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.
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.