Crabby Old Lady is having fits with the media again this week, although this one has been sitting on her hard drive for ten days or so. For decades, ageist attitudes have gone unchallenged and now that the oldest baby boomers have, at age 60, become media darlings, everyone older is - deliberately or not - consigned to the role of doddering, drooling fools who were none-too-bright to start with.
“…the baby boomer generation is better educated, has more money and is more involved in their health care decisions than previous generations, he said.”
Who says pre-boomers are such dullards? Why, it’s Dr. Carl Eisdorfer who is, Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Lenita Powers tells us, “a national expert on aging.” Crabby does not mean to malign the doctor’s credentials as a physician or researcher, but is surprised that a man who has devoted his life to studying the health afflictions of elders would make such an ageist statement.
His first two claims are true in the aggregate, although not so individually. The third is questionable in making the common and erroneous assumption that lack of a college degree demonstrates lack of intelligence or wit. Crabby is glad, at age 65, that Dr. Eisdorfer is not her physician.
Compounding the insult, Ms. Powers goes on to quote Larry Weiss, director of the Sanford Center for Aging at the University of Nevada, as he repeats the doctor’s ageist twaddle:
“The current elderly population is more passive, so they walk into a physician’s office and he says something, they don’t question it. A baby boomer, who is more educated than previous generations, will go in and question a doctor’s decision, even seek a different opinion.”
With no other explanation forthcoming, Crabby can only assume Mr. Weiss’s definition of “elderly” - i.e. “frail” (which, however, does not necessarily affect one's mind) - applies to anyone older than 60, a prejudice Crabby fears Mr. Weiss is passing on to a new generation of his students. What was that song from a Fifties musical? “You have to be carefully taught.” Elder prejudice is taught everyday by repetition of ageist attitudes.
Ms. Powers fills out her story with an interview with a 59-year old fitness freak (six days a week working at pilates, yoga, weight training, cardiovascular and resistance training plus an hour-long session on a stationary bicycle) who tells us,
“’…I keep forgetting I’m that old so I keep trying to do things I did 20 years ago,’ she said. ‘That’s probably what keeps me young.’”
Nothing wrong with all that exercise if that’s what engages you, but "young" is not a synonym for "fit," and she proves that even elders unconsciously buy into the language of ageism - “young” is good, “old” is bad.
When interview subjects exhibit such an all-encompassing attitude of ageism, a reporter has a responsibility to note its pejorative nature. Ms. Powers does not.
What is most insidious about the ageism of this piece (and many others) is its subtlety. It masquerades as a positive story on growing old while dismissing nearly 50 million people older than 60. That leads to marginalization of elders and worse, less vigorously applied healthcare which is common when people are viewed as inadequate.
In its recent love affair with all things baby boomer, the media perpetuates the ageist culture by creating an artificial division - even antagonism - between boomers and their elders.
Crabby has harbored the hope that by numbers alone boomers would, as they age, create a better social climate for all elders. Instead, the media persist in extolling boomer youthfulness while denying those who are older the respect and dignity people of all ages deserve.
Ms. Powers (or her editor) headlined this story, “Baby boomers changing the way we look at growing old.” Not hardly, says Crabby.