Years ago during a night shift job I got hooked on the old Comedy Roast commercials – not the actual roasts, which cost money to order, but the commercials featuring Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, and the old comedy guard of the 60s and 70s. You’ve probably seen them: half hour commercials featuring the Rat Pack and an aging Lucille Ball and that schticky woman who hit people with her purse, all on a dais with Carson and Martin and Rickles and Rich Little and even Truman Capote. There was something official about them – the forty-somethings who once ran the world of entertainment, all smoking and drinking and made up to look younger on camera, those comedians and entertainers born out of the earlier golden age of entertainment, which had been the original age of television, right after people stopped buying radios.
Now that I’m thirty-five, I’m realizing that my people now run the world – that is to say, the world of entertainment and education is run by twenty-five to forty-year olds, but specifically thirty-five and up category. The world of entertainment and media is run by the Class of 1992 to 2002 – and I’m inbetween as the Class of 1997, so there’s a range to fill, like Mark Zuckerberg being five years my junior and Kayne West a year my senior; the cast of SNL which I’ve followed every Saturday night since I was thirteen now runs every movie made it seems, including all the movies I rent for my kids; music belongs to the young, but the judges on the Voice and those other judge shows are in their early forties, if not closer to thirty-five. Justin Timberlake, Brittany Spears, and Usher are all slightly my youngers – so my people run late night and the radio too, which is evidenced by a thirty-nine year old Jimmy Fallon having a forty-five year old Will Smith and a fiftysomethings U2 on his first show.
Whoever the new Frank Sinatra is – Jay-Z? – I’m the plebian radio listener who is stuck inside of a time period where he is the Boss, and I’ll be stuck with that until, in the elderly care system when I’m 91, I’ll still be reciting every word of “Hard Knock Life.” I think of my grandmother’s love for Johnny Mathis, and my parents’ generation love for the 60s acts, and the entertaining class that I’ve stuck with since the 90s – we are all servants of the same maxim: the world is always run by twenty-five to forty-somethings, whether it’s the book you’re reading or show you’re watching. Go ahead, look – then google the age. You’ll see. More often than not, you’re reading something written by someone more successful and younger than you. It’s okay.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country,” and unfortunately, and logically, that’s what is happening now. Whoever owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that produces that show you love, is well aware of the class of 1992, ’97, and ’02. It’s our time! Those teenagers are on our tail, and soon we’ll be too old, fat, and bald to have a say. But until then, damn it, we run this show.
Just think, Dr. King was in his thirties when he helped shape the world; Thomas Jefferson was thirty-three in 1776; Hemingway, Whitman, Fitzgerald, Bradbury, Vonnegut, Updike, Baldwin, Dave Eggers, you get the idea: all of them did their best or first works roughly in this magical age. Christian Bale’s Batman was roughly twenty-five but played by a thirty-something (he’s now forty) and the new new new new Batman, Ben Affleck, is forty-two. And I’m still contemplating my theatre degree.
Nowadays the Comedy Central Roasts are hosted by my people – early forty-somethings or late twenty-somethings trying to make it on the B list, usually roasting legends who beat the age curve. And in twenty five years, will we be watching outdated celebrities on late night television infomercials? We just might.
In fact, most dramatic or comedic hit movies out there are about “a 36 year old guy trying to find his way” whether it’s Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling, or Bradley Cooper, who are all, well – my age. At some point my age became the safe place to launch a thousand film tropes and arcs from. Only all of them are hapless, single, childless guys still with their own hair and much too physically fit. Hollywood, make that money off of my people!
So, well…Shit. I have to get to work. I won’t be young forever, but at least my students think I look young – especially when I shave my beard off. “Twenty-eight,” they say. Or twenty-four. A guess a decade doesn’t matter in the eye of the mind of the beholder.
I am reminded of Whitman’s lines in Leaves of Grass, “now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin” and I’m a bit comforted. Once on the dais, with good make-up, we can look eternal. Even if we’re only thirty-five.