Philosophising about the 'S'-word: Watch… and learn
In the fifth episode of the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), Titus (performed by Tituss Burgess) is sure that Brandon (played by Brandon W. Jones, Lie To Me, The Fosters), Kimmy’s best friend’s boyfriend, is gay. In order to prove it, he tries to seduce him, but fails. He tells Kimmy:
TITUS (whispers): Well, I was wrong. Brandon is not gay.
KIMMY (whispers): No, he is! He told me!
TITUS (whispers): That’s impossible! I tried to seduce him! In my over-shorts! Am I not a pretty young thing anymore? Am I a bear now? Or a daddy? Or a Huxtable?
Later on, Brandon eventually betrays his homosexuality when he gives Titus the correct answer to his question “What’s that Stanley Donen movie with, uh, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn?“. This gives Titus confidence: “Ha! Tell me I’m a pretty boy!” This is when Kimmy storms in and Titus joyfully asks:
TITUS (to Kimmy): How old do you think I am?
KIMMY, authoritative: Titus! Age doesn’t matter! You can die at any time!
Let’s focus on this last line. When I was in junior high school, my favorite singer was Aaliyah (she died in a plane crash when I was 14, and I just stopped having favorite singers). I remember she had called her debut album “Age ain’t nothing but a number“. Well, let’s not forget that she had barely turned 15 when she got married to the 27-year-old R&B singer R. Kelly (the latter has been accused ever since of sexual intercourses with underage girls and indicted in Chicago for child pornography). So it looks like age sometimes does matter.
Age matters, at least in the eyes of the law, when you want to get married (you have to wait until you’re at least 8 if you’re a girl in Iran), when you want to take your driving exam, or to go to juvenile prison or to run for president. In those cases, there is always a risk to be either too young or too old for that. Age is not just a number. It is an indication of your capacity to account for your actions. A baby that shoots her mom in the face with the gun she found in her purse will not answer for her actions as she would have, if she were 23. I think we made our point: age not mattering is not always verified.
However, why this obsession with staying young? Plastic surgery to smooth out the wrinkles, efforts to stay hip and cool at all ages, J-Lo and Madonna ignoring the decades passing by… Is it that uncool to get older? Like Pierre Bourdieu once said, “Age is a socially manipulable and a socially manipulated figure“. In some cultures like mine, being old is associated with being wise. Telling someone that they’re old turns out to be a compliment. Everyone is looking forward to being called auntie, or granny, by people that are not even from their families, but as a sign of respect. This is what you get when you are older: people younger than you are compelled to respect you, your experience and your wisdom. I remember in Cameroon, we all had to stand up in the classroom every time an older person (an adult or even a pupil from an upper class) would enter our classroom: we were showing some respect. Like in the army. I heard adults still do that when a white person comes in.
So, time is relative. The French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) reminds us that the almighty, perfectly regular, homogeneous and irreversible time that science considers is not the time that the humans live and experience (which he calls ‘real duration‘). His doctoral thesis was on Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1889). In his thesis, Bergson distinguishes between the mechanistic time of science (the mathematical time, the time of the clocks) and the psychological time (or duration). This disctinction explains why some of our hours run fast, and some others do not, why time runs faster for the overworked nurse than for the old patient waiting for him. That is because duration is heterogeneous, irregular, relative and polymorphic. Time does not run as fast for the active person as for the person who does not work anymore, for the person who is waiting as for the person who is not. And waiting is some essential part of being old.
However, it is important to say that many elderly persons live a life full of passion and zeal, that aging is not about losing, it is also about gaining, for instance gaining wisdom, availability to focus on things that matter, gaining serenity and an art of living that working people can rarely afford. But are those gains valued at all in western societies? Today’s values are beauty, rapidity, efficiency, usefulness, health…
The media actually
order teach us to be young, slim, fashionable, and if possible rich and Caucasian. Very few shows are about senior citizens, very few singers are over 35. The pression of youth is higher on female individuals. Female leads in movies and on TV are mostly under 35, while male leads have the right to be older and older (no one seems to see any difference between Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. I bet Ryan Gosling won’t have any difficulties to land roles because of his age, while Rachel Mc Adams or Eva Mendes probably will).
As we will keep stressing about our age, time will keep flying, no matter what we do, even when the moment comes when we stop living. One of my favorite poems of all times was written by the French romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869). It is called ‘The Lake‘ and starts this way (translation by A.Z. Foreman):
Thus driven forth forever to new shores,
Born toward Eternal Night and never away,
Sailing the Sea of Ages, can we not
Drop anchor for one day?
You must have heard the following stanzas:
Suspend your trek O Time! Suspend your flight
O favoring hours, and stay!
Let us pause, savoring the quick delight
That fills the dearest day.
Unhappy crowds cry out to you in prayers.
Flow, Time, and set them free.
Run through their days and through their ravening cares!
But leave the happy be.
In vain I ask for hours to linger on
And Time slips into flight.
I tell this night: “Be slower!” and the dawn
Undoes the raveled night.
Let’s love, then! Love, and feel while feel we can
The moment on its run.
There is no shore of Time, no port of Man.
It flows, and we go on.
Kimmy’s right. We can die at any time. So meanwhile, let’s love then! Love, and feel while feel we can!