MAKE BELIEVE NEWS:
BROOKLYN — A 76-year-old Brooklyn native ignited a cultural firestorm by proclaiming, “I am not old.” The self-referential comment by Vernon Bakersfeld, made at a family gathering this past weekend, was recorded by several relatives whose Facebook posts instantly went viral. Confused children, annoyed adults and several teenagers high-fiving a clearly defiant Bakersfeld were among the images.
Not surprisingly, Bakersfeld’s declaration has ruffled feathers among “senior citizen” advocacy organizations. “We accept Mr. Bakersfeld is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” Randi Roberts, a spokesperson for AARP said. “Our 50 million members have earned their right to be called ‘old’ and deserve all the perks of this distinction.”
“My critics’ opinions mean nothing to me,” Bakersfeld said, when confronted by the growing media contingent assembled outside his Fort Greene neighborhood brownstone. “Old is not a fact, it is a state of mind … so mind your own damn business, not mine.”
A groundswell of support for Bakersfeld has taken to social media. The digital communications, however, may be more about preaching to the converted than actually influencing the vast majority of seniors who are not tech-savvy. “This is a work in progress,” one blogger proffered. “Within a generation we expect chronological age to be an anachronism … like record stores and landlines and Social Security.”
Bakersfeld has attracted both praise and ire from diverse factions, including government committees, the legal community, longevity research institutions, even the entertainment industry.
A conservative congressional coalition announced it strongly opposes any dilution of “old” and vows to introduce legislation to protect the constitutional rights of America’s elders. “Those people are entitled to be old, frail and feeble,” said a youngish spokesperson, who asked not be identified by name or age.
The American Civil Liberties Union expressed intentions to file suit, though on what grounds remain unclear at this time. Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred purportedly initiated plans for a class-action suit on behalf of defamed veteran screen actors.
Betty White, 94, caught on the set of an upcoming TV series on which she admittedly is type-cast as the smart-alecky older woman, weighed in on the controversy in typical wry fashion. “Oh my goodness, no, my work here is done,” she said.
“All I want to do is live my life, free of cultural biases and stereotypes,” Bakersfeld said. “Frankly I don’t give a rat’s ass that my comment sparked a debate to redefine ‘aging’ as an opportunity rather than burden. Like my buddy Mark Twain said, ‘Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t care it don’t matter.”