Monday, May 23, 2011

Margaret Morganroth Gullette's "Agewise"

Margaret Morganroth Gullette is also the author of the prize-winning Declining to Decline and Aged by Culture, chosen a Notable Book of the Year by the Christian Science Monitor. She is a Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America, and reported the following:
Agewise describes many under-reported parts of "the new ageism." I call it a regime of decline because it threatens all of us, from my grand-daughter Vivi at age five, to the young people who believe sexuality declines at thirty, to my friend Carol and her peers who can’t find decent jobs in their fifties and sixties, to the poor Baby Boomers being scolded (at a time of deficit and a global "aging" crisis) for becoming the most expensive generation in American history, to my dear mother in her nineties losing memories and respect in our hypercognitive era. As Publishers Weekly noted in a starred review, Agewise "takes a hard look at the connection[s]."

After undermining the worth of aging-past-youth, decline then sells useless or harmful products to the bewildered victims.

This is serious material, but any writer with a genuine voice has to utter her findings in different tones depending on the context. Just as a good nonfiction book will have an arc, so chapters have arcs. Openings may be stealthy; conclusions may resound. As it happens, page 99 is near the end of the chapter, "Hormone Nostalgia."

My research on estrogen treatments for midlife women began with my wondering what immense changes had occurred after the National Institutes of Health announced that the pills once jovially called "replacement therapy," caused cancers and heart disease instead of preventing them. I discovered a shameless effort to go on marketing hormones--to men as well as women. "Inventions fail but promises never end."

Page 99, then, is the rhetorical equivalent of a perp walk. Doctors, pharmaceutical companies that hire researchers, journalists: Many continued harking back to the days when they could rely on a facile fix, a facile profit, a facile story.

Even if drug research were irreproachable, doctors might still not read it. In one study, the clinicians interviewed rarely relied on research evidence; they got their "information" from other doctors, patients, and pharmaceutical companies. Since they too ignored feminist anthropologists and women’s health activists, any advice they got or gave was likely to rely on studies produced by bias.
Pharmaceutical companies:
A Hastings Center report by five highly respected gerontologists in 2003 affirms that "no currently marketed intervention--–none–has yet been proved to slow, stop or reverse human aging, and some can be downright dangerous" ... Anti-aging flacks, called in the report "clinical entrepreneurs," tend to "exaggerate the state of scientific knowledge" not just about the specific product they are working on but the whole scheme of curing humankind of old age.
Implicitly siding with the fantasists, or too lazy to check with the critics, the media scarcely provide equal time to monitor the claims critically.
Propelled by occasional scathing summaries like page 99, Agewise has a momentum meant to move readers forward from outrage or helplessness toward anti-ageist activism. Just as racism and sexism can be fought, so can this increasingly powerful "ism."

But as for judging "quality" from a single page, a poet writes me that he loves page 165 from the chapter, "Our Best and Longest-Running Story." A feminist quotes page 138 from "Improving Sexuality Across the Life Course." So many readers, so many judgments. (With apologies to the esteemed author of The Good Soldier.)
Read more about Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue