“His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way,” announces an apology from the office of the Dalai Lama, sounding for all the world like one of those statements issued in the first wave of #MeToo, as various older men made pained and absurd reference to “unwanted hugs” (Pixar’s John Lasseter) or a belief that they had been “pursuing shared feelings” (talk show host Charlie Rose). Students of these mea-not-really-culpas were left with the impression that the victims’ misunderstanding was the real tragedy here, unless you counted the very belated losses of various glittering careers, which were obviously also desperately sad.

The specific “people” to which this current Dalai Lama’s apology refers are, in fact, one person – more accurately one young boy, who was invited to “suck my tongue” by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, onstage at a temple in India. The event took place in February, but has only just gone viral, meaning an apology has only now been deemed necessary by his Holiness, or rather by his Holiness’s office.

It is fair to say that the interaction with this distinctly unsettled child has not been taken by many people in the spirit in which the Dalai Lama’s office retrospectively insists it was meant, despite that insistence being accompanied by the classic non-apology apology gesture towards any hurt “his words may have caused”. In the interests of clarifying things for those pen-pushers/chime-tinklers in his Holiness’s office, it’s not the words quite so much as the spectacle of an 87-year-old man sitting expectantly with his tongue out as a child squirms in front of him.

Tongue in cheek? A video of the 87-year-old Dalai Lama asking a young child to “suck my tongue” has been viewed more than a million times on Twitter.

When is a seemly retirement age for a Dalai Lama, other than what we might broadly categorize as “before this sort of thing starts happening in public”? The Dalai Lama retired as leader of Tibet’s government in exile in 2011 – one year after he did the iPhone advert which promised that Apple’s latest model was “the most trusted phone ever” – but he retains his position as the foremost spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The process of identifying his successor has been inching forward for some time, though the Dalai Lama has mentioned dreams in which he sees himself living to 113. A few years ago, he twice stated that any female successor of his would have to be attractive or she would be “not much use”. You don’t see that particular quote of his bandied around as Instagram #inspo, though it did at least provide another occasion for his office to issue an apology.

The search for a successor continues, though an alternative Dalai Lama may also be chosen by the Chinese government. Speaking of whom, the Dalai Lama’s most committed foe, 69-year-old Chinese leader Xi Jinping, has rewritten the state rule book to allow his own premiership to go on and on. It seems to be the fashion these days. Even Leonid Brezhnev was public-spirited enough to die at 76. Vladimir Putin is 70 but regards visibly dreadful health as absolutely no bar to office.

When is a seemly retirement age for a Dalai Lama?

Over in that other superpower, the United States now appears fully committed to late-stage gerontocracy on both sides of the political divide. The next US presidential election may well be fought by a 76-year-old currently up on criminal charges and an 80-year-old president whose occasionally rambling public utterances have the effect of making one imagine his aides with their hearts in the mouths, somewhere just offstage, willing him to get to the end of them without further incident. Perhaps a lengthy and grueling election campaign will flatter this quality. More likely not.

Meanwhile, some of the most powerful companies in the world are run by men who in lesser occupations – such as mine and yours – may have been put out to pasture some time ago. It was Rupert Murdoch who once described the Dalai Lama as a “very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes”. Quite rude – the Dalai Lama is actually five years younger than the News Corp chairman, who is currently in the middle of a landmark lawsuit over 2020 “election fraud”, a lie knowingly pushed by his outlets in a scandal in which he somehow felt powerless to intervene.

The next US presidential election may well be fought by a 76-year-old currently up on criminal charges and an 80-year-old president.

Murdoch’s most recent engagement was celebrated in this column just last month. The distressing subsequent news that said engagement had been called off was buried on the day of the arraignment of Donald Trump, the aforementioned 76-year-old, a blockbuster event that also nudged headlines about the 74-year-old Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas down the pecking order. Mr Thomas has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of luxury hospitality from a major Republican donor, the 74-year-old Harlan Crow, whose hobbies reportedly include collecting Communist dictator statuary and Nazi memorabilia. A thunderous leader column in Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal obligingly referred to this as the “smearing of Clarence Thomas”.

Mandatory retirement might be a thing at some places of work in the US and beyond, but for a certain stature of man, it is evidently not something that needs to be worried about. The idea of giving way to someone a few years younger, to say nothing of a few decades, does not appear to loom large in their minds, degenerated or otherwise. On they all go, really putting the ancient into ancient wisdom. We can all celebrate a good innings, of course – but a remarkable number of today’s biggest hitters do seem to have long passed the point at which a dignified walk back to the pavilion is in order.

Marina Hyde is a London-based columnist at The Guardian, where she writes about current affairs, Hollywood, and sports