Just received: a tabloid news story about a group of nine people - aged in their 70s, 80s, and 90s - who were booted out of a London nursing home for organising a wild, nude party (described by the paper as a sex party) in the home's recreation room. Apparently they were sprung by security staff at an early stage of the party, when the staff heard the sounds of rumba music. The party had only been going for about twenty minutes, but the participants were already naked and oiled.
A spokesperson for the nursing home is quoted in the story as saying that the incident might sound harmless or amusing, but that the home has strict standards and cannot tolerate such behaviour. Well, yes, it certainly does sound harmless - to me, at least - and merely amusing. And why, exactly, can such behaviour not be tolerated when it involves people in their late years?
More offensive than the spokesperson's words, though perhaps no less concerning, are the quoted remarks of an anonymous staffer who was involved in breaking up the party. This person is quoted as saying, "... they were all naked. Believe me, it was the scariest thing I've seen in my life." I doubt that this was what was meant: what, after all, is so scary about a bunch of old people with no clothes on? I doubt that they appeared especially frightening to the (presumably much younger and able-bodied) staffer. What the staffer felt was not fear, I expect, but some kind of repugnance or disgust.
Let's not mince words: what was intended was not "scary" but "ugly". Naked people of the age described are not menacing in any way, but younger people are likely to be repulsed by the sight. Or, come to think of it, maybe there is at least an itty bitty element of fear - the fear that old people are somehow not keeping in their place, but are acting just like adults in their more robust and vigorous years. How dare they? "Don't they understand", so the thought might go, "that their time has passed and that they are now merely tolerated by the rest of us?" Yes, something like that nasty thought may be involved. Uppity old people ...
The journalist's own language is packed with condescending language - "codgers", "geezers", and so on - that makes clear his scorn for these people, and that he confidently expects his readers to share it, and have a good laugh.
Before I go on, I should concede that I, too, may have found the sight ugly if I had been exposed to it. Like most men, I am "programmed" (by genes, by socialisation, whatever) to be sexually attracted to the radiance of youth, energy, and health, not to the wrinkled skin and sagging flesh that goes with old age. I'm not so hypocritical as to pretend otherwise. This blog entry is not going to be a forlorn plea that we alter our standards of sexual beauty.
No, but what about when I reach the sort of age that these nine people evidently are? Well, frankly, if I am still interested in sexual activities to the extent that they showed, and can take an interest in the bodies of other people of my own generation, I'll be very pleased. I feel happy for this gang of nine that they were still able to get a kick out of arranging some kind of naughty party among themselves. Yes, the sight might not have been aesthetically pleasing to me, but why the hell should that be the issue? What makes it okay for people, such as the anonymous staffer and the journalist writing it all up, to pour scorn on these individuals?
The fact is that the folks at the party were not hurting anybody. They weren't even inflicting the sight of their age-damaged bodies on the delicate aesthetic sensibilities of anyone younger. Instead, they were carrying on among themselves in a harmless way that was evidently giving them pleasure. Nothing bad need have come of it, but for the intolerant "standards" of the nursing home and the investigation by the security staff. If a group of young, or even middle-aged, adults had done something similar in one of their own homes, no one would have considered it worth reporting (we can be confident that it happens all the time - but so what?). Why does the fact that many of us would have found the sight unappealing suddenly open up a legitimate public space for moral outrage, or for mockery? Actually, it doesn't.
At the end of the day, I think this is just prejudice against old people, who are expected to know their (subservient) place in society, and perhaps to be thankful that we put up with them at all. When you think about it, that attitude is pretty ugly, in its own way. As far as I can see, the nine people concerned have nothing at all to be ashamed of: good for them that they were still up for some excitement. Those younger people who think it is okay to infantilise them, and jeer at them, are the ones who have plenty to be ashamed of. If many of us feel those ugly impulses to jeer and mock, I suggest we disown them; they are not worthy of us. It would be unreasonable to ask my readers to change their standards of sexual beauty - I've admitted to mine - but we don't have to let considerations of what we find sexually attractive drive us into prejudice and intolerance.