The media frenzy that followed Mia Farrow's announcement that Frank Sinatra might be the father of her son, Ronan, quickly became more about the Sinatra-Farrow-Allen triangle than about the estimable Ronan himself. He is not, after all, some ragged love-child, but an accomplished lawyer, journalist, human rights activist, and former State Department official. The public spent a few moments searching for Sinatra clues in Ronan's handsome visage and moved swiftly on to the spicier discussion of Mia's and Woody's infidelities.
The Sinatra allegation might be dismissed as just another savory meal for movie fans, except that hidden in reporters' language about infidelity among mega-stars was the insidious message that if Ol' Blue Eyes is actually Ronan's father, his engagement in the necessary sex act would be rare for a man of his age.
Here's how David K. Li puts it in the NY Post: "It also might be a slightly remarkable feat for Sinatra, who would have been around 78 when Ronan was conceived." You will notice the word "slightly." I am not appeased by this modifier, but its use interests me because it may be a window into the souls of many young writers who have peered uncertainly into their futures and wrongly imagined an arid sexual landscape.
Li -- along with other writers using the same source -- has the chronology wrong (Sinatra was born in 1915, just 71 years before Ronan was conceived), but that is less to the point than the way in which journalists, along with the makers of pharmaceuticals targeting erectile dysfunction, perpetuate the belief that baby making is a chore for older men.
Star-watcher lists of celebrity fathers are often accompanied by wry innuendo (and sometimes downright awe) that so-and-so has produced a son despite being over 50. Many of these lists are produced by women, and they sometimes reflect the prevalent female frustration with men who leave their aging wives for women with perkier breasts and riper wombs.
Women writers have their bugaboos, foremost among them wrinkles and sags, causing young women reporters to impose upon us phrases like, "She's 45 but she still looks fabulous," a condescension unmatched for its deflating power over middle-aged woman readers, not to mention the celebrities who are objects of brutal day-to-day assessments of their faces and figures.
Aging is something young people will always -- understandably -- view with a mixture of dismissal and dismay. The response to the idea of senior sex is a bit like the response to the horrific acts of a survival series: we don't want to go there, but there is pleasure to be found in imagining from a safe distance just how difficult it must be.
Information glut is upon us and no one argues that if a news source expects to come out ahead -- or indeed to survive -- it must feed the public what it craves. That has come to mean something broader than traditional journalism, in which actual facts were imperative, as we trend more and more toward insinuation, titillation, and gruesome detail.
At the University of Wisconsin's School of Journalism, the Center for Journalism Ethics acknowledges the "difficult practical task of applying norms and standards to ever new and changing circumstance," but also exhorts journalists to "minimize unnecessary harm to vulnerable subjects of news stories."
Sinatra loved many women openly and suggesting that he was a rounder is not disingenuous, but implying that he'd have had trouble getting it up is (in a follow-up to the Li story, another NYPost writer referred to Sinatra as "geriatric," a term that readily resounds as "impotent").
Disparagement of men as time-lapse lovers is not merely ageism; it's an offense to maleness. Researchers are churning out senior sex studies at an increasingly rapid rate, virtually all of them confirming that physically healthy men can be eager, proficient, even vibrant sex partners well into their 80s.
Theoretically, good journalism follows the rules of empathy and objectivity. Never having experienced the state of being old, and never, one hopes, having been observers in the bedroom of 50-plus lovers, young writers should be cutting their elders -- and themselves -- a break. I and others (the over-50 crowd) have been to the future, and it is not at all the Viagra and Botox cocktail one trembles at 35 to imagine.
Sienna Jae Fein blogs at www.datingseniormen.com.