In the fifth installment of the popular Indiana Jones franchise, Harrison Ford will reportedly be “de-aged” by means of computer graphics, presumably to make him kicking Nazi butt at least somewhat believable. A regular person would react to this piece of showbiz gossip with a chuckle and quickly scroll further down their feed. For a longevity enthusiast, however, this raises a bunch of important questions.
A blind eye to the problem
Aging is perhaps the biggest problem people are refusing to face. In a sense, facing death is easier: as the saying goes, you will not be there when it happens. Aging, on the other hand, is a slow decline accompanied by frailty, excruciating disease, and losing people who are dear to you. Fear of death can be alleviated by a belief in an afterlife, but aging is inescapable. Without a full suite of life-extending medical interventions, it will happen to you, just like it happened to Harrison Ford. The CGI-tweaked picture might gloss over the ugly truth, but it cannot change it.
Language also has filters that obfuscate the truth about aging. Take “healthy aging”, a term that has been gaining popularity despite being an oxymoron. Aging is an umbrella term that describes the loss of function that the human body experiences with the passage of time. How can loss of function be healthy? The idea of “healthy aging” makes people complacent by suggesting that if they just do this therapy or follow that diet, they will somehow be okay. Well, they won’t.
Nobody is as good at whitewashing aging as the advertising industry. It uses a full arsenal of visual and verbal tools to weave a soothing narrative where ever-happy, ever-active slightly wrinkled people are having a blast with their well-earned retirement. Death and suffering are nowhere to be seen – that is, if you buy the advertised product, be it a drug, an insurance policy, or a house in Florida.
Sometimes, instead of masking the truth about aging, filters can do the opposite: bring the perspective of your own aging right in your face. The impact of such manipulation can be seen in this YouTube video, where the two young hosts of the podcast The Wineholics discuss their pretty faces being artificially aged by filters (created by Lifespan.io filmmaker Tim Maupin). Their sheer horror reeks of ageism but is also perfectly understandable. One of the hosts says something quite profound: “I think we need to define aging as a problem. If aging were defined as a problem today, in 20 years, maybe we would totally demolish it. We need to do anything not to age.”
It’s time to look at what we’ve been avoiding
This is something that we at Lifespan.io, along with other longevity advocates, have been saying for years. The world must see aging for what it is: a problem, and a huge one too. Interestingly, no one seems to object to labeling the economic aspects of aging, such as the rising cost of healthcare, a problem. But if you say that aging is bad because it causes disability and suffering, you may be accused of disparaging old people.
Refusing to normalize aging is not the same as disparaging the elderly. People who are battling aging deserve all the support and compassion in the world. Their old age does not make them less worthy; it is just a human condition that every person inevitably develops. Saying that cancer is horrible does not degrade cancer patients. Cancer is age-related, so why would we pretend there is nothing wrong with aging? Yes, we must be sensible and avoid hurting people’s feelings, but we also must look facts in the eye. Solving a problem starts with admitting its existence.
There is still, of course, the immensity of the problem. Aging is an extremely complex phenomenon, even if it is driven by a handful of underlying processes, and the science of aging is in its infancy. Recognizing a problem that might not be solved in your lifetime takes courage. It is tempting to keep our eyes shut and roll this over to the next generation, but it would be the wrong thing to do.
Solving aging might sound hopeless to some people, but like the hosts of The Wineholics, I believe in human ingenuity and perseverance. Humans are extremely good at cooperating and solving complex problems, when they put their minds to something. This is what I have been trying to do in my capacity as a science journalist at Lifespan.io: sway hearts and minds by showing that slowing and eventually stopping aging is crucial, moral, and possible, and I will not hesitate to use any pretext to talk about it, including a piece of gossip about Harrison Ford.
By the way, the filters that will be applied to his face can be put to better use – showcasing the effects of future anti-aging therapies.
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