ELDER MUSIC: Singing Sisters
December/May Romance

Saturday Night Live Elder Bashing

Anyone reading this blog is likely to be familiar with ageism, defined in brief as the stereotyping and discrimination of old people based entirely on their age.

It occurs in all areas of life. In the workplace, healthcare, entertainment, finance, advertising, language, movies, books, even greeting cards, old people are maligned, dehumanized and made fun of mostly with impunity.

It never changes. It never gets better. In fact, during 13 or 14 years I've been regularly inveighing against ageism, it seems to be increasing. I could be wrong about that but it feels so and it certainly is not diminishing.

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One of the biggest ways ageism is perpetuated is through the media and today, I am particularly incensed about a certain time segment of television that has made elder bashing a staple of its repertoire.

It's the late night comedy shows. Hosts Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers are the ones I see most frequently and every one of them makes it a regular practice to demean old people. It is always off-handedly as though it carries no more more social freight than the weather forecast and it always gets them a laugh.

Jimmy, Jimmy, Stephen, Seth and the others (even, now and then, John Oliver) - that is, comedians - are among the worst purveyors of ageist hilarity, falling back on this handy kind of cheap humor whenever their or their writers' creativity fails them.

The jokes are pervasive, turning up at least once a week on each of the shows usually in the monologue but even during interviews and they use these jokes with abandon because - well, everyone knows that it is wrong, for example, to make fun of the disabled but mocking old people's failings and foibles is just good fun.

What infuriates me beyond the ageism itself is that it is perpetrated day in and day out from otherwise talented performers who help keep me sane in this dark era of America's political crisis.

And that brings us to this: Throwaway lines that take five or six seconds to toss off are bad enough. A protracted attack including just about every stereotype known of old people is quite another.

In Saturday's Interesting Stuff column, I posted the wonderful video from NBC-TV promoting actor Melissa McCarthy's appearance as host of Saturday Night Live that evening.

McCarthy's Sean Spicer segment was not brilliantly written this time but okay, likewise Alec Baldwin's Trump impersonation and Weekend Update was one of Colin Jost's and Michael Che's best this season. There were other good moments. And then there was a skit about the Amazon Echo.

It is only 2:40 minutes long but it feels, while watching it, as if it will never end – on and on and on and on.

Perhaps it is understandable for young comedians steeped in unchallenged ageist humor from birth to believe this is acceptable, even funny. But I doubt they would agree to perform in a similar take down of, for example, brown people, women, Jews, Muslims or LGBTQ people.

And get this: Each week, SNL produces more skits, recorded and live, than they can use in one show and the final choice of which ones to include is made at dress rehearsal by producer, Lorne Michaels.

Lorne Michaels is 72 years old. Apparently he sees no personal irony in this week's Amazon Alexa skit choice.

It's everywhere on late night television, elder bashing is, and that spreads continued acceptance of ageist behavior far and wide particularly among young adults who are the main fans of late night humor shows which are further distributed through YouTube.

As gerontologist and Professor Emeritus of Medical Sociology at Duke University Erdman B. Palmore admitted in an article in the Encyclopedia of Ageism, humor may be a less serious form of ageism than, for example, employment or criminal discrimination. However, he continued:

”...because negative humor is so frequent and insidious, it may well be a root cause of the more serious forms of ageism...

“Just as racist and sexist jokes support negative attitudes about race and sex, most jokes about old people are ageist. Most tellers and listeners are probably unaware of their ageist effect, which may even increase the joke's impact on the listener's unconscious attitudes.”

For the record, I have two Amazon Echos and use them as easily as any young person. So do many other elders.

Comments

One of the reasons why I no longer watch the late night shows is that they bash everyone pretty viciously. Not my kind of humor.

My husband received an Echo Dot for his 70th birthday this year and uses it for any number of things. Just yesterday he was explaining how fellow Echo owners could call each other without needing their phones. He's more electronically savvy than people half his age.

