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Reconsidering Age Humor

Crabby Old Lady has been collecting a few elderjokes from around the web:

  • You don’t know real embarrassment until your hip sets off a metal detector.
  • The most frustrating thing about getting older is that every time you see an expensive antique, you remember one just like it you once threw away.
  • Let's face it, traveling just isn't as much fun when all the historical sites are younger than you are.
  • Heck, I don't feel a day older than I did a hundred years ago.
  • I'm suffering from Mallzheimer's disease. I go to the mall and forget where I parked my car.
  • Age always corresponds inversely to the size of your multi-vitamin.
  • You know you're past your prime when you start getting air-guitar elbow.

As old folks jokes go, these are not so bad. Crabby can recognize a bit of herself in each one except the first and the difficulty of air travel these days substitutes fairly well for a metal hip joint.

The fact is that some people within any affinity group – age, nationality, interest, religious – have enough common characteristics that they can easily become objects of humor. They are funny for just that reason: they occur frequently enough within the group to become emblematic.

Golfers often wear funny clothes and it’s funnier that they wear the same kind of funny clothes.

Is not Paris Hilton the epitome of the pretty, dim-bulb blonde? Or is she dumb like a fox? Either way, it works as a joke because we all recognize the type.

Every elder has lost a car in the mall parking lot. That it happens to younger people too doesn’t make it a less successful age joke.

But Crabby particularly likes the last one-liner in the list because of the unexpected modernization.

It is in the nature of humans to categorize things, even themselves, and mankind has always laughed hardest at its own foibles. Crabby thinks political correctness has removed a lot of great humor from our lives. Why shouldn’t we laugh at jokes about old people – or any other group?

The answer is usually that the jokes are mean particularly when they perpetuate stereotypes of groups that are commonly discriminated against.

For example, workplace humor about older folks being slow to take up new technology could be funny (some elders are technology-phobic) if elders were generally respected in the workplace. But because they so often are not, the jokes sting.

It comes down to respect – from others, surely, but it is also about respecting ourselves enough to acknowledge our time in life and its physical effects. Writing in Salon [subscription or day pass required] recently, Gary Kamiya explained this well:

“…resisting old age makes you old. It makes your losses serious. When you accept those losses, on the other hand, they become comic. You defeat old age by making friends with it. By letting it win. And you might as well, because it's going to anyway.

“By comedy, I don't mean simply cracking jokes about our impending decrepitude and doom - although that's an excellent idea. Nor do I mean an approach to life that refuses to acknowledge tragedy. I mean a spirit of regeneration, one that paradoxically springs from an abandonment of illusions.

“The comedic attitude offers a kind of resignation, a calm surrender to the inevitable. And it's regenerative because it doesn't see change as the enemy. It's an invincible, self-fulfilling belief, one that bubbles up from somewhere unseen.

“The comic state of mind is irrepressibly buoyant. Take away my knees, it says, and I've still got my feet. Take away my feet and I'll laugh at you all from my wheelchair. Take away my wheelchair and I'm still on the sunny side of the grave.”

Crabby Old Lady doesn’t mean to accept or ignore prejudicial age humor without protest. But by acknowledging our aging selves with honesty and finding the humor in it, we can help foster a culture where everyone can laugh about frailties, failings and shortcomings (of any group) without falling victim of the PC police. Laughter is a good thing...

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chuck Nyren takes us on a strange and wonderful fantasy about the extremes of the contemporary art world in A Minimalist Afflatus.]

Comments

My father-in-law was a perfect example of a person who fought growing old with every fiber of his being. It made him old before his time, crabby, sour and no fun to be around. Accepting the inevitable aging process is so much more graceful, and people who do that are fun/interesting for all ages of people who are thrown into their company.

Having just returned from the dentist, having, again, left my new partial dentures to be refitted, I am sitting here drinking my (vitamin shake) lunch. I have become a stereotype. That's just the way it is, and I can cry and complain about it or I can make jokes about it. I'd rather look at this factor of my aging into something I can laugh about.

Elders in Florida have solved the "forgot where I parked the car problem." What they do is put a flower, a bird or toy on the antenna so they can spot their cars in the lot.
Mal Z Lawrence, a comedian, comes to Kings Point every few years and tells the same joke every time. No matterh how many times I hear that joke, I laugh.
He says what he would like to do is go out into the lot and switch the "things" put them on different cars and watch the people try to find their cars!!

Thanks for the chuckles Ronni and Millie too. :)

I have never been offended by jokes on aging. Maybe I should be because I find ethnic jokes to be disgusting if they are meant to demean a group. Since I am in a group called Elders I find my attitude puzzling. Maybe the jokes are so close to home that, like you Ronni, I can recognize a bit of myself in them. Words can hurt but we have to be able to laugh at ourselves or we would become depressed.

I can't help but love the spirit of this one:

A 92 year-old man went to the doctor to get a physical. A few days later, the doctor saw the man walking down the street with a gorgeous young lady on his arm.

At his follow up visit, the doctor talked to the man and said, "You're really doing great, aren't you?"

The man replied, "Just doing what you said, Doc: 'Get a hot mamma and be cheerful.'"

The doctor said, "I didn't say that. I said you got a heart murmur. Be careful."

That second one hit home. When I graduated college at age 50, I started an antique store specializing in just that sort of collectable to pay off my student loans. 1930's through 50's kitchens and dining rooms were a big hit....even to the stoves and refrigerators.

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