It’s not the cultural pressure on elders to behave and look like younger people or even the overt age discrimination in the workplace that marginalizes old people. I am coming to believe that these indignities would not exist if it weren’t for the indiscriminate ageism that permeates media in all its forms. It is so common and so subtle, it can even appear to be complimentary.
In the 11 June issue of Newsweek, David Gates reviews a new novel titled It’s All Right Now. He leads by noting that the author,
“…[Charles] Chadwick, a 72-year old British civil servant and first novelist, is an amateur with no career to sustain and seemingly no preconception of what a novel is...[the book] has the exhilarating freshness of not knowing any better.”
Even while coming close to dismissing the author as a non-professional, Gates’s review is favorable, so much so he concludes Chadwick is among the “masters.” But in between, he expresses surprise that the old man, a retired British civil servant, has had any association with literature at all:
“Chadwick is no unlettered primitive. Judging by [the protagonists’s] voice, his creator must have read Beckett, and perhaps Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. He alludes repeatedly to the poetry of Philip Larkin…”
Of course, this is a common conceit among many who write about books in the popular press – that we mere readers of any age (on whom, ironically, they depend for their livelihood) are too dim to have read or, if we have, to have understood anything more complex than genre fiction, let alone write it.
The undertone of the entire review is dismay at Chadwick’s accomplishment at such an advanced age. The piece is titled The Kid is All Right. The cutline is “A 72-year old civil servant pens a brilliant first novel” - both insinuating that Chadwick is an anomaly: how amazing that an "ordinary man" in his eighth decade is capable of writing a book worth reading.
Why shouldn’t someone with 70 years of life experience, some talent for words and the distinct possibility of possessing a bit of wisdom be published for the first time without surprise? I’ll read an old person’s first novel long before any of the hundreds of unripened 20-something first-timers who are published each year.
This review is an example of the kind of subtle, off-handed ageism which, if you read as much about old people as I do for this blog, becomes apparent every day and in its ubiquity, supports the belief that all but a few old people are defective in some manner.