“Aging as Art” – Is it Schadenfreude or just existential sleight-of-hand?

Ed Park, MD #MondayMusings, dr ed park Leave a Comment

For my #MondayMusing I want to comment on a poster I saw in my local library yesterday. It was made by the “Council on Aging” and it is entitled “Aging as Art”

Warning: This post will probably briefly offend you, so I will apologize in advance. It is decidedly NOT meant as hyperbole, facetious irreverence, or a provocation.  I truly do believe that aging is now a choice. Which is why I found this poster so disturbing:


aging as art?


This judged photography contest celebrated photography of older people who were “aging gracefully.”  It made me realize just  how I have crossed to “beyond the looking glass” because I am looking back and I don’t recognize what I see on YOUR side of the mirror.  The idea of aging as art just strikes me as a horrible case of schadenfreude, or the enjoyment of suffering.  Again, that is because I truly believe aging is a choice and can be prevented and reversed.

In their video, they show some beautiful images and present some well-intentioned quotes:

Aging is a case of mind over matter:
if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter

…aging and growing old are not the same thing

…wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been

…it is time to celebrate the dignity diversity & beauty of the aging experience


aging as art

But try telling me that any one of those subjects wouldn’t prefer to look 21 again

if they could keep their possessions, life experiences, and their loved ones could also look and function as 21-year-olds?


Because I no longer believe aging is a healthy or necessary part of the human experience, I can’t abide such efforts as the Orange County Council on Aging.  The fundamental premise of a celebration of aging runs counter to what I believe is my life’s mission and would be tantamount to a celebration of any other horrible malady, such as… syphilis.

Ok. I sense that I just crossed the line of taste, common sense, and probably your deeply-help beliefs about everything.  But imagine if we were in possession of a cure for syphilis (which we are) and yet I created charities and photo contests to celebrate the dignity, diversity & beauty of advanced syphilis. 

I know you probably feel a sort of pity, disgust, and loathing for me making that comparison but I truly believe that the kind of aging that most people are embracing is like syphilis: it is a preventable condition, devastating and global, and that rather than being accomplished gracefully, the loss of all of one’s health and beauty is by its very nature, the ultimate disgrace.

Of course, this view only makes sense if you consider aging to be a preventable and curable condition; that is why I confess that I am Alice looking back from Wonderland on this one  (btw: a looking glass is just an old term for mirror).

Since your already resent me, I will leave you with some images of syphilis. If I were to glibly proclaim “if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter” or “lesions are only meant to indicate where pleasure has been” you would think I was insane, deranged, or a downright monster.  Since the majority of people accept their helplessness in the face of stem cell telomere erosion and its many faces (aka aging), I will persist in a very small minority of people who consider the “Art of Aging” analogous to the “Art of Syphilis”


Postscript: I again apologize for offending anyone but as an alternative to this institutionalized “learned helplessness”, I think we should be enjoying and celebrating health in all ages, not just health relative to a rigid and false concept of deterioration,

For example, Jim Morris, the 78 YO Vegan bodybuilder, isn’t just beautiful and healthy because we expect 78 to look differently; he is simply those things as a result of staying in balance and flowing with a healthy set of beliefs and actions:

Jim Morris


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