You've probably seen it on t-shirts. Or read about it in those goofy magazine articles written by people who count on having an intellectually uncritical audience. "Sixty is the new thirty," some read. Others say it's the new forty.
Of course, the person on the November 2003 cover of AARP magazine that proclaimed "sixty is the new thirty" is former super model Lauren Hutton. I would think AARP would realize that their audience is too old to put up with such patent nonsense, but maybe I'm wrong.
Now, as if that all wasn't silly enough, it's been suggested that eighty is the new forty.
"Maybe to some extent 80 is the new 40," newly minted octegenarian Hugh Hefner is quoted as saying on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
So what now? Do we alter the famous 1960s dictum to "Never trust anyone over 60?"
As if to show just how absurd this all can get, one sociological publication last year ran a headline asking, "Is Thirty the New Sixty?" The subhead read, "Dating, Age and Gender in a Postmodern, Consumer Society."
As venerable Chicago Sun-Times social observer Zay N. Smith, a.k.a. "Q.T." likes to say, "Stop it. Stop it now!"
Unfortunately, this nonsense is just the latest instance of millions of people swallowing such nonsense simply because it was set in type on paper. On at least three previous instances in the past forty years, utterly oatmeal-brained ideas have taken hold of the American imagination.
"History is over," Francis Fukuyama declared in 1992 in the wake of the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union. Everything else, he said, is aftermath. Damn, Frank, there's gonna be some bodaciously long foot notes when they finally send that history book to press. Heard of September 11? The Iraq War? The Bush impeachment? (Sorryâ€"got carried away there.)
No. All that happened was that the cold war ended, Frank. Lifeâ€"and deathâ€"still goes on as it always has and always will. At least until history actually ends, at which point I doubt anyone will be sitting down at a word processor to write about it.
Then there was everyone's favorite ubermensch, Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously proclaimed, "God is dead." Decades later on April 8, 1966, the cover of Time Magazine asked, "Is God dead?" It would have been far more appropriate, I believe, to have asked, "What type of oven cleaner was Nietzsche snorting?"
But, no, people actually bought that drival. Thomas J.J. Altizer, a professor of religion at Emory University in Atlanta, has opined that the controversy over God's alleged passing reflected many of the broader cultural and political changes in American society during the sixties.
"We must realize that the death of God is an historical event, that God has died in our cosmos, in our history, in our [existence]," Altizer wrote.
No, Thomasâ€"God died in your head. Many of us still see proof of him all around when we take the time to look.
There was another magazine in the sixtiesâ€"I can't recall which one, after all, I am in my fiftiesâ€" that suggested female breasts were out of fashion.
As a teenager at the time, with hormones leaking out of my ears, I immediately intuited that that magazine cover was, umm, baloney.
Breasts passĂ©? Never. Just ask ol' Hef, now happily enjoying his "new forties" with the help of an industrial strength supply of Viagra.
I believe the magazine cover trumpeting the decline of the female bosom (there's a term I never would have used in my real twenties) touted the arrival of Twiggy, the famously skinny Cockney model who was everywhere in the 60s. Wonder what she has to say about her breasts now that she finds herself in her 50s?
"I desperately wanted a proper bosom and to be shapely," said the now married and 53 year old (the "new 20s") Twiggy Lawson three years ago.
Twiggy also opined on acquiring the sort of wisdom that only age and experience can bring, saying, "I didn't feel completely happy and in control until I was in my 40s." Too bad she couldn't have felt that way in her 20s. But the 20s are not our 40s. You have to wait for that sort of wisdom.
In the case of the "new forties," I suspect the idea gets a boost from marketing types who see an advantage in people seeing themselves aging differently. Marketing types, of course, are always looking for the newest angle from which to market to baby boomers.
The simple fact is, with a few individual variances attributable to genes and personal habits, forty is forty, fifty is fifty, and sixty is sixty.
I'm a week short of 54. And while I look younger than my years, and even actually feel younger on good days, I most assuredly am not anything remotely resembling 27.
At 27 I still had a washboard stomach, could bench press just under 300 pounds, could run five miles at a time, and could endure intense, 90 minute Tae Kwon Do workouts.
At 54, I have to ice my bad ankle and take Aleve after enduring a couple of hours of particularly strenuous digging in the garden. The wash board stomach? I'm certain it's still thereâ€"just a bit obscured by the, umm, padding I've added in the intervening 27 years.
Don't misunderstand me- there's still a lot of living ahead, hopefully. But my youth is a memory. And that's the point. All this babble regarding new thirties and forties glosses over the cold fact that we're not just getting olderâ€"we're moving toward our inevitable endâ€"that we won't always be here. We're all leaving some day, whether it's in our new thirties, new forties or old nineties.
When all is said and done, I'm certain about several things. When I go, history will be over for me. I will meet my God. And yes, breasts will be eternally in fashion. Praise the Lord.
My only fear is that, after I've gone, I'll have to look down on someone standing over my coffin saying, "My, he doesn't look a day over the new forty."