Is there ageism in show business?
In the literal sense, sure. Just pop your head into any writers’ room and ask, “Anyone here get up in the middle of the night to pee?” Or “Do you guys know any good plastic surgeons?” And you are unlikely to get a response. Beyond…
“Go away, old man. We’re working!” (The “And you’re not” generously left unsaid.)
Somebody once told me that show business was a “young person’s job.” At the time, I did not know what that meant. Of course, at the time, I was a young person.
Is show business, in fact, a “young person’s job”? Certainly not like sports is a “young person’s job”, because of stuff “going” in your body – resilience, strength, reflexes – meaning you can no longer perform on the gridiron – or wherever “iron” your sport is generally played on.
Nor is it a “young person’s job” like, say, computer jobs because they’re dealing with advanced technology and you only know Univacs.
Show business is not a “young person’s job” in those way. But in some other way is it?
A lot of people believe it isn’t. Although the ones I know who believe that are all old.
I am in contact with numerous contemporaries who, uninhibited by their chronological designation, are still out there, trying to sell stuff. I will tell you something. It is not the place of a person who has written more than two thousand blog posts for nothing to tell anyone else that they are wasting their time.
I just thought, if I were still out there trying to sell stuff, I would be. So I stopped doing it. My acquaintances didn’t, and I tip my superannuated cap to them. Because it is not going to be easy.
The following are some wrong reasons not to hire older writers:
1 – You do not want to look at wrinkles. For aesthetic reasons, or because they engender shuddering premonitions of, “That’s me soon.” (And, by the way, it is.)
2 – You do not want to pay older writers what their reputations require. As with outsourcing, only without Bangladesh, although with a likeminded eye on the “Bottom Line”, it makes fiscal sense for employers to replace experienced, higher salaried writers with younger, more economically paid beginners. (And pocket the difference themselves.)
3 – You do not want to work with somebody who looks like your dad. Or in some cases, your stepdad. (I was going to say “grandfather” but I wanted to get there in smaller increments so as not to disrupt myself in an unhealthy manner.)
4 – You do not want to be shown up by writers, who, through training and repetition – if not superior ability – know better than you do. (I believe that happened to me once. And I was summarily sent packing. Of course, I could be flattering myself, and, in reality, I stunk up the place.)
Those – and others I cannot currently think of – are mistaken reasons for eliminating older writers. Which is too bad because I believe they can help you.
At this point, however, I respectfully get off the train.
Leading me to sigh, because I know I appear at least to be crossing traitorously to the other side. Please forgive me for that, but it is what I believe.
My contemporaries still pitching in the marketplace are not necessarily pitching stories featuring characters who are their own age. (Or exclusively “Period Pieces” set where writers know from experience the contemporary terrain.) They are instead pitching everything, their works featuring younger characters as well, thereby going head-to-head against writers who are actually that age.
“I do not have to be a coal miner to be able to write about coal mining.”
“No. But if there is a coal miner who can write, I will unequivocally go with them.”
Delete “coal” and change “miner” to “minor” and you have exactly what I am talking about.
Yes, emotions are timeless, and, since writing is fundamentally about emotions – I will not insult you with an extended list – writers of any age can consider themselves still viable, and therefore still relevant in the marketplace. Older writers may be even better at delineating emotions, due to the added advantages of experience and perspective.
When it comes to the culture, focusing not the transient trappings of time but on just perennial feelings, like, for example, shame – let us remember that what is shameful to one generation may not at all be – and in numerous instances is not – shameful to the following one. Or the generation after that.
It is natural to feel shame. The thing is, from era to era, the “line” at which point you begin feeling that shame has moved.
As it has for numerous other emotions as well.
As Cole Porter sagely opined,
“In olden days a glimpse of stockin’
Was looked on as something shockin’…”
Now, heaven knows…
Older writers might imagine what “goes” today. But they do not know it in their kishkas. (Read: Innate “feeling” apparatus.)
Because they can’t.
Veteran writer, haling from an earlier era, are conditioned to respond differently. You can fake it. But like a spy with a shaky accent, your “tell” will inevitably give you away, keeping you from “passing” for what you transparently are not.
Old writers are inherently not young writers.
That is simply the way it is. (Except perhaps for children’s writers. But some of those guys are weird.)
However, if you want a writer who is savvy, capable, responsible and reliable (except when they have a doctor’s appointment)…
Old is gold.
And it always will be.
(Quoth the writer, trying to regain favor with his contemporaries. Though it may unfortunately be too late.)