Declining to Decline: Cultural Combat and the Politics of the Midlife (Age Studies)

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9780813917214: Declining to Decline: Cultural Combat and the Politics of the Midlife (Age Studies)

          In Declining to Decline, Margaret Morganroth Gullette argues that in America aging is a culturally constructed disease with an adolescent exposure and a midlife onset.Targeting men as well as women, our culture pressures us to shed youthful attributes and optimism about the future. This, she says, constitutes the"midlife crisis" of our time- not a private psychological condition but a collective problem. Even our reactions have been channeled: buying remedies, telling stories of self-hating nostalgia, feeling envy of youth, alienation from the elderly, and fear of fifty. 

                   Gullette asks us to open our eyes to this manipulation and to resist it. This controversial call to arms is part autobiography, part cultural commentary, part theory, and part passion. In moving, skeptical, funny stories Gullette reflects on her childhood revenge fantasies, her political anguish, the early diagnosis of her arthritis, the rifts between midlife mothers and adult children, and her 25th college reunion. Analyzing cartoons, fiction, films, and news, Declining to Decline addresses the full spectrum of midlife phenomena, from the sexual politics of midlife male bodies, to the contradictions of menopausal discourse, to how middle-ageism comes into play in a downsizing economy.
 
          Gullette reasons that forming a new anti-"middleage"-ist community depends on understanding how thoroughly and subtly culture now constructs midlife selfhood and expects our subservience. Evolving out of this subservience, the author proposes the concept of "age identity", a complex and satisfying way of telling our narratives of being and becoming over the entire life course. 
Declining to Decline.Cultural Combat and the Politics of the Midlife was chosen as thebest feminist book on American popular culture by the American Culture/PopularCulture Associations. The winner of the 1998 Emily Toth Award virtuallyestablishes a new interdisciplinary domain: the social construction of themiddle years. 

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Review:

Middle-aged spread, midlife crisis--just what is middle age, anyway? Unlike puberty or menopause, there are no specific biological occurrences to define it; is it when your hair starts to gray (or fall out), when supermarket checkout clerks start referring to you as "ma'am," or when you realize your favorite movie heartthrob is just a couple of years older than your kids? According to Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Declining to Decline, middle age is little more than a marketing ploy. In a culture such as ours in which youth is worshipped and age despised, a concept such as middle age is the catalyst for a booming business in hair dyes, exercise machines, diet powders--and hot little red sports cars.

If middle age is merely a concept, Gullette argues, then it's up to us how we choose to view it. We can buy into society's script of slow decline and loss of all that was valuable (i.e., youth, hard bodies, a taste for Pepsi-Cola) or we can see it as progress--a time when we are financially more secure, less encumbered by debt or child-raising responsibilities, and--hopefully--wiser about the ways of the world than we were in our salad days. Revising our attitudes about aging won't be easy, Gullette cautions; society is against us. Still, Declining to Decline is a refreshing wake-up call, a reminder that you're only as old as you feel.

About the Author:

      An internationally known pioneer in age studies and one of the most influential cultural critics on middle ageism and ageism, Margaret Morganroth Gullette is also the author of the prize-winning nonfiction books, Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America and Declining to Decline: Cultural Combat and the Politics of the Midlife. Aged by Culture is taught in many courses, and quoted and discussed in age studies.              Her next book is called Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People.              Gullette is a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis.

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