The media, advertising and marketing use of “baby boomer” as a synonym for “old” has become irritating in the extreme. Most of the time they are speaking to the oldest boomers who have little in common with younger boomers and almost everything in common with their elders. Yet people my age and older are excluded from the discourse as though we are already dead.
These headlines, part of a longer list collected during the past two weeks, ought to target anyone older than about 50 or 60, but they are aimed at boomers by name, half of whom are under 50:
New Electric Trike For Baby Boomers
(Do they card you before purchase?)
Baby Boomers Rethink Funerals, Go Green
(Of course, no one older ever thought of this.)
Boomers Targeted in New Waistline Scare
(Celebrate. If you’re older, fat’s not a problem.)
Skin care for natural, radiant baby boomers
(Formulated to work only on people 42 to 60.)
For baby boomers, joint replacement hip surgery
(I wonder what that surgery was my mother had 30 years ago?)
Baby Boomers Need to Care for Shoulders
(Everyone knows people born before 1946 have excellent shoulders.)
Baby boomers are big targets for fraud
(Older people, however, are too smart to be taken in by con men.)
Boomers' past sunburns could mean present cancer
(You already knew that sunburns weren’t possible before the depletion of the ozone layer. Right?)
New, tiny hearing aid helps baby boomers
(To hell with older folks; they can just live with being deaf.)
That is not to say there aren’t stories legitimately specific to baby boomers, such as these:
- Nursing Shortage Reaches New Heights as Baby Boomers Retire
- Baby boomers scoop up products that promise to help turn back time
- Museum exhibit caters to memories of Baby Boomers
- Baby Boomers Brace for Retirement
- Gen X dads more involved than baby boomers before them
But more often than not, media writers and marketers substitute the phrase “baby boomers” when they mean “elders” (I would even settle for “seniors”), effectively rendering 46 million Americans older than 60 invisible. It is a form of ageism and whenever one of those headlines turns up, I think, “What am I? Chopped liver? Is there something wrong with my money?”
And that’s what baffles me: that corporations would cut out 46 million people from their potential revenue pie. I may be more extreme than some, but I don’t buy the products of companies that target only baby boomers in their advertising.
Words are the stock in trade of the people who create these stories and marketing materials and they are failing at their jobs. I don’t believe it’s deliberate. It’s laziness; easier to use that cute phrase someone thought up for the post-World War II generation than actually think about what they are writing. But the results are as insidious as intentional ageism.
As we frequently repeat here, language is a powerful tool. Every time it is used to demean, belittle or in this case, exclude a person or group, someone loses. It reinforces acceptance of prejudice and bigotry, and nothing gets better from that.