Belfast Telegraph

It's the millennials who require help, not affluent oldies

By Fionola Meredith

Are there no limits to the contemporary cult of victimhood? The race to be the most vulnerable, the most put-upon, the most fragile, the most oppressed? Now it's old people's turn. Apparently their confidence, their self-esteem and even their basic physical health are at risk, not from poverty, violence or disease, but from rock and pop songs.

Yes, really. This is not a joke. A new study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, which examined music archives from the 1930s to the present day, found that the majority focused on negative aspects of ageing. Particularly hurtful and damaging are songs like that old Beatles number, When I'm 64, and of course The Who's My Generation, with its fervent wish to "die before I get old".

Lead researcher Jacinta Kelly thinks The Beatles have a lot to answer for. "When I'm 64 is generally thought of as an upbeat tune that is quite light-hearted," she said. "But the lyrics: 'When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine', are actually questioning whether someone who is old is still loveable, and that's concerning."

Urging musicians to make their songs about old age "less hip-op and more hip-hop" (ouch), Kelly believes that pop music has a powerful influence on cultural attitudes and must be used responsibly. "Negative emotions experienced by older people are connected to poor outcomes in mental and physical health, particularly cardiac health," she added. I'd love to hear the kind of socially-responsible rock celebrating the intrinsic lovability of old people that Jacinta approves of. I bet it would be to die for.

Look, I'm sorry, but I don't believe that any octogenarian is going to keel over with a heart attack because they happen to hear The Beatles parping on about the possibility of age-related hair loss. Since they've made it that far, I imagine their moral fibre resembles coconut matting by now, not something so tissue-like and fragile that it can be blown away in the wind.

Quite frankly, if old people need to be protected from anything, it's from the likes of Kelly and co, who seem to want to reverse those decades of hard-won experience, knowledge and tenacity and turn them back into helpless infants, crushed by the most laughably trivial of circumstances. Such prissy, unsolicited mollycoddling is both insulting and disempowering. I don't imagine anyone, especially those in full possession of their faculties, enjoys being treated like a poor old dear who should be scared of a twee ditty by Paul McCartney.

Besides, far from having their hearts broken and their spirits sapped by hurtful song lyrics, it seems to me that many old people are doing very nicely, thank you. Flourishing, in fact. I'm not talking about those afflicted by poverty, loneliness and ill-health, who deserve every sympathy and a great deal of support. I mean the perfectly able and extremely affluent ones who have plenty of disposable income and all the time in the world to spend it.

You see scores of them in upmarket stores like Marks and Spencer blocking the aisles with trolleys full of smoked salmon and Prosecco, before wheeling the haul out to their gleaming top of the range Land Cruiser. Another popular hunting ground for prosperous pensioners are the garden centres of north Down, where they can be seen buying over-priced perennials and chowing down huge portions of roast beef and mash in the cafe.

I don't begrudge them this. It's a nice life, if you can afford it. But let's not pretend these people are victims in any way, except of impending mortality, and that's something we all face. No, when it comes to generational one-upmanship, the olds have got it made. Late last year a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies revealed that the over-65s are better off than ever before. It also showed that on average pensioners earn £394 a week compared to the £385 median among the working age population.

By contrast, younger people are suffering badly. The millennials, as they are known - those born between 1980 and the mid-90s - are disproportionately afflicted by unemployment, student debt and rising house prices. Since 1979 the disposable income of pensioners has grown between two and three times that of young people.

Sentimental pseudo-analysis implies that all old people are a sorry, marginalised and decrepit bunch. This is far from a universal truth. If anyone needs a helping hand, it's the young.

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