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Ageless in wonderland

Bringing adults into a child's world

My mother neither read me fairy tales nor gave them to me to read. That may be one reason why I’m instinctively resisting the next cycle of tentpoles that will embrace Snow White (several versions), Sleeping Beauty, a new Wizard of Oz and several random effusions from the Brothers Grimm (we’ve just survived “Red Riding Hood”).

Hollywood’s magic wand, producers feel, can make these kid classics relevant not only to children but to the adult audience as well — witness the multi-quadrant success of “Alice in Wonderland.” Even the titles of these new movies suggest a wider reach: “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

I’m not sure the cross-demo appeal of “Alice in Wonderland” can be so easily replicated, but then the whole notion of age-appropriate tastes and behavior is becoming chaotic in our society. Oldsters defy retirement, kids in their 20s resist the work force to stay home with mommy and daddy, and pre-teens are bent on achieving instant adolescence.

There’s even a new book to describe all this — “Amortality: The Pleasures and Perils of Living Agelessly” by Catherine Mayer. Amortals, we are told, defy the accepted dicta. Their poster boy is Mick Jagger, who proclaimed in 1975 that he would rather be dead than still singing “Satisfaction” at the age of 45 (he’s still singing it at the age of 66).

Older amortals are already having their impact: Witness the fact that AARP doesn’t mention “retired persons” any more in its promotional materials. By 2050 the 60-plus set will comprise 27% of the U.S. population, and marketers will be revising their definitions of the “prime demo.”

Hollywood has long bought into the idea that the only people qualified to understand the changing taste of young people are other young people. The trouble is that in show business, as in other industries, older executives are not willing to step aside for the young hot shots. People in their 60s swallow DHEA, rub on testosterone creams and enroll in programs like Cinegenics, which promise youthful appearance and attitude.

“Acting your age is a thing of the past,” proclaimed Time magazine last week. Pre-teen girls seem increasingly obsessive about their pursuit of premature puberty — an obsession that embraces fashion, music and other pop culture props. Dick jokes of R-rated movies seem wildly popular among 10-year-olds of both sexes.

Given these phenomena, my empathy increasingly goes to those folks caught in the demographic middle. They see the kids closing in on one side and notice that opportunities are diminishing because oldsters refuse to make room for them. Where there were once intimations of mortality, there are now fears of amortality.

Mindful of all this, I guess I should welcome a return to the world of Snow White, the Wizard and even those ultimate downers, the Brothers Grimm.

Come to think of it, it’s not too late to suck my thumb.

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