We live in a society obsessed with the idea of youth, and frightened of the plain facts of aging and death. To avoid facing up to them people will lie, behave as if those facts don’t exist, refuse to wear hearing aids or glasses, dress young, have Botox injected and wrinkles cut away. But worse than all this are those who offer up the obviously untruthful promise of eternal youth.
One look at the advertising thrown in our faces every day will illustrate this. An evening of TV adverts will give you such gems as a model who has only just managed to clear up her acne in time to sing the praises of a hypo-allergenic-polyfiller-in-wrinkle-cream. Another cream will reduce the seven signs of aging, so we can all be glad that such a simple product will protect us against incontinence, arthritis, dementia, heart failure, blindness, hearing loss and a tendency to harp on about the good old days. You can boogy down on the beach sipping a drink containing enough sugar to rot the tusks off an elephant, and somehow this will transform you into a white-toothed youth. There’s the deodorant that keeps you perpetually available to your latest boyfriend, which is probably useful if you live the active skateboarding life promoted by your latest brand of tampon.
Magazines and catalogues are as bad if not worse. See the girdle clinging to the curves of that model who has just returned from shooting an advert about a shampoo that apparently gives you an orgasm. Observe young Adonis modelling the latest truss. And read all those articles promoting foods, New Age treatments, lifestyles and internal décor that’ll keep you perpetually this side of the Styx and apparently on the underside of thirty.
The horror of all this is that it works – many people believe it. It is doubly unfortunate, therefore, that this lying ‘in spirit and in fact’ extends well beyond the mercenary and cut-throat worlds of advertising and glossy magazines.
Consider government health warnings on cigarette packets. If you smoke you can get painful, humiliating, or disfiguring diseases that can be fatal. This is all very frightening until you ask, “How many of us don’t?” We all die. Few of us are lucky enough to die in our sleep. Most of us die from some kind of lingering malady. If you drink, don’t imbibe more than twenty-one units in a week. Heavy drinking can lead to liver failure and death (unless you’re a famous footballer of course). Both of these aberrant behaviours can lead to all sorts of terrible illnesses ranging from impotence to heart failure. Again, such warnings ignore the fact that avoiding such habits does not result in endless perfect health. You are going to get sick and die anyway, and not at the age of ninety-two with your nurse bouncing up and down on your willy. But ignoring this fact is carried on through to our health service with horrible results.
This seeming inability accept the inevitability of death (which admittedly has always been a human trait) has resulted in a health service that refuses to give us an easy way out and, with increasingly poisonous treatments, prolongs the horrible process. Get yourself a painful lingering terminal illness, and you can guarantee that the NHS will extend your suffering for as long as possible. Your only way out would be to suck on the exhaust of your car but, unable to drive that you sold it years ago, or perhaps cut your wrists, if your hands didn’t shake so much. But neither are really viable while you are trapped in a hospital bed. Your dignity is irrelevant, of course. How dare you, by your very presence, prove that none of us lives forever? How dare you be old or ill? How dare you die?