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.]