[EDITORIAL NOTE: In Saturday’s Elder News list, I included a link to a media story about Time Goes By with a photo of me that I actually like. In a comment, Lydia of Writerquake suggested I add it to the banner. Obviously, I can’t add it without redesigning the entire banner, so I replaced the last photo on the right with the new one.
That means there are about 20 years between the ninth and tenth photos, but I couldn’t figure which earlier one to delete. Not that you should care about this particularly, but I’ve aged a lot since the original final photo, which is five years old, so this is more honest.]
A year and a half ago, I published a story here I called Best Media Effort to Combat Ageism Award. It was about a small scene in an episode of the TNT series, The Closer titled “The Round File.” The story concerned a retired police reporter, Mr. Baxter, who confesses to the poisoning murders of seven residents in the nursing home where he lives.
Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson, played by Kyra Sedgwick, is ready to book him when he recants, explaining that the confession was a ruse to get the police department to pay attention to the murders which he had reported in the past and been ignored.
Although the homicide squad doubts there is a previous complaint from Baxter and is suspicious of his recantation, that changes when a file of his past report turns up. As Commander Taylor, played by Robert Gossett, hands over the complaint file to Chief Johnson, the following exchange takes place:
TAYLOR: [The officer who took Baxter’s first complaint] found Baxter uncooperative. In fact, the old guy was more interested in asking questions than answering them. So Detective Gordon dumped his complaint in the round file. You know, Chief, we get this kind of stuff all the time. It’s hard enough staying on top of the crimes we find, much less the ones people make up.
JOHNSON: (perusing file) I know exactly what happened. Mr. Baxter is old and difficult and because of that he was just dismissed out of hand. [I know] that’s what happened because that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do to him myself.
It was a short scene, not even a minute long, but it is just this kind of moment, if repeated often enough in the context of larger stories, that can change a culture’s attitudes, beliefs and behavior.
Think of how MADD’s campaign with Hollywood producers to insert small moments about appointing designated drivers in drinking scenes has made that a common practice. And undoubtedly the fact that no one smokes cigarettes in movies and television shows anymore (well, sometimes the bad guys do, but that’s how you know who the bad guys are these days) has contributed to the reduced number of smokers in the U.S.
There is no reason this can’t work to improve attitudes toward old people, ageism and age discrimination in the culture, and there are a few recent incidences on television, in addition to The Closer scene, that hearten me.
A recent episode of Law & Order titled “Zero” dealt with the hard facts of age-related memory problems and possible dementia when a respected judge, played by Ned Beatty, is revealed to be reading decisions from the bench off a laptop screen, word-for-word, supplied by his law clerk typing nearby.
It was a not uncommon story of a widower, an old and lonely man trying to hang on to the only part of his life he still enjoys. It is important to portray these aspects of life along with all the youthful ones, and Law & Order presented it well as part of the overall plot.
An amusing thread in the same episode had District Attorney Jack McCoy, played by Sam Waterston who is a few months older than I, complaining that he can’t read now that the City has replaced incandescent bulbs with new CFLs. I have the same problem.
A reader emailed about a recent episode of Boston Legal titled “Juiced” in which Catherine Piper, played by 84-year-old Betty White, tries to enlist an attorney’s help in suing the television networks for not programming more for senior citizens. (In real life, Ms. White has testified before Congress a couple of times about the prejudiced portrayal of elders on television.)
I have never watched Boston Legal and unfortunately, ABC’s execrable episode viewer will not work on any browser on my computer, so I wasn’t able to view it. Maybe in repeats on TNT or USA some day, since this is the series’ last season.
As few as these moments are so far, it is encouraging that they seem to be increasing. As MADD and cigarette opponents have shown – and advertisers have always known – repetition works. It would be good if there were more “elder moments” on television.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Gullible tells of a magical evening with friends in The Boulder Creek Journal: The Spell of the Campfire.]