Youth will be served, and so will court papers

March 07, 2004|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON - Well, this is a new one.

I mean, we've all heard about the pot calling the kettle black. Until this week, though, I'd never heard of the pot calling the kettle old.

But that's what the just-filed lawsuit against Dick Clark Productions amounts to. You know Mr. Clark, of course. Former host of American Bandstand, producer of countless award shows, blooper shows, New Year's Eve shows. Nicknamed "the world's oldest teen-ager," ha ha ha, because of his ageless good looks.

Well, according to the lawsuit, a fellow named Ralph Andrews, a television producer in his own right, went to Mr. Clark in 2001 looking for work. He was in talks off and on for a year and believed he was in line for any openings. Mr. Andrews says that when he was abruptly told there were no positions available, he wrote to Mr. Clark saying he'd accept almost anything.

The lawsuit alleges Mr. Clark wrote back that Mr. Andrews was just too old. "The last development guy we hired was 27 years old," the letter says. "Another person who is joining our staff next week is 30. People our age are considered dinosaurs! The business is being run by `the next generation.'"

Mr. Andrews, let the record show, is indeed old - 76 years, to be exact. But Mr. Clark is hardly a Generation Y sprout himself. He is 74. Like I said, the pot commenting unfavorably upon the age of the kettle.

Mr. Andrews' lawsuit charges Mr. Clark with age discrimination. It seeks unspecified damages.

Mr. Clark has yet to respond to these charges, so I'm reluctant to draw conclusions about their merit. Still, Mr. Andrews' allegations ring a bell, don't they? The letter he says he received offers an unpleasant reminder that we too often regard experience as a disposable commodity and old age as a sin.

You can see examples everywhere, from elders who lie warehoused and forgotten in nursing homes to newsrooms where older journalists are being ushered out the door and taking institutional memory with them. But nowhere is it more brazen than in the business of show.

Perhaps you remember the 1998 case of Kimberlee Kramer, a then-32-year-old actress and television writer who found it hard getting work until she decided to take advantage of her youthful looks. She changed her name, chopped 13 years off her age and went job hunting. Ms. Kramer wound up on the writing staff of a hit TV show and was named one of Hollywood's "100 most creative people" by Entertainment Weekly.

After she was exposed, her bosses fired her. For being dishonest, they said.

What's truly dishonest, though, is the entertainment industry's continued genuflection at the altar of youth. The argument goes that youngsters are the most desirable audience because they are more willing to part with their disposable income. But I am not convinced older audiences - who, by the way, have more disposable income to begin with - are unwilling to spend. The problem is that Hollywood so seldom gives them anything worth spending on.

Given quality material geared to their interests, older people have not proved reluctant to open their wallets. Was it 12-year-olds who drove box office receipts for Saving Private Ryan past $216 million and The Passion of the Christ above $160 million? Did 15-year-olds make Norah Jones' new CD a million-seller in its first week?

I have nothing against young people, having been one myself. But I do object to a mindset that disregards the very personhood of people who are not so young. That's not just bad business, not just morally suspect. It's also shortsighted.

Some of us like to think we can postpone aging, if not cancel it altogether. We seek to Botox it away, Tae Bo it away, lie it away. But you know what? Old age comes anyway, if we're lucky, if we are blessed.

So there's something self-deluding about ageism, something that denies nature, common sense and the inexorability of time. Ask your mirror if you don't believe me.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.

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