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My Eyes Are on the Prize





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The other day I sent an email to the President of Bard College, my Alma Mater, protesting an award sponsored by the college that was restricted to novelists under 39 years old. It wasn't about my feeling excluded from that competition. I'm well over 39 but I am not an older novelist shut out of a chance for some prize money and a job, nor am I a professional protester. But it seemed to me that the college had taken a misstep in its prize-giving. If they had asked me I would not have called it the Bard Fiction Prize but the Jack Benny Prize after that beloved comedian who foolishly and forever gave his age as 39.

Clinging to 39 was part of Benny's radio act, which centered on his comic vanity -- his effort to fight aging with a preposterous lie. Along with his shtick of stinginess, playing the violin badly, and wearing a toupee, middle age-denial was Benny's comic persona. Old age wasn't even considered a viable subject for humor then. People died much younger in the 1940s, and those who lived long were more often revered for their wisdom than mocked for their frailties. It was called respect and it came as a part of our human equipment. Now the elderly are often the butt of many a bad TV ad and when not mocked, they are marginalized, trivialized, and Viagravized (sorry about that one). It gets far worse; they are more often ignored. Continued...

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