“Old” may be one of the most reviled words in the English language.
And yet, by the end of 2010, half of the U.S. population will be over 50 for the first time in history—that's about 150 million Americans. One person joins this over-50 constituency every seven seconds.
Despite the collective aging of the population, American culture remains stubbornly youth-oriented; to the exclusion, some would argue, of positive representations of older people in the media and entertainment industries.
Santa Fe resident George Cappannelli believes that America is not only youth-focused, it is “ youth-obsessed to the point that we've denied imagery of the cycles of life, including the aging cycle.” And he would know: as CEO of the Santa Fe-based company AgeNation, it is his life's work to critically examine the ways that the second half of life is perceived.
“We deny the aging process, we don't know the wisdom of our elders, we don't recognize that the latter stages of life are rich,” Cappannelli says.
AgeNation is out to fix this.
The company was started by Cappannelli and his wife, Sedena, after realizing, seven or eight years ago, the profundity of the so-called “demographic revolution.” Cappannelli, who doesn't claim credit for that telling turn-of-phrase, nonetheless deploys it frequently. They are his choice words to describe the social phenomenon that is occurring right now as baby boomers (the generation that, not coincidentally, brought about many of the other major social revolutions of the 20th century) are getting older, and facing an environment overtly hostile to the “threat” of age.
As a digital media company, AgeNation uses extremely effective media strategies such as the internet (combating the assumption that anyone who remembers life before color TV is necessarily computer illiterate), radio broadcasts, concerts, and conferences to spread its message of redefining what it means to age and creating cross-generational dialogues. While the company focuses much of its work on helping individuals live their best possible life—in Cappannelli's words, “to live consciously and age wisely”— what sets AgeNation apart from many other groups is that its motivating impulse is decidedly political, and quite radical.
Cappannelli is advocating for a new Cabinet-level position to focus on the unique needs of an aging citizenry. He has spoken to President Obama about the idea, in addition to having taken up that conversation with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services. In this regard, the U.S. lags far behind other countries which have appointed cabinet positions dedicated to advocating for the rights of older people.
Another area where the voices of older Americans are under-represented or distorted is that in the rhetoric surrounding health care. Cappannelli points out that none of the current healthcare bills making their way through Congress adequately address the fact that Americans 50 and older spend $160 billion on healthcare annually, and yet a significant number of them don't have health insurance. The needs and perspectives of older people must be taken into account, for the simple reason that the issues of aging and health care are so intricately enmeshed. In fact, more than two-thirds of the total amount of money an individual spends on health care during his or her entire life is spent in the last six months of his or her life.
AgeNation will award its first Life Achievement Award to Roberta Flack, the extraordinary musician who is performing at the Santa Fe Opera this weekend, in an event entitled A Musical Celebration Across Generations. The concert, which also features Shawn Colvin, was produced by AgeNation and Empower New Mexico (a non-profit that is closely aligned with, through distinct from, AgeNation).
Roberta Flack and Shawn Colvin
Friday, Sept. 4
Santa Fe Opera