A while ago I was watching the TV panel show QI. One of the panellists, Lee Mack, usually a very witty comedian decided to risk an extremely sexist joke which implied that all women were stupid. Instead of the laugh he was expecting, the audience hissed and booed. Quick as a flash, Sandi Toksvig, the host of the show said: “Sorry Lee, that was misjudged - there’s been a regime change!” And then everyone laughed. Which got me thinking about the reaction Lee Mack might have had if the joke had been about old people being slow-witted or stupid. I suspect that few would have found it unfunny and crass and most would have laughed.
Why? Because making fun of older people for being slow-witted is still perfectly acceptable. There may have been a regime change when it comes to sexism, but not when it comes to ageism.
Over the past week or two I decided to collect examples of ‘everyday ageism’. All the various ways in which people feel it’s perfectly normal to portray older people or old age in a number of insulting and demeaning ways. In total I collected nearly 40 references to age in some shape or form and, of them all, only 4 portrayed the older person in a positive, and in one case, heroic way.
I’d like to share some examples with you here and have grouped them into the following 6 categories:
1. Yuck! Old People Are Physically Disgusting, Weak or Ugly
2. Of Course We Can't Manage Technology
3. We're All Losing Our Marbles
4. Follow These Rules to be Acceptable
5. Oh No, It's Happening to Me! Younger People Worrying About Ageing
6. Occasionally Older People Can Be Seen as Heroic, Stoic or Amusing - Which Makes a Nice Change!
I recently quoted a World Health Organisation survey that found that one in two people is ageist, including older people themselves! And nobody cares, or that’s how it seems to me. Well, I care. Not just because I am entering old age myself but because being the butt of ageist ‘jokes’ and other demeaning sentiments chips away at our self confidence, self esteem and morale with every year that we grow older. I often wonder how it would feel to live in a world which venerated rather than despised old age. I’d probably have to go to some notable Asian culture and guess what? Places like South Korea and Japan have the longest lived people in the world! So, ageism is a powerful force for ill in our society and I long for the day when ageist humour is greeted with booing and hissing rather than laughter from the audience. Then the joke will be on the comedian and not on all of us.
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Teatime with Tricia - Debbie Paver, of Pavers Shoes
I am in total agreement with you. As a very fit and active 67 year old, I get so annoyed at the amount of older female comedians who fill their act with jokes about their inability to do things, about wetting themselves, being flatulent; about aches and pains and forgetting things etc etc. My argument is, if anyone from any other group, such as a black or gay comedian, stood up saying various awful things, which they stated were happening/they were doing because they were black or gay etc, there would be an outraged backlash. However, apparently it's fine for older women to say it about themselves and in doing so imply they're speaking for all older women. Oh how we laughed! A most unamused and annoyed Mary Ardern
The comment about NHS staff assuming anyone over the age of 60 is decrepit, brought back memories of my late husband who was taken into A & E for a medical emergency whilst repairing some complicated machinery in our factory. While he was sent off for tests, the young A & E doctor asked me questions about my husband, ending with a patronizing 'does he do his own shopping ? '. I just said 'Well he hasn't done it for the last 40 years, I don't think he's going to start now. He was actually laying on the floor, repairing an 'XYZ123' The look of disbelief that anyone over 60 could still be working was a picture. The assumption that everyone over 60 is on their last legs, is rife in the medical profession. Perhaps this would be a good place to start the revolution.
Loved the article Tricia, I am reading a book you would love, it is called "Age Proof" by Dr Rose Ann Kenny. She is involved in a longitudinal study at Trinity College Dublin. It is so positive and affirmative. I think she would approve of the attitude of Super Troopers. Kind regards, Ann Kenny (no relation)