It seems to me that human behavior across all age groups has always been a great source of material for humor. Jokes about children's behavior, teen behavior, young adult behavior, relationship behavior, etc. I see no aspect of human behavior left untouched by comedians. We are the funniest things on the planet. Our behavior (I am 71) is not exempt. I find some of it hilarious and can relate to it personally. Some of it not so funny. But like all humor I take it in the spirit in which it is intended.

I agree with you Gary. If I can laugh at other groups behavior, then I'd be a hypocrite if I wouldn't laugh at my own. As long as the joking is not done in a mean spirit.
Some times the jokes even play up the "smarts" that people gather as they age. Does that mean that I'm disparaging younger people?

I take it in the spirit it was intended too and that's mean spirited. It seems to be perfectly acceptable for older people to be made fun of for whatever reason. I'm more tech savvy than I was in my 30's when I first started using computers. I feel like the younger generations are waiting for us to shuffle off and until we do they can treat us with contempt. As someone once said, living well is the best revenge, and that is what I do.

The first thing I thought about after viewing the SNL video was "I'll bet Ronnie is having a fit." because I sure did.
Unfortunately, SNL (as is most broadcast TV) is geared towards a young audience who think that everybody over the age of 35 are to be mocked.
Unfortunate too, is that SNL, while trying to be so liberal on one hand and wouldn't think of mocking any ethnic group, thinks nothing of doing just that to the elderly.

Not being one to comment here very often I just have to get into this one. SNL is not on my radar, hardly ever watch it but this time I did and notably was it not funny, any of it, but I couldn't last until this apparently ageist piece happened. I do not appreciate what they call humor and find it sophomoric at best. Now does this make me something or another at age 79 yesterday, that can or might be made fun of, so be it. Humor always targets someone or something that are characteristics of some people. It has always been thus, if it offends do not watch. To miss SNL which I have for many of these years it has been popular, did not diminish my life one whit, only one old man's opinion of course. I think we do, say and act in ways that are pretty easy to make fun of, go ahead if that turns you on.

Ronni, you wrote that "Lorne Michaels is 72 years old. Apparently he sees no personal irony in this week's Amazon Alexa skit choice."

To me, that's probably the exact reason why he saw no problem with the skit. Just as Jewish comedians play up the Jewish stereotypes in their jokes and gay comedians play up the gay stereotypes in their jokes, we old people often enjoy playing up the 'old person going a bit dotty' stereotype ourselves, especially with family and friends and when groups of us get together.

I get as annoyed as you do when it is assumed that because I am 80 I am technologically illiterate. But I didn't see that assumption in this skit. In fact, just the opposite. The 'old folks' in the skit had happily incorporated their new gadget into their lives and were making very good use of it!

After all, there really are smartphones especially designed for elders with failing eyesight and failing dexterity. We don't object to those. So why not invent an 'Alexa Silver' for those of us in the 'going a bit dotty' category?

I agree with Estelle. We should all be able to laugh at each other and with each other (and at ourselves). In comedy, we are all fair game.

Marty... we are trying to figure out how to use Echo for messages and phone calls. Have you written about it on your blog? We love our Echo, mainly for music. Someone said they have news read to them, haven't tried that yet.

I know that some people make jokes about being old because they themselves are afraid of being old. Sorry youngsters, it's going to happen. At least I wish everyone a long and healthy life.

Since retirement and relocation, I've been involved in politics for the first time in my life. At meetings, protests and rallies, there are always several 30-50 year olds who say things like: well I'm a millenial, you're a boomer; and they turn away, to another person, conversation, et al. While not nasty, it's dismissive. Maybe it's me. It's the dismissal that is infuriating. These are not teenagers or college kids.....these are full-fledged adults Recently on a Facebook political GROUP of locals, someone posted his snit about the last election and that he was not ever going to vote again! I posted that i felt his pain, but to take a break from all of the uproar and come back to 'fighting' for what he felt was the right thing in the future when he felt that he could do so. Almost immediately, there was a very angry post from a similar-politics guy which included 'how you old people think...' I never have revealed my age or post a photo.... . ??birthday is posted on my page I guess.BUT!

