Critic at Large: Attitude, not age, defines who are today’s old men

The debate is beginning to take form and the question is: Who are America’s old men? Who are the guy

The debate is beginning to take form and the question is: Who are America’s old men?

Who are the guys we may define as out of it or on their way out to pasture? Paint yourself a picture of huffers and puffers struggling mightily to hold on, hacking away at their own shadows, laboring in vain to show us they still have something to say, when they have nothing to say at all. Their oxygen is being extinguished by the wind of their tirades, and no matter how bright its glow at the moment, the force has left them.

Watch as the stable gate opens and, like Mammon’s followers in “Paradise Lost,” they droop into the oblivion, walking irrelevancies. No matter their wealth or pomp or book deals. They are now old men in a world that has left or is leaving them in the dust. It is not so much age or aging, as it is a matter of attitude.

In the late ’60s, John Wayne turned into an old man overnight. The archetypal Western hero thought he had eternal youth, but he misjudged America’s mood. After he made “Green Berets,” Wayne got the publicity but he failed to recognize the rise of a new and rebellious kind of patriotism.

On his ranch, he hooted and howled about pinkos and commies, but the longer the war lasted, the thinner the shrill of that booming voice that once commanded so much respect. If Wayne remains a cultural icon, he spent his last years as an old man.

Defining moment

In modern America, the anti-old man defining moment arrived when Barack Obama was elected president. You saw it. You were there. I know it sounds or appears as if I am espousing liberal gibberish, but again, you were there. No matter our political beliefs, you felt the seismic boom, the rejection of all that was old and stale.

Political labels be damned. Obama’s election was a real and symbolic recognition that we had been duped by a cadre of old men, sold a bad bill of goods.

America’s No. 1 old man is former high school quarterback Dick Cheney. (Colin Powell as much told his fellow Republicans so last weekend.) Watch Old Dick as he heads down the dusty road into the sunset. Watch him smirk with Rumsfeld, who like a lot of other old men, delude themselves into thinking they have eternal youth because on the tennis or handball court they can kick the bejesus out of men half their age.

Like our most recent commander in chief from Texas, so many old men delude themselves into thinking that because they are trim and fit, they are therefore young. Go to your nearest gym. Watch the sweat pour from the dashing fortysomething hunk astride the cycle beside you.

He may be an Adonis trapped in the mind of an old man.

These designations defy politics, religion and political philosophies.

How else can we explain that Pappy Bush seems younger than his boy? More honorable and less petty. Even more youthful than the coiffured Bill Clinton.

Look at Albany, the bastion of stale Democratic politics and stuffy clubs for old men with tasseled shoes. Talk about manicured leaders who had to be prodded from the dark ages, given a youthful refurbishing by a Republican named Rockefeller.

Misleading images

Let’s not be fooled by dashing images of venerable men and their yachts — as if steering one really denotes vital, youthful energy. The latest, most appalling example is that of conservative icon William F. Buckley who, as described by his son, fancied peeing from his car window. Old Bill did not seem like much of a father, but give Christopher Buckley honors for lauding a man of youth — former presidential aspirant and war veteran George McGovern.

When Old Man Buckley died, McGovern not only called but attended the funeral. Buckley Jr. remains chagrined that he heard nothing from John McCain, and it’s your call whether we regard McCain as out to pasture or as a confused war hero trying valiantly to find his authentic voice.

If so, he remains a young man.

Muhammad Ali will always be young. His most glorious out-of-ring moment came when he soundly thrashed William F. Buckley in a debate. My best interview moment came when I sat with Dustin Hoffman, who with boyish glee recited the Buckley-Ali lines verbatim.

So long as they adhere to their celibacy edicts, which Christ never commanded, the Catholic Church will remain an old man’s institution, no matter how many Facebook sites it launches, and I say this with due respect for bishops and priests who agree but have to keep their silences.


We need and have had men and women with young, far-searching minds. They are all around us:

Jesus, Copernicus, my old plumber Bill, a few venerable professors like Jonathan Kistler from Colgate, and my old pal and tennis partner Dr. Rahavy, who was volleying into his ’90s.

The finest example of an “old man” with a great, eternally youthful mind transcending the ages is Leo Tolstoy, who reminds us that if we refuse to grow, are unwilling to alter or reject even some cherished values, we are relegated to the land of walking dead men.

With the rich and dashing Nicholas Rostov in “War and Peace,” Tolstoy convinces us you can turn into an old man before you hit 21.

On his last day on Earth, Tolstoy had the youthful effrontery, the authentic, fiery spirit of a man who refuses to die an old man.

Here’s to eternal youth and to the rejection of an old man’s state of mind.

Reach Gazette Film Critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

Leave a Reply