“There aren't that many good roles for women over 40,” said 43-year-old Demi Moore a few months ago. “A lot of them don't have much substance, other than being someone's mother or wife. If we are told we are not valuable once we hit 30, it is a problem. We all have more to give…We can't just wait for something to happen. We have to say, ‘I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more.’”
- - MSNBC.com, 14 September 2007
At 49, Madonna is feeling the professional age pinch too:
"Not only does society suffer from racism and sexism but it also suffers from ageism. Once you reach a certain age you're not allowed to be adventurous, you're not allowed to be sexual. I mean, is there a rule? Are you supposed to just die?"
- - contactmusic.com, 12 October 2007
It’s not just women stars. 70-year-old Dustin Hoffman is forsaking Hollywood for the same reason:
"I might get the father who's dying or an Alzheimer's part. That's why I don't work that much and why I want to work in Europe right now. I have a much better shot at my age of getting a lead role. No one writes leads for people my age unless you're a signature actor who carries a gun and has a little more longevity."
- - kcjb910.com, 10 October 2007
At their personal level, I’m not inclined to pay much attention to multi-millionaire celebrities who moan about their lack of work. Unlike “real people” who are victims of age discrimination, they won’t lose their homes and health coverage and unless they are extravagantly profligate, they won’t spend their old age in penury as a result of lost jobs.
But their mid- and late-life career crises are important to the rest of us because media – movies, television, music, the supermarket tabloids – bombard us with visions of gloriously gorgeous youth, excluding age from our collective, public consciousness.
The trickle-down theory may have lost its influence in economics, but it works quite nicely in perpetuating ageism. When aging media stars disappear from view, so do aging workers in other fields. When no one sees old people, they become the “other”, unknown, strange, feared - and not hired.
The problem of ageism in the entertainment industry begins, in large part, with age discrimination against writers. In recent years, there have been several lawsuits against production companies that jettison the people - when they reach 40 or so - who create the stories and characters that entertain us. And young writers, having grown up in a profoundly ageist society where most portrayals of old people are negative, are not capable of imagining old age in any other way. They write – as the adage instructs us – about what they know, and what they know about old people is what their own media have taught them – illness, incapacity, incontinence.
The exceptions of such celebrities as Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Tony Bennett who manage to keep finding good work into their 70s and 80s are just that, exceptions and even they are too often victims of the “still syndrome” that infects many who write about old people: “Isn’t it amazing that she is still going strong at her age” or “He proved that he can still thrill a crowd.”
It is mostly the media that perpetuate ageism and which can do the most to change the common misperceptions about old people. But they do not and I haven’t the slightest idea how to change that. However, until it does change, ageism will continue to trickle down from celebrities to the rest of us.
We should keep our eye on Dustin Hoffman and if Europe works out for him, we can consider joining him there.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mage Bailey gives us her take on the importance of the right shoes as we get older in What Did You Give Up?]