- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Wrinkles rock.

These days, not only does wisdom come with age, so do sex appeal and confidence. The media and pop culture hand in hand, like king and queen have ruled that aging isn't so bad.

"While historically the definition of the old has been made by the young, this media-savvy generation will not feed their own identities to the aristocracy of youth," said Robert Thompson, professor of television, radio and film at Syracuse University. "The image of a baby boomer driving in the fast lane with his left turn signal on will be portrayed in the future by Stallone and Schwarzenegger and it will be a cool thing to be doing."

By the way, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger Rocky and the Terminator of film fame are both in their 50s.

Every minute, seven Americans turn 50, according to American Demographics magazine, which estimates that rate will continue until 2014. Of the baby boom generation, that tidal wave of people born during postwar prosperity from 1946 to 1964, the oldest children are 54 this year and the youngest turn 36.

Neville Strumpf, professor of gerontologic nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, said medical advances and changing attitudes among older adults about fitness are pushing the old-age threshold forward.

"It's a group of people who are going to reshape their world by virtue of who they are and what they understand themselves to be," said Mr. Strumpf, 53. "Old age doesn't look the way it did when my grandparents were around."

It sure doesn't.

This year, in the movies, on television and anywhere else image is cultivated, what's sexy and cool hasn't been exclusively the domain of the young.

Samuel L. Jackson, at age 51, shook down the bad guys as a leather clad, smooth-talkin' reincarnation of the suave-and-funky 1970s detective Shaft.

Clint Eastwood, at 70, kissed the sky with three other graying bad boys Tommy Lee Jones, 53, Donald Sutherland, 66, and James Garner, 72 in "Space Cowboys." And in another old-guys-kick-butt film released in late August, Burt Reynolds, 64, and Richard Dreyfuss, 52, dust off their guns for one more mobster scheme in "The Crew."

On television, Regis Philbin, 66 and sleek with his shiny jackets and matching ties, is hotter than ever, dramatically prodding contestants on NBC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," and 76-year-old Bob Barker is still spinning the money wheel with style on CBS' "Price is Right" after 28 seasons.

In CBS' outrageously popular summer series "Survivor," retired Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch outlasted many of his younger tribal rivals to make it to the final four at age 72. On the TNT cable network in August, Faye Dunaway, 59, played a stylish and outspoken senator's wife in "Running Mates."

Music has long cherished its classic rockers. Carlos Santana, 53, resumes touring in September to promote his "Supernatural" album, a blend of Latin rhythm, rock and hip-hop that grabbed nine Grammys last year. Another winner, leggy Tina Turner, is shaking her groove thing on tour in tight capri pants and dresses cut above the knee at age 61.

In the world of beauty, women in their 40s and beyond have maintained their sex symbol status. The long and elegant Iman, 45, who oversees Iman Cosmetics for women of all shades of brown, recently announced the Aug. 15 birth of her daughter with husband and rock legend David Bowie, 53.

Husky-voiced Lauren Hutton, 55, exercises barefoot along the beach in commercials targeted at menopausal women considering drug therapy. And Barbara Eden, 66, looks like she probably could still fit into her racy, hot-pink "I Dream of Jeannie" costume, as she hawks baked-goods for Entenmann's on television.

The Census Bureau predicts that the population of people age 65 and older will more than double from 34.6 million in 1999 to 82 million in 2050. That's a hefty market.

Mr. Strumpf, the nursing professor, said celebrity images of the older generations are refreshing. But, he said, those pictures can gloss over the fact that other segments of the population especially adults in low-income communities don't have the same access to health care information and services to keep themselves looking young and do not enjoy the same positive images in the media.

Plus, a cavalcade of sexy seniors in pop culture doesn't prove that the public is upgrading its regard for older adults, said Sheldon Steinhauser, sociology professor at the Metropolitan State College of Denver.

"There is still a great amount of ageism in this society," said the 70-year-old.

To Mr. Steinhauser, however, media depictions of aging seem promising. He said the media and pop culture, bolstered by demands from older people for accurate portrayals and fair treatment, can help sway attitudes.

Take, for instance, John Glenn, the former astronaut and senator from Ohio who returned to space in 1998 at age 77. The press was all over it.

But Mr. Steinhauser said ordinary folks accomplish the extraordinary as well.

"What we should begin to realize," he said, "it's not just selected exceptions, and it's not just the selected celebrities who are out there doing substantial things."

In August, for instance, an 83-year-old woman survived for three days in her car after being run off a highway overpass above a Florida swamp. Doctors say she kept herself alive by drinking rainwater.

And more bold expressions of aging are likely on the way.

"We are no longer going to be defined as little old ladies and doddering old men," said Mr. Thompson, the Syracuse professor. "We hold the cultural cards, and we're dealing them accordingly."

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