Why the “old people are cool” campaign does a disservice to old people

There exists a well intentioned campaign with buttons and tee-shirts saying “Old People Are Cool,” and it’s not true.

Old people are not cool. They are just…people.

Some are cool. Many are not. Walk into any gathering of old people and you will find all the groups, subgroups, niches and nuances of high school.

Geeks. Dorks. Type A’s. Rah Rah’s. Hippies. Greasers. Straights. Gays. Republicans. Leftists. Zeros. And oh yes…and the occasional truly cool person.

Branding them all “cool” is a disservice to the cool and the uncool, for it lumps old people together as a homogenous group and makes tragic assumptions catering to the efficiency of institutionalized senior care. Food prep, trip planning, decor, music selection, and even medical care are then based on these assumptions.

Where then is the individual? Lost. There are no shades of grey. Only grey.

I understand the campaign and am uncritical of its intentions. If you are a boomer like me, then you grew up in the cult of youth and beauty, one that is at best ambivalent toward the aged and at worst in denial — in denial of aging, of decay, of dreams lost, of losses, terrible losses, of our bodies and minds, of control, and of opportunity. In denial of death.

It’s entirely understandable that we would want to put lipstick on this beast.

But saying “old people are cool” is the ageist equivalent of saying “all black people can dance” — instances of errant, societal prejudice. Unopposed, the cool campaign will unwittingly support institutionalized care where every peg is round and every problem is a nail, just like in high school.

Let us, rather, hold a different vision for our elders, one that acknowledges, embraces, nurtures and supports shades of grey — wonderfully unique people riding alone or gathered together in community. Let us celebrate the individual — a person who weathered a long, hard struggle to become unlike any other — one of a kind.

Not cool.

Not uncool.

They just are.



As with many things I write, I originally posted this essay on the Dance Past Sunset Facebook page so that I can get some early feedback from my friends there. Surprise, surprise…one of those turned out to be the originators of the campaign themselves! Their comment was very polite, showing them to be a class act. It was “We appreciate the constructive feedback! It is true, Old People Are Cool – just like everyone else. Thank you for joining the discussion about combating ageism.” I am grateful they took the time to read the post and connect!

The idea that all people are cool reminded me of the 1970 hit by Ray Steven’s “Everything is Beautiful.” A lovely thought, and to God and your momma (of which I am neither)…everything is.



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