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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Elders on Television

The representation of old people on television does not have a good history. Most of the time, when we are included at all, we are portrayed as goofy stereotypes, always forgetful and none too bright.

Undoubtedly there are others, but two exceptions immediately come to mind. Golden Girls gave us some great, good jokes about being old without demeaning the four elder women or the idea of age.

The other was the character of Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. As played by Harry Morgan, he was grumpy and snarly and also a good officer with a terrific sense of humor – a role model for the unruly younger members of the medical unit. Morgan, who said Potter was the best role of his life, died in December at age 96.

Speaking of people in their tenth decade, Tuesday was Betty White's 90th birthday and elderblogger Elaine Frankonis of Kalilily emailed to ask my opinion of her new show. I thought Elaine was talking about Hot in Cleveland, but no.

Surprise to me, a new program premiered this week on NBC, Betty White's Off Their Rockers. Sort of like the old Candid Camera or the contemporary MTV show, Pranked, Betty and her elder cohorts play jokes on unsuspecting younger people for, of course, laughs. Well, the cohorts doing the pranking; Betty provides inter-prank commentary.

Although the apparent intention is to show elders in a fun-loving, positive light (some PR material describes a “cast of sassy septuagenarians who are hip, sexy and ready to party”), Elaine has some reservations and after watching the show, I am ambivalent too. Take a look at this segment from the first episode that was broadcast earlier this week:

If I ran into that in the supermarket, it would be amusing and probably worth a mention on this blog but it's a subpar comedy scene – lame, actually. Whatever you think of its quality, however, the humor is not dependent on the age of the man. You would laugh (or not) whatever his age.

Now take a look at another segment from the episode:

This makes me uncomfortable and moreso knowing that three or four of the total dozen or so pranks in the premiere episode involve elder women coming on to young men. Another:

This kind of behavior creeps out young people which is neither right nor wrong – it just is. More important is that sex in the same sentence with elders has been a bad joke forever and pranks like this one reinforce the idea that somehow elders interested in sex are dirty old men and worse, much worse - dirty old women.

The best segments in the program would be, like the cake scene above, amusing whatever the age of the participants.

Below is the full 21-minute episode. If you have time for it, watch for the genuinely funny, and charming, balloon prank along with the unresponsive hot dog/soft drink cart attendant. That one, too, would be funny even if she were a teenager.

Overall, I'm uncomfortable with this program as representative of elders because aside from the sketches that do not need to rely on old people for the humor, it is designed to ridicule elders' foibles and failings. If there were more of us on television, more of us like Betty White's character, Rose, on Golden Girls and like Colonel Potter, it wouldn't feel so offensive.

On the other hand, maybe my funny bone is broken. Off Their Rockers is an adaptation of a hit Belgian TV series, Benidorm Bastards, that has won a boatload of awards in Europe.

What do you think?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Barbara Sloan: Irons and Mangles


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Since I don't watch much tv, in fact pretty much none, I can't have an opinion on that but did recently see an oldie-- City Slickers and then City Slickers II with Jack Palance as an oldie himself as a man who was old but still virile and with it. If you haven't seen the Billy Crystal comedies in awhile, and want some laughs, it provided those also to us at least-- although what is humor is often very subjective.

I don't think I would like it.

I'll pass on this one. It's just another example of the dumbing down of America. I'm weary of entertainment that is rampant with sexual content. I'm weary of bad language, sexualization of children, offensive behavior & body language, etc. We've totally lost all sense of class & acceptable behavior in our culture. I'm longing for a return to real entertainers like Bill Cosby, George Burns, Phyllis Diller & Carol Burnett & let's not forget Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner. Now that was humor & fun. I'll make do with reruns & good books. Dee

It is idiotic! -- barbara

Thanks anyway. I'll pass. I'm off to the gym to keep up with the Jones's.

Betty White is a jewel; the show not so much.

I watched it and didn't laugh one time. I thought it was inane and beneath Betty White's talent. I will not watch it again.

Not at all interested in wasting my time with this type of nonsense.

Have you ever seen the BBC's British Comedy "Waiting for God"? In my opinion, it's a pretty good representation of Elders. Here in San Diego it runs on Saturday nights on our PBS station. Story line: Elders in a "retirement home" British style.

Elders are represented in a very 'human' style with their ups and downs of normal lives, their kooky or stiff-necked relatives, and one woman resident who is a true old curmudgeon and the burr under the saddle of the home's CEO (who is an idiot, of course). I'm very fond of this one.

However, I have always preferred the British sense of humor and their books and television programs, so I may be a wee bit prejudiced here. ;-)

Part of Betty White's shtick is the off-color sex joke – she's kind of like an elder blues singer in that way – but I didn't find it funny on the new show. Surely there is something funny elders can do besides act like horndogs.

Not my cup of tea. But I enjoy Hot in Cleveland, although it gets silly and inane and can grate on your nerves, all four actresses are great.

Is anyone else as fond of As Time Goes By, the British series with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer? I know it's been around a while, but I love the series! It's a "romance" between two elders that is delightful to watch. If I could just block out the canned laughter...but it's worth a look!

As I told Ronni, I didn't think any of the show was funny, and it could be played without using elders at all. You all might like to know that I found that we can watch "Waiting for God" online at http://www.tv.com/shows/waiting-for-god/watch/
And I'd much rather spend my sitcom time doing that. Thanks for pointing us to that, Miki.

And "As Time Goes By" has always been a favorite of mine, too.

I agree with Elaine. I finally turned it off as it was irritating and definitely not funny.

Dee: Mel Brooks made one of the dirtiest videos ever, so dirty it was to my knowledge not shown in the states. It was called "The Hitler Rap." You can watch it on You Tube,if you want.

I don't like most of what passes for entertainment on TV today, including stupid off-color stuff regardless of age. There IS a difference between stupid and sophisticated. I don't think I need to watch this show to know I won't like it--so I don't plan to.

I don't care much for prank shows, or pranks either, for that matter, so I didn't even watch the clips above.

Seems like Betty White could find something better to do, but then maybe she likes pranks.

To each her own, as "they" say.

I admit that I was disappointed too. It hurts my heart to see any representation of elders in anything less that what we are, persons that have lived and contributed to this life for longer than the persons that create these programs to diminish Elders. That's my story and I'm stickin to it!

Prank shows depend on demeaning or belittling someone for laughs. Shows like the "America's Funniest Home Videos" where people fall or trip or hit themselves in unmentionable places while the audience laughs at their misfortune are horrendous.

I haven't seen Betty White's version, but I am sure it is based on the same premise: a cheap laugh at someone else's expense.

Hate prank shows. I always end up feeling uncomfortable at best and in-pain-for-the-dupe at worst.

I am glad that Betty White is enjoying late-life celebrity. I object to all the women in Hot in Cleveland acting like boy-crazy teenage girls; surely womankind deserves better than that stereotype.

You probably already know the problem. Here at GMC Headquarters, we subscribe to DirecTV, so I don't know if I'll get to watch the Mighty Card. Stanford's August 31st home opener is set to air on the Pac-12 Networks, which means they won't appear on my television unless the network and the satellite company come to an agreement in the next two weeks.

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