The reverse age dynamics of L.A. and D.C.
As some people may have noticed, I’ve been pathetically absent from my own digs as of late – in large part because I recently completed a cross-country move from Los Angeles to Washington D.C.
I’ve been predictably surprised by my new, strange habitat: It’s a bizarre place where Subway restaurants serve pizza, where bars offer “rail” drinks (instead of “well”), and where Lay’s peddles a dill-pickle-flavored variety of potato chips. (Also, if you couldn’t tell, I do a lot of eating and drinking.)
But beyond my own fascination with the peculiarities of various food and beverage purveyors, there’s an interesting dichotomy in the power and age dynamics at work in each town. Both L.A. and D.C. are one-industry towns, revolving around entertainment and government, respectively. The faces of those industries, and those who actually wield power within them, are almost hilariously opposed.
The likes of Selena Gomez, Zac Efron and the stars of “Twilight” are all visible power players in Hollywood. Throw their faces on your vehicle and it’s likely to be at least moderately successful. It’s a culture that fawns over youth and discards older stars with relative ease. But the people (and by that, I of course mean white dudes) who actually hold the puppet strings – the studio bosses, news directors, magazine editors, etc. are of course much older. Viacom chair Sumner Redstone is 87, for example.
In D.C. though, it’s the old, white men who are the public faces of the government (minus, you know, one very-visible guy who is less white). It’s a culture where age is often considered an asset. Take this report from my new place of employ, which finds:
But the culture on Capitol Hill not only makes it taboo to question older lawmakers’ ability, it also rewards their longevity with roles as influential committee chairmen and a greater share of earmarks. …
“This job is the only job in the country where you can keep working even if your staff [members] are literally carrying you into the office,” said one former Senate staffer who worked for Sen. Arlen Specter. The 80-year-old Democrat from Pennsylvania recently lost his primary bid for a 6th term.
And predictably, it’s the young staffers doing the carrying who weird enormous power behind the scenes – a fact emphasized by a recent New York Times magazine article, All the Obama 20-Somethings:
When Barack Obama’s presidential campaign began on a clear and frigid day in Springfield, Ill., in 2007, the young men and women who would shovel snow in Iowa, crash on couches in Pittsburgh and pass up grad school to join it could not quite grasp that two years later their journey would end at the Oval Office. They also could not imagine all of the unseen difficulties that would await them — everything from a cratering economy and an attempt at a Christmas Day terrorist attack to plummeting poll numbers as their president fell to earth. Showing up to work each day at the most prestigious address in America can feel a bit like finals week in college. They are always on call, always working hard.
I know all too well how easily age can work against you when you’re applying for anything beyond an entry-level position - a fact that is only amplified in an economy where recent grads find themselves competing with workers in their sectors who have been laid off and possess years more experience. It’s weirdly comforting to know, then, that one sector that values and encourages young people is also one of the most powerful.