The Continuing Plot to Kill Social Security
GRAY MATTERS: Reverse Mortgages

The Cultural Perception of Aging

category_bug_journal2.gif In a short-lived fit of actually caring about something important, I posted a story yesterday about the Peter G. Peterson-backed plot to kill Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Today, I have fallen back into what Citizen K referred to in a comment on Wednesday as “issue fatigue.” Almost.

Today's post is free of citations, links, statistics, experts and even specific examples. It's just my sense of “what is” in regard to the cultural perception of elders from observation and day-to-day media consumption of several varieties – internet news and advertising, television news and advertising, magazines and, more personally, email solicitations from PR agencies to write about various products and services.

First, some background.

When Time Goes By was barely a glimmer in the back of my mind in 2003, I had been researching aging for about seven or eight years during which time I had amassed a hefty library of books on the subject along with hundreds of pages of popular, medical and research reports. After all that study, the only message I could find was that getting old is entirely about debility, decline and disease. No one had anything good to say about it.

My refusal to believe that was the genesis of this blog which would investigate, think out loud and write about what getting old is “really like.” I would not avoid the normal changes that come with advancing years, but I would also seek to correct to some degree the prevailing zeitgeist in both popular and scholarly circles that there are no positive aspects to aging, that it is all about being unwell.

Back in those years before TGB, the potential consequences of the aging of the gigantic baby boomer generation was confined, mostly, to researchers concerned with statistics and demographics. It had not trickled down yet to advertisers, politicians, self-help gurus, cosmetic surgeons, pharmaceutical manufacturers, book publishers and the popular media. That changed in 2006, when the oldest boomers began turning 60 – a nice round number to take advantage of – revealing a huge, new potential for profit-taking.

And so they all jumped on the boomer bandwagon headlining stories in newspapers, magazines and on television for that generation creating a new market for products and services aimed at them. Internet sites with the word “boomer” in the name multiplied like bunny rabbits although most of them failed. (I can tell you why, but that's for another day.) The marketing to boomers, however, continues to grow.

But a funny thing has happened with that: the boomer-targeted media is still about how awful it is to get old. Superficially, it doesn't always look that way with the bright, shining faces of handsome people in their slim, trim bodies riding bicycles whose only concession to age is (professionally styled) gray hair - lots of it.

With regular shots of Botox, the diligent application of wrinkle cream and the right attitude (available from your web-based elder coach), the marketers tell us, life will continue as it was in our midyears except that we don't have to go to work anymore.

This is supplemented with strings of media stories and YouTube videos about 90-year-olds who run marathons, join dance competitions or climb K2 implying that if we're not outdoing youngsters at their own game, we are not upholding up our sworn duty to maintain the pretense of youth, a pursuit we must continue unto our dying gasp.

Juxtaposed with the fantasy of everlasting youth are hundreds of daily ads and commercials that promise to remedy the ailments of age – arthritis, osteoporosis, gastro-intestinal disturbances, thinning hair, cholesterol, menopause, leaky pipes, etc.

And those PR pitches I mentioned? They are unfailingly about ill health. Just yesterday, I received solicitations to interview experts (many have books to flog) and write about products or services related to glaucoma, back pain, colon cleanses, joint pain and diabetes. Because I write a blog about aging, PR people seem to think it must be exclusively about health issues.

I don't mean to imply that our ailments and conditions are unimportant and should not be addressed. But by engaging with elders on only the twin issues of youth preservation and ill health, aging continues to be defined (if more subtly sometimes) as debility, decline and disease.

Nothing has changed since I started TGB.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Judy Watten: An Unforgettable Conversation


One phrase of your post holds the key, Ronni: "products and services". Because in our capitalist society the market reigns supreme.
A signficant aspect of aging, especially for folks like us who are experiencing the process with perhaps a greater degree of awareness, is the realization that happiness now depends more on being than on having. As we age, living fully and deeply becomes more important than getting and spending. Many of us find ourselves shedding 'stuff' rather than accumulating it, living more simply, escaping from the consumer ratrace. Since the only products and services we might need more of when we are old are the ones related to health and mobility etc. that's about all the corporate world has left to flog to us.
Attitudes to aging may not appear to have changed since 2003 when you started TGB, but I think they are beginning to. And you've played - and are still playing - a more valuable part in that process than you realize. So don't be disheartened. Deep ocean currents aren't always visible on the surface.

