Hugh MacLeod Ages Like Fine South African Wine

It's funny what people reveal about themselves online. Read my blog for any length of time and you can probably figure out my uneasy Michael Corleone-like relationship with journalism, the field I majored in and subsequently escaped. I can't decide what to think about my long absence from the profession or the fact that I don't seem to be missed.

Read online marketing guru Hugh MacLeod, the guy who plies bloggers with a South African wine in the expectation they'll sing its praises, and you discover he's got a gigantic mean streak about middle age.

This morning on Twitter, MacLeod posted this tweet to blogger Frank Paynter: "Mssg to Frank Paynter re. your attempts to 'friend' me on Facebook. Go. ----. Yourself. -------."

He then followed with another message: "Seriously. Frank Paynter. Go ---- yourself. And your Mean Kids friends. Stupid, middle-aged Losers. Enjoy."

This was at least the third time I've read MacLeod point out somebody's age in the course of insulting them, so I did a little checking on the Google. Contempt for middle age is one of his regular themes.

Exhibit A:

An art director I know was laid off from Ogilvy's in New York about 2 years ago. He's had a very hard time. His current situation is a total disaster. He's 40 years old. Before the layoff his career had been less than spectacular.

Forget to upstream and you end up like him: middle aged and crashing on a friend's couch in The Bronx.

Exhibit B:

Apparently these MeanKids folk were taking the occasional pop at me as well. Mommy! Mommy! Come quick! A posse of middle aged, self-loathing underachievers is being mean to me Boo hoo hoo hoo...

Exhibit C:

Watching the big Madison Avenue agencies trying to get with the program is a bit like watching a middle-aged married man hitting on a co-ed in a bar.

Exhibit D:

Single Middle Age: Being a Single Middle-Aged Barfly is Where It's At, Babe

I had it in my head that MacLeod was young, but I think this impression was based solely on snarky comments like these. As someone who turned 40 this year and gray 10 years earlier, I've cultivated an appreciation for young people who sneer at quadragenarians in their dotage. Unlike racists and sexists, agists always get what's coming to them in due time.

But as it turns out, MacLeod's no spring chicken. He noted his 40th birthday in 2005 with this gloomy cartoon:

R.I.P Hugh MacLeod 1965-2005 etc.

That snide young whippersnapper is one of my elders.


I don't see this as simple "ageism". Hugh's stuff always touches on our basic anxieties. And being old in combination with unaccomplished and/or unloved is one many of us have. It's connected to fears of dieing alone and/or unnoticed. Which is why he combines "middle aged" with "loser" in those examples, methinks.

Funny-- I knew his age and always thought his cartoons perfectly reflect the world view of a slightly bitter middle-aged man who moves his body, speaks, and draws like an unreformed meth head.

I'll be sixty-three later this month. I'm older even than Doc (Methuselah) Searls. I'm old enough to be the middle-aged Hugh MacLeod's father, although if he were my son we would have had him in rehab and therapy long ago. Actually, if he were my son, I flatter myself to think he might not have needed the rehab and therapy.

I've always felt sorry for Hugh MacLeod. He strikes me as an incredibly unhappy person.

Frank, are you trying to be friends with people again? Sigh, what are we doing to do with you...sending friend requests around, indiscriminately.

Products make us perfect. Without products we are imperfect. Hugh is the perfect carrier of our cultural malaise.

Thank you for posting this. I look forward to Hugh coming out the other side of this "detox" he mentions with sobriety and renewed wisdom. I've always been an optimist.


Hey, he must have been at UT when I was. I wouldn't remember him, having earned nicknames like "F*cked Up Mike" and "Crazy Mike" the hard way, but he doesn't come off like a Texas kind of guy. He'd probably find that complimentary despite the fact I didn't mean it that way, or maybe he'd just call me a middle-aged Texas doodyhead.

He's infinitely less objectionable than Dave Winer, as far as I can tell. I'm not sad about his bitterness, he embraces it and so will I. Bitter it up, homey. If it feels bad, do it.

Is it socially acceptable to be equally excited about Led Zeppelin touring and the start of American Idol? I'm hoping the first slightly de-queerballs the second.

The irony is Hugh's response to Frank's request in Facebook was that he perfectly modeled the "Mean Kids" anarchic response to people that want to create a "happy/connected" world.

Anyone who rejects Frank Paynter as a friend has lost a lot more then their temper. Frank can pretend to be a "Mean Kid" (for artistic and satirical purposes) but his body of work shows a person who is highly civil and still an astute social critic.

Frank was the publicly identified person associated with "Mean Kids" who tried to explain the intent of the site and issued public apologies to people that we're hurt by the content. He stood up and took the heat for a lot of words that most likely we're NOT his own. It was after all a shared blog with multiple writers taking whacks at blogging personalities.

For me, this virtual community we all share is illuminated by a person's words in the broader context of our world.

I now a have list of people that have abused Frank Paynter. Their words tell me a lot more about them then it could ever relay about Frank. Most of them have a long way to go to match Frank's gifts for communication, criticism and concern for people and our world.

As in politics... situations are easily polarized and the ability to step back and re-evaluate each other is a talent most of us could benefit from putting into practice.

DISCLOSURE: I too am a middle aged looser. If I was Hugh's father I like to think he'd be a different person. Maybe more like Frank's admirable son. Maybe not.

He is not that polite, is not he?

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