A Little Elder Humor
Elder Storytelling Place Error

Elder Media Bias

category_bug_ageism.gif Ageism of the casual sort is so deeply embedded in American culture that even "the newspaper of record" lets it slide without acknowledgment.

In a business story about reasons for the slowdown in growth of online sales, it is suggested that consumers are suffering from "internet fatigue" while retailers are improving the in-store shopping experience. Then the reporters, Matt Richtel and Bob Tedeschi, drop in the obligatory man-on-the-street quote:

"John Johnson, 53, who sells medical products to drug stores and lives in San Francisco, finds that retailers have livened up their stores to be more alluring.

"'They're working a lot harder,' he said as he shopped at Book Passage in downtown San Francisco. 'They're not as stuffy. The lighting is better. You don't get someone behind the counter who's been there 40 years. They're younger and hipper and much more with it.'"

The New York Times, 16 June 2007

The story then continues as though nothing mean, stupid or ageist has been said leaving the implication, with no challenge, that anyone who is old enough to have been working for 40 years is stuffy, unhip and not with it.

As every advertiser knows, repetition sells and it is this kind of casual, off-the-cuff remark, repeated day in and day out on television, in magazines and newspapers without a peep from anyone, that makes ageism, age discrimination in the workplace and all the other biases elders are subject to, acceptable.

Oh sure, newspapers publish stories about elderbloggers, elders who run marathons and "still" do things supposed by young reporters to be extraordinary achievements for someone old - you know, positive stories, sometimes ageist in their own way. They do not make up for this kind of regular, offhand contempt for elders.

Had Mr. Johnson's statement referenced blacks or women instead of old people, it would never have seen print - or at least, not without further commentary.

[Norm Jenson is back at The Elder Storytelling Place today to tell a very scary tale with a very funny punchline. It's called The Repo Man.]


Thanks for your relentless pursuit of this sort of ageism. Just have to keep making folks aware of what they're doing; the message they're sending.

It's a quote, one doesn't change quotes no matter how ignorant.

"They (edit: newspapers) do not make up for this kind of regular, offhand contempt for elders."

Don't shoot the messenger.

No, but a newspaper doesn't print every quote...not by a long shot. They pick and choose the quotes they think will support their story.

Among many reasons I return to TGB steadily is that I learn here new ideas, trends, laws, policies, problems, resources, and solutions. I also reflect here on old or familiar information that often is so exquisitely subtle, even camouflaged, that I dismiss it even while I wince as I experience or observe it.

In this post, for instance, Ronni cites "unacceptable" utterances and attitudes that convey ignorance, stupidity, and bias. Her noting that the New York Times reports all this without comment or challenge reminds me that I am not paranoid, not over sensitive, not imagining what I read in relatively enlightened publications (or hear in relatively enlightened discussions).

So, while increasing my knowledge is good, getting affirmation of my sanity is sometimes even better.

One thing that irritates me is the oft heard comment that grandchildren have to teach their grandparents how to use the computer. I taught myself and am still teaching myself how to solve glitches that occur.

GoingLikeSixty: As M Sinclair Stevens points out, just because a reporter has a quote from someone doesn't mean it is used - or should be.

The ageism expressed in this particular quote is irrelevant to the story and therefore egregiously inappropriate.

Other than comment on your blog, how can we protest this sort of thing? Ageism is so common and subtle that I have to point it out to my husband.
So often people don't even understand what they did wrong, and we have to explain it. I'm glad your blog is doing that, but are the offenders reading?

"...but are the offenders reading?" asks travelinoma. Sadly, they are almost certainly not. But we are, thanks to the indefatigable Ronni and her supersharp eye. (I remember that headline in the NYT but since I didn't bother reading the article I would never have seen the offending quote but for this post).
So the main point of posting these things here is that we are alerted things we might otherwise not come across. (Or, blinded by cultural habit, might not even notice. Many elders are as guilty of ageism as younger people, unfortunately, so ubiquitous is it in the culture. So we need to challenge ageist Uncle Tomism too, while we are at it).
The next step is up to all of us. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to all the coming generations of elders, not merely to grumble amongst ourselves about these incidents of ageism but to make a point of confronting it at source, whenever we can. One letter to an editor protesting about this (or any similar incident) would likely as not get binned but it would be interesting to see what would happen if fifty or a hundred of us wrote one about the same incident, wouldn't it?

I'm embarrassed to admit I get excited when I see someone behind the counter who doesn't look like a youngster.

Thanks for the responses.
Since we don't have a link to the story, we have to take your word for it that it is egregiously inappropriate and irrelevant.
(Which in itself is selective reporting to make a your point which you accuse the NYT of doing.)
@Marian: I don't think this is the one instance to mount an attack against the NYT. However, if you can show a pattern over time, I think you might get a response.

@Darlene: do you see the Video Professor commercial about the woman saying her THREE YEAR OLD knows more about computers than she does? BUT: I don't know squat about computers, but I know a lot about different applications.

Apologies. I just noticed the link.

GoingLikeSixty: I assure you that in reporting every story, a journalist has more quotes and more information than he or she ever uses. If a reporter included all the information known for a particular story, the newspaper would have room for only half a dozen stories in each issue.

At Time Goes By, we point out ageism when we run across it. Over nearly four years of this blog, many have been reported, including in The New York Times. I cannot recap (or even link to) the dozens (maybe hundreds) every time there is a new one.


I find that even people who think they are not ageist often in fact are. I have referred a number of people to the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) which is designed to reveal a variety of negative biases including ageism. Some very good friends of mine who lovingly work with seniors have been shocked to learn that they are biased against aging.

You will remember from my current series on Jung's Seven Tasks of Aging that the first task is "To face the reality of aging and dying." I submit that until one fulfills that task, one will likely have a negative bias against aging.

I invite your readers to take a chance on learning something about themselves that could be troubling. Click here to reach the IAT site.

But a person needs not be troubled to learn he or she has a negative bias toward age (and by extension, aging people). The real issue is not whether we have a negative age bias -- overwhelmingly most people do. The real issue is what are we going to do to transcend the bias so that no negative actions flow from it.

Getting older doesn't do it.

I've met countless people in their 70s, 80s and older who are ageist. The battles that take place in senior housing "facilities" waged by the relatively fit against those in wheelchairs and on walkers coming into the same dining room are the result of ageism -- the relatively fit rejecting those who are visibly less fit because the former associate aging with infirmity. People who wage such battles have failed to fulfill Jung's First Task of Aging.

Incidentally, scores of non-profit organizations wanting to do good works for seniors call the communities they build for them "facilities." Is that not an ageist term. No one calls housing for younger people "facilities."

By my lights, the only cure for ageism is for us to become comfortable with our own age, and whatever age brings to us.

travelinoma asked what can be done to reach the offenders. My suggestion was aimed at her comment, not to suggest that you become the repository for ageist comments.

I took the IAT test today and was told that I had a Moderate preference for the young.
That's all right with me. I love young people and enjoy being around them. Of course, I enjoy being around anyone, regardless of their age, as long as they are pleasant,interesting and fun to be with.

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