Tom Wolfe takes on joggers' pursuit of youthfulness

January 04, 1991|By James Warren | James Warren,Chicago Tribune

IT SEEMS LIKE shooting fish in a barrel. But Tom Wolfe, who has taken on astronauts, radical chic politics, race relations and the art world, now confronts joggers and the quest for youth.

The January M Inc. includes Clay Felker, its editor at large, interviewing the astringently conservative social commentator on the "hidden meaning in men's clothes." Somewhat inelegantly, Wolfe stumbles into the subject of jogging and our society's passionate efforts to turn back the clock.

"I don't think we worship youth, we worship youthfulness and, increasingly, eternal life," says Wolfe, who contends that part of the 1980s' money-craving fever reflected a belief among many males that if "they were very highly successful, they would also not have to die."

"So they began taking up exercise with a vengeance, sometimes in the form of jogging," says Wolfe. "You see all these marvelous, old, broken-down men in their late 50s, early 60s, running around like a bunch of cockroaches around the reservoir in Central Park. Trolling out of their co-ops on Fifth Avenue in their jogging suits and go trundling around Central Park.

"They join the health clubs, they get their Nautilus rooms all put together and they're worshiping youthfulness," he concludes. "They're looking for the fountain of youth. They all ask (a question attributed to William Paley, the late CBS founder, in a new Paley biography): 'Why do I have to die? If I'm so wonderful, why do I have to die?'"

Speaking of trying to stick around the planet a few more years, the January Longevity, Bob Guccione's underrated health monthly, inspects drugs that claim to reverse the aging process. It's a rundown of 15 anti-aging medicines, only two of which are available in the U.S. (Deprenyl, which is government-approved for Parkinson's disease, and Hydergine, approved for cognitive dysfunction in the elderly). These, and the others mentioned, are being used by millions in Europe.

January Details interviews Marvin Minsky, artificial intelligence guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who predicts that the word "mechanical," instead of being a term of contempt, will supplant "lifelike" and "brainlike" in prestige as the latter will "one day be considered too boring and too limiting to be interesting." . . . January Connoisseur, which rich folks with a modicum of class may read to inform themselves about what's supposedly tasteful, inspects "Private Russia," or what it tags a "nation of passionate collectors." One comes away more taken with how small everybody's apartments seem to be.

January Interview's long chat with actor Dirk Bogarde will excite those who fret about the "German character," principally through his suggestion that there may be much darker forces beneath the Austrian character.

Recalling the filming of the classic "The Night Porter," and his role as an ex-Nazi named Max, Bogarde describes citizens of Vienna wildly applauding when they saw him in an SS uniform. . . . January Lear's does a nice job of inspecting dramatic reconfigurations of our work culture, including drops in full-time employees as companies move to more use of part-timers. But by giving this trend an upbeat spin (accenting some professionals' increased sense of independence), Lear's fails to explore it as a possible prelude to a long-term drop in income and benefit levels for millions as corporate America "downsizes."

If you had problems coming up with New Year's resolutions, January Omni offers some of the Dalai Lama's resolutions for all of us. The winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize suggests developing alternative means to war for resolving conflicts and injection of "humanitarian values like compassion and kindness" into education curricula. All too limp-wristed? Well, the guy did win the Nobel.

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