I agree with this column, and it's up to those of us who are seniors to speak up and make a difference. Thanks for doing so.

I agree with Marian Van Eyk McCain. If we can't laugh at ourselves and our foibles then we just no longer have it in us to laugh, which would be very sad indeed. I do believe that there is a lot of ageism going on in our society and a lot of it is promoted by media. Hollywood and advertisers are probably the largest culprits. What brings about any of the "isms" that may exist usually come about through promotions that, in their message, stimulate fear and/ or disregard for values of respect towards the group that is being targeted. If anything, I would have looked at that skit as border line racist and if there had not been kate mcmann(is that her name?) in between, that would have been my take away rather than ageist. On the other hand, that is me as a "sensitive" white person looking at depictions of elderly Blacks. But it is a sticky question.

I have to agree with the "un-offended". During my 75 years I've counted on humor to get through the rough spots (beating cancer for instance) and life in general. I have several e-mail pals who often share cartoons, jokes and laughs about our age and I believe a broad sense of humor about just about anything - especially our challenges - helps to diminish problems and keep things in perspective.

I loved that Amazon Echo skit when I first saw it on Saturday and seeing it again I'm still not offended in anyway. You've got to admit there is more than a grain of truth in elderly people misunderstanding spoken words and technical devices. If we can laugh at ourselves, we get a pass at laughing at other age-related stereotypes.

By the way, Alexa has her own comprehension problems.
We have one of these in our office and when a co-worker asked me about my Lexus, Alexa immediately responded that she didn't understand his question!

I came here, too, when I read about it -- on Poynter, which found it very funny. I have to admit: I laughed out loud. And, did you notice? They targeted in particular "the greatest generation" -- not the boomers, which Lorne Michaels at 72 is closer to (oldest boomers turning 71 this year). So color me both offended and amused, and cynical that they perpetuated the notion that baby boomers aren't *really* old.


I was disappointed when Trevor Noah came out with a "humorous" critique of Trump, attributing his irrational and onerous behaviors to being "an old person". Trump is reprehensible in my opinion, but let's not point to his age as the reason. He and the audience thought it was hilarious. It even sounded like there was a consideration that this could be a real cause of Trump's outrageous behavior. I generally like and appreciate Noah's humor and commentary. This was not one of those times.

I watch the late night shows most evenings and enjoy them. Nothing is off limits for comedians, and we elders are no exception. If I were offended, I simply wouldn't watch. They're still funnier than SNL, which has become very hit or miss (mostly miss).

I don't understand the use of the first illustration. It's a classic optical illusion with both an old woman and a young woman. How is that ageist?

"Blessed are they that can laugh at themselves for they shall never cease to be amused." I forget who made that quote.

Maybe it's me, but the skit made me laugh. I didn't think it mean spirited and I'll bet Lorne Michaels laughed at it too. In fact I'd like to have one of those "Silver Echos"!

Perhaps the political climate has made us all a little testy? I need laughter to counterbalance the dour situation we find ourselves in.

I am so glad you brought this up. We were watching the show and when this came on, I turned to my husband and said this is ageism and I don't like it.

Pied Type...
It wasn't intended to be an example of ageism - just a classic optical illusion from many decades ago that I like and thought I had used to just indicate what age differences look like.

Ronni and Pied Type...

When I first saw this optical illusion many years ago, it was referred to as "Young lady or old hag". I just checked on Google and there are still references to the "old hag" concept.

So yeah, pretty ageist alright.

Oh weird... I see that my last comment just posted itself twice. Have no idea what that's about...except...my cat walked all over my keyboard last night and now I'm having a heck of a time getting my mouse to work properly :-)

Except for the opening skit (which is usually still funny), I stopped watching SNL about 20 years ago when they took a turn towards toilet and locker room jokes. It's more of a mix these days since they have so much comedic material to draw from thanks to The Orange Apparition, but I rarely watch the whole show, as I did for many years. It's just not as funny anymore, and some of the humor can be pretty mean-spirited. I agree that there would be a huge outpouring of protest if viewers perceived that SNL was targeting race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. However, it always seems to be open season on elders, even with an older person (Lorne Michaels) in charge.

