It is undoubtedly true that people are generally most comfortable with others of their own age group because there is more in common. Mothers exchange child-raising experiences. Young singles meet up in clubs. Older folks play tennis with contemporaries to equalize the competition.
In the U.S., we carry this to an extreme. Television programs and movies are aimed at and labeled for specific age demographics. There are hardly any fashionable women's clothes for people with bodies older than 16. Older folks are encouraged to move into retirement villages where only other older people live and in fact, some villagers go so far as to segregate themselves by prescribing when grandchildren may and may not visit. There aren't a lot of places, pursuits or kinds of entertainment that encourage people of different age groups to spend time together.
A couple of volumes (at least) could be written on the age segregation we impose on ourselves, unnecessarily and to our disadvantage. But there is on the horizon a bright spot worth noticing in the mixing up of generations.
It seems that former CBS-TV Evening News anchor, Walter Cronkite, who was forced to retire in 1981 due to a corporate age policy (which is no longer legal), may be appearing on MTV to report on or provide commentary during this year’s election campaign. The idea came up after 87-year-old Cronkite appeared with 26-year-old MTV News correspondent, Gideon Yago, on the youth network’s voter registration campaign program, Choose or Lose: Work It, on 25 May (which I’m sorry I missed).
“Both Cronkite and MTV News boss David Sirulnick now say they’re open to the idea of future assignments,” writes Newsday’s Verne Gay, “including the possibility of an on-air role during the conventions and election night.”
As Gay points out, the average MTV viewer is 22 years old and not born yet when Cronkite, known as the “most trusted man in America” during his news anchor years, retired. So it is a brave move, in terms of conventional wisdom and preserving ratings, to bring on this old man.
MTV can only be saluted for this experiment in generational inclusion. Cronkite brings a lifetime of experience reporting for newspapers, radio and television. He was there in person for events that MTV viewers have only read about in history books: World War II, the civil rights movement, the moon landings, Vietnam.
At least once, he participated in making history. It was after Cronkite’s unprecedented personal announcement on the Evening News that he believed America should get out of Vietnam that President Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the 1968 presidential race convinced, as he said, that “if I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”
It would be fascinating, don’t you think, to watch Yago and Cronkite bring together their personal and professional perspectives (which are 61 years apart in age) covering the conventions and election night. It is a rare event for something like this to happen with such a wide age distribution, and it would be an excellent public step toward generational understanding.
If it comes about, I know which channel I’ll be watching.