Widescreen: Internet has become kinder place for performers in their golden years

  • Even when wearing weird motion-capture suits for their new virtual concerts, the septuagenarians in ABBA -- Bjorn Ulvaeus, left, Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson -- were greeted with open arms by the internet last week upon their return to the spotlight after 40 years.

    Even when wearing weird motion-capture suits for their new virtual concerts, the septuagenarians in ABBA -- Bjorn Ulvaeus, left, Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson -- were greeted with open arms by the internet last week upon their return to the spotlight after 40 years. Courtesy of ABBA

 
 
Updated 9/10/2021 11:33 AM

It gets harder to see with every passing week, but there are still good things about social media. Last week's global outburst of joy over the return of '70s pop icons ABBA, who dropped two new singles ahead of a November album and a series of unique virtual concerts in London, was wonderful as an isolated event but also demonstrative of a positive development I've noticed the last few years on Twitter, Facebook, et al: a growing appreciation of older performers.

Certainly, nostalgia is king these days, and that's part of it. But not so long ago, nostalgia almost always took a back seat to snark where aging actors and singers were concerned.

 

Think back to 2008, when the public saw the first trailer for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." The popular sentiment at the time, perhaps still driven by traditional media, was that 66-year-old Harrison Ford was much too old to be headlining a fourth Indy adventure. The movie's arguable quality (I revisited it earlier this year and enjoyed it) didn't help matters.

Yet just seven years later, a 73-year-old Ford's appearance alongside Chewbacca in the second trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" inspired the kind of ecstatic joy that led to the proliferation of YouTube reaction videos. It will almost certainly happen again when the first trailer for next summer's fifth Indy movie emerges, probably sometime around Christmas. Ford turns 80 two weeks before its July 28 release date.

To what other than nostalgia can we attribute this respect and reverence for our elders? Two older BFFs may have something to do with it.

Patrick Stewart, left, and Ian McKellen became internet darlings in the last decade for their golden friendship, spotted here at a 2014 Knicks game in New York.
Patrick Stewart, left, and Ian McKellen became internet darlings in the last decade for their golden friendship, spotted here at a 2014 Knicks game in New York. - Associated Press

Ian McKellen -- who didn't become a superstar until age 61 thanks to the one-two punch of Magneto and Gandalf at the turn of the century -- and his "X-Men" co-star Patrick Stewart became internet darlings in 2013 when their working relationship on a double stage bill of "No Man's Land" and "Waiting for Godot" turned into a very well-documented friendship. When Stewart returned as Jean-Luc in "Star Trek Picard" at age 80, no one sniped that the captain was too old to fire a phaser.

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Whatever the reason, it's wonderful to see our living legends receive their laurels in their golden years from people of all ages -- while they're still alive. Younger people love 75-year-old Dolly Parton, not just because they've played "Jolene" on Spotify, but because money she donated to Vanderbilt University helped fund the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Any time a senior celebrity is trending on Twitter, people post a GIF of a relieved Denzel Washington when they learn, yes, they are still alive. (This seems to happen weekly with Betty White.)

In this one aspect, we seem to be living in a kinder world, a world where the four spectacularly talented septuagenarians in ABBA felt comfortable returning to the spotlight after 40 years away. Let's continue to thank them for the music.

• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor who thinks "Knowing Me Knowing You" is the best ABBA song, but ask him again next week.

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