Although I don't like it, I can handle ageist-leaning humor in reasonable doses as long as it's not too mean-spirited; I can also laugh at some of elders' (my own) foibles. However, I agree that the late-night "boys" often overdo it. They're mostly in their mid 30s-early 40s now--only a few short years to go until they wake up and find themselves 50 or even 60. By then, though, they'll likely have been replaced by younger versions--who will continue to make ageist jokes. Sigh.

You know . . . I'm a woman, and I've been both highly amused and highly insulted by jokes about women. I'm a (sober) alcoholic, and I have equally mixed reactions to jokes about drunks. Ditto jokes about the old. It depends on so many things--my mood that day, the politics of the joker, the level of intelligence of the joker, the phase of the moon . . . sometimes I laugh, sometimes I'm outraged. But I do think it's true that there's not a group in the world that's immune. People make jokes about babies, kittens, saints, the clergy . . .

I do, though, agree that consciousness-raising regarding ageism is a good thing.

Oh, and about Lorne Michaels--I'm guessing he simply doesn't identify as old. It's taken me a lot of time and effort to shift my view of myself. When's the last time you looked at someone your own age and viscerally assigned them to your parents' generation before you could stop and remind yourself it's YOUR generation? My age is only a small part of my identity, and it's not even among my top five self-perceived qualities.

I agree with Gary and others who are not offended by elder humor. I read once that humor is just reality exaggerated. We do forget words and misunderstand them, so I think it's fair game to base a joke on those things. I am not offended by that. If the joke is cruel or demeaning that offends me.

What really offends me is to have someone imply that because I am old I cannot understand instructions. I recently changed dentists and the office girl wanted me to bring my daughter and when I questioned why this was necessary I was told so that she would understand what they proposed doing. I was highly offended. Did they think I was "too old" to understand the instructions or "too old" to relay them correctly?

I do concede that repetutious jokes about the ideosyncrasies of elders contribute to a stereotype and that can contribute to ageism.

I think Marian, Gary and Estelle got it right. I'm 84 and I must have some of the foibles of age in the electronics dept. For heave's sake, I still don't understand how the old telephones worked! Any group which has distinguishing characteristics is red meat for comedians. Really, folks, get over it. If you don't like them, don't watch, or boycott whatever they're pushing. But stop being so darn sensitive. Years ago when I was not old and neither was my sister and we looked pretty good for our ages -mid-fifties- she denied that we were old. But I told her to think of how newspapers would describe us if were hit by a car in some busy place. "Two elderly ladies struck by..."

LindaC said above exactly what I intended to post, so I'll just quote her: I know that some people make jokes about being old because they themselves are afraid of being old. We do indeed make jokes about things we are afraid of.

Whoa. I posted above (Kate Gilpin) before actually watching the SNL video. I tend to like SNL, and thought that folks were being hypersensitive here--as I said in my original comment, nobody is--or should be--immune from jokes. But--12 hours and more later, I've finally watched the video, and I'm fairly outraged. The thing is . . . if you're going to ridicule a group--any group--you'd better be damn sure you justify it by being extremely funny. This video wasn't funny at all. It demeaned old people in the broadest and sleaziest way, with virtually no wit at all. So--Ronni--I take it all back, this was a really scurrilous piece. Shame on them.

There is an element of truth in all humor. There are times in life, when humor is the only tool at your disposal. I thought it was, laugh out loud funny. Ageism does exist, in many areas, how patients are perceived by many in the medical profession, that kind of ageism affects treatment and options and needs to be recognized and remedied through education. Humor is also a tool for education, I am 79 and recognize the bias against aging, but not being able to laugh at ourselves adds to that stereotype. It was not mean spirited, only somewhat exaggerated to create the humor. Time will introduce everyone to the experience that is aging, you might as well laugh

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