The woman stared at us, amazed. A group of AARP The Magazine editors had gathered before Bruce Springsteen's performance at Giants Stadium in New Jersey on October 3, wearing T-shirts bearing our September/October 2009 cover of the Boss. "Why," she asked, "would you wear an AARP T-shirt to a Springsteen concert?"
I explained that we were editors of the world's largest-circulation magazine, that it's for folks over 50, and that Bruce himself is 60. She smiled sweetly and let it rip: "But why would you want people to know you're old ?"
Understandable, perhaps, from a naive young kid, right? Maybe—except the woman was in her 60s.
I resisted the urge to stick my head out the window of the stadium lounge and yell, "I'm as old as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" (If you don't get the reference, pull up the movie Network on YouTube.) But it got me thinking. Why is age the last acceptable bias in this country? A colleague of mine calls it "chronological racism."
Just listen to the late-night comics. Scarcely an evening goes by that David Letterman—chronologically advanced himself, at 62—doesn't mock a certain 73-year-old politician with lines such as "During the presidential campaign, Sarah [Palin] had to cut up John McCain's meat for him." Recently Jimmy Fallon ( granted, a youngster, at 35) announced that the family of a 70-year-old man who had run his 163rd marathon would celebrate by "taking him out to a five-star emergency room." Frail as I must be at 54, this didn't split my ribs.
Nowhere is the refusal to accept the inevitability of aging more acute than in Hollywood. I'll let you all in on a not-so-shocking secret: more than one celebrity we've invited to appear on our cover over the years has politely declined with the same excuse: "I'm not ready." Translation: "If the movie studios discover I'm 50, I might never land a lead role again."
We choose cover celebrities for two reasons—because they're hot and because they're the personalities you've told us you care most about. Like current cover boy and Inspire Award winner Clint Eastwood, who at 79 is still making blockbuster movies year after year. Of all the famous people we've tested in reader-interest surveys over the past five years, Eastwood scores number one—far ahead of actors, actresses, politicians, musicians, and athletes many years his junior. Maybe because he doesn't care who knows he's "old."
Which brings me back to Bruce Springsteen, who announced to the massive crowd at two of his New Jersey concerts: "I used to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, but now I'm on the cover of AARP The Magazine!"
Okay, I feel better. But I'm not going to let this one drop. I went to Springsteen's concert to listen to music, and I left singing a new tune. Let's hope the chorus spreads.
Nancy Perry Graham
Editor, AARP The Magazine
601 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20049