years shy of an American white male's life expectancy as of June 2008. So, what IS middle age, exactly? (Ducking, expecting pies and/or nastier projectiles will be hurtling my way after this comment.)

cynseattle said...

Hmmmm... maybe the Dara Torres generation embraces the concept in a way that boomers just haven't! I, of course, expect to live to 100, so I've just hit "middle age" this year...

consider the pie flung into your face...mmmm...delicious whipped cream

shobiz said...

I think I'd like to adopt your attitude. Fifty is the new thirty! Right on.

Mead said...

Oh, totally. My partner and I were discussing this just today. We decided that 60 now counts as late middle age -- instead of 60 sounding unthinkably hoary, as I thought when I was 20. I think this is the current breakdown:

11-30: adolescence

31-40: young adulthood

41 = onset of middle age

41-64: middle age

65+ = honored citizendom.

But then again if I'm still working at 67 because I can't afford to retire, do I still count as a senior?

I don't think you can be considered offically elderly until you decide you REFUSE to keep up technological innovation anymore.

culturejock said...

To follow up on Cyn's comment, even as a young child I always divided "life" into even quarters: 1-25, 26-50, 51-75 and 76-100. This thinking, however naive, probably has something to do with the fact that my great grandmother lived to be 102, and I got to know her well, and I thought that maybe I too could live to be that age. In some ways, "middle age" ultimately depends on how long you live, and so it is different for everyone and the concept cannot be reckoned until your death. But as a general concept, I'm guessing that I might start to feel middle aged at 50.

MightyToyCannon said...

I'm going to go with Mead's range of 41-64, since that puts me not quite at the middle of middle age. Another approach is to peg the definition of "middle age" to an ever-advancing benchmark. For a good portion of my life, I've thought of my parents as "middle aged" -- whether they were young parents in their thirties or less-young grandparents in their late-50s. Now that they are octogenerians, I suppose it's a stretch to call them middle-aged, but isn't age more a question of attitude than anything?