Thursday, March 10, 2011

Young Forever?

The new goal of existence is immortality. Whether it’s fear of the unknown or an inability to conceptualize what aging is like, we’re socialized to want to maintain our youth at all costs. Even pop songs are reflecting this general desire, specifically Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and Jay-Z’s “Young Forever”: 

Let's go all the way tonight
No regrets, just love

We can dance until we die

You and I

We'll be young forever

Let us die young or let us live forever
We don’t have the power, but we never say never
Sitting in a sandpit, life is a short trip
The music’s for the sad man

Forever young, I wanna be forever young
Do you really want to live forever, forever and ever?
Forever young, I wanna be forever young
Do you really want to live forever, forever, forever?

Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” exemplifies just how death-obsessed our culture truly is. Not only the line “We can dance until we die,” but also her reference to cardiac arrest (“My heart stops/When you look at me”) are representative of how often we think and talk about death in everyday life. Additionally, the line “We’ll be young forever” indirectly reinforces the stigma attached to old-age by placing value on the status of youth.

Though at first glance Jay-Z’s “Young Forever” seems to be presenting a simplistic, ageist approach to this heavy topic (and for the most part he is), Jay-Z also questions this new-age desire to live forever in posing the question “Do you really want to live forever, forever and ever?” Unfortunately, the medical profession, unlike Jay-Z, does not seem to be asking this question at all. Biomedicine is quickly forging ahead with new technology and assumptions without considering the ethical or social implications of their practices.

These ageist portrayals of desirability and age contribute to post-mortality and the devaluation of the elderly, as discussed in Lafontaine’s article “The Postmortal Condition: From the Biomedical Deconstruction of Death to the Extension of Longevity”. “If old age is a state against which one must fight, people who are ‘suffering’ from it are not only excluded from society, they become an element of biopower via an increasingly far-reaching medicalization” (308). Thus, ageing, in a sense, is becoming pathology as the line between disease and ageing is increasingly blurred by medicine.

Furthermore, “feeding the fantasy of infinite longevity, the biomedical deconstruction of death and anti-age medicine threaten to shake even more fundamentally the anthropological reference points on which human existence and experience is based” (309). Therefore, in a sense, the lack of questioning of scientific evaluations of ageing or songs such as “Young Forever” and “Teenage Dream” may have greater implications for society. If we do indeed view life “as linear and extensible,” we will continue to encourage the technological advancements that are fueling this problematic thinking to begin with. Without death, our lives would cease to form the vital cycle of our ancestors. The attempt to escape death or defer it comes with a cost: not only devaluation of old age, but also meaninglessness of life itself.

In short, “the devaluing of old age, the desocialization of death, its loss of meaning and the feeling of absurdity that accompanies it are the negative sides of the postmortal condition,” and of pop songs that over-value youth (309).

In the article “Resuscitations: Stem Cells and the Crisis of Old Age,” Cooper explores stem cell research and the meaning of old age in our society. Specifically, she discusses age in terms of biological limits, and “as a moveable threshold between surplus and waste, obsolescence and renewal” (3). This market-driven approach to ageing proves to be extremely problematic, especially when considering how “the life sciences and their cutting-edge biotechnologies are becoming ever more integrated into the circuits of capital accumulation” (16). She goes on to state that “…it is clear that no appeal to the lost sanctity of human life will protect us from the incursions of the market” (16). Therefore, almost all attempts to change the future path of biomedicine and biotechnology will be impossible. “Increasingly we are being confronted with the problem of thinking about and resisting forms of property that claim to own life in its futurity, before it has emerged into morphological form” (16).

In order to solve these societal problems that will only worsen with technological advancements in the area of biomedicine, we must first seek to reverse the devaluation of old age. Ageist social commentaries, such as pop songs that glorify youth, must be seriously considered. We, like Jay-Z, must continue to ask ourselves, our friends, and the institution of medicine “Do you really want to live forever, forever and ever?” And, if we do want to live forever, what would that mean? What are implications of reinforcing these ideals? How can we address these issues realistically, from a social or technological/biomedical perspective?

Though just merely asking questions does not seem to amount to much, we must begin to raise these concerns in order to commence a reconsideration of bio-power and current assumptions regarding social status and value.


Cooper, Melinda. 2006. “Resuscitations: Stem Cells and the Crisis of Old Age.” Body and Society 12(1): 1-23.

Lafontaine, Celine. 2009. The Postmortal Condition: From the Biomedical Deconstruction of Death to the Extension of Longevity. Science as Culture 18(3): 297-312.

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