Ronni, Wish I had your gift for words.
Yes, the body is aging and has some minor aches - during this cold spell - but I believe I am happier and more at peace then ever in my life. A busy year with unexpected gall bladder surgery, built a small retirement home at my home place, moved and have city home for sale. Two years ago moved to the big city to be near children. I thought it was time. It was not time and I was not happy and I tried "so" to be. I did not want a daily dose of what the city offered. I love being surrounded by nature. Do not want to keep repeating myself - it is boring.
Just want to share once again - in my 70's, alone, many interest and happy. It has been a long time coming. I raised a houseful of children, career, divorce and at one time thought I could not make it.
Maybe I am not the norm. My daughter who is a nurse tells me "I am not".
Just wanted to check in as someone who is growing older or old and so far "all is well". Aware that could change but thankful for this snowed in morning, Callie my dog, birdfeeders, computer, blog of 18 months (all the friendships it has brought to me) pile of books to read and a glowing fire.

If it's any comfort to you, Ronni, I've learned so much from you & TGB. So thank you for that :)For example the phrase "issue fatigue" from Citizen K is so correct for me & friends who feel the same way. And then along comes insightful Marian :)with whom I totally agree: it's money, money, & more money. Some days is discouraging to realize that today's standards for elders are so distorted & misleading. When will we learn? On a more positive note, I'll say that the one thing I look forward to most when I have my coffee is TGB & your writing. Thanks for helping me put a positive spin on the day. Dee

Thank you so much for "nailing it," Ronni! Exactly so, Ernestine and Marian! It's precisely why I decided to set up a blog of my own that's about the JOYS of living, regardless of one's status as a "senior." I hope to have it up in the next couple of weeks or so, as I have been working assiduously (snowed in) on it! Yes, I am fortunate to have incredibly wonderful health. And, I'm no superwoman, but daily, on our self-sufficient farm, I carry 40-pound hay bales to our cows; I helped put those hay bales in the barn when they weighed 50 pounds, this past summer. I walk everywhere on this beautiful 200 acres; my camera goes with me. I milk a cow; I make cheese; I train Border Collies for our own farm needs;....I just turned 65. The words vibrancy, joy, time, curiosity, patience, love....all come to mind, as I consider my "senior" life...and, yes, I wake up a little stiff in the joints from the physical effort....but isn't that what we should expect? I don't take Aleve! I simply wait awhile and do it all again, day to day, and year to year. And...I don't eat Jello and I don't play Bingo! I have most of my teeth! And I am growing my braincells by putting up a blog. Love what you have done, Ronni. You, too, Marian! Thank you! Elora McKenzie

You know, while I hate that my issue of Newsweek is full mostly of drug ads and the ubiquitous gecko, what I hate even more is that the ads are so *bad.* If you want to see fun, clever ads, you have to look hard no matter what, but my gosh! the ads targeted to us over-50s are so dour, humorless, and stupid. Ditto the AARP publications. The assumption that I'm falling apart doesn't bother me as much as the assumption that I'm most likely to respond to dull, unimaginative advertising.

It's always about money; I'm sure Marian is correct. But don't be discouraged. I'm sure you've made a difference in the lives of many of us and in the culture, generally. As usual the marketers and PR people can only look backwards and only see the worlds they have created. Hang in there: you're coming through, loud and clear.

I don't mind that it's about money - consumerism runs the economy (although that there is not a space in the entire country not plastered with an ad is depressing) and that's not something that can change dramatically.

What I mind is the representation of elders as unwell (have you noticed that many of the commercials are about the ickiest things our bodies can inflict on us) or as overachieving to the point of ridiculous, along with the implication that if we're not climbing K2, we are somehow deficient.

And yes, Mary, the stupidity of the advertising is insulting.

Elora - I'm looking forward to your blog.

"Nothing has changed since I started TGB. So much for any influence it might have."

Hmm. Not my take. NYT, TGB: my morning first reads. (OK, nothing is perfect, with NYT front page headlining wealthy octogenarians and nonagenarians climbing, flying, doing stunts.) And many TGB posts I bookmark under "health matters" or "tekky stuff." The huge community here, with voices from the world over, I think, attests to TGB's influence. Not to mention, serious professionals (geriatricians, tekkies, journalists, and more) seeking your perspective and knowledge in interviews, on panels, and such. Nothing will stop greed, not even recessions and depressions. Not even TGB.

I agree with Marian Van Eyk McCain that the advertising world has not really "located" us yet and perhaps no longer can. That's surprising, though, since they've defined our wants and needs from the baby powder on our bottoms to the buttocks lifts and BMW's we lusted after in our fifties. No wonder we, The Pepsi Generation, feel a little abandoned and invisible.

Please, Ronni, never think TGB is not making a difference. The fact that you're being solicited means "they" have begun to notice that difference and want to tap it. Do we still want to be marketed and advertised to? If we do, to any degree at all, then what do we want them to sell us and how? If not Viagra, then what? If we could market ourselves, would we?

Meanwhile, I want my TGB. Oh, and, there are Elder Coaches?! Really?

You wrote "the only message I could find was that getting old is entirely about debility, decline and disease. No one had anything good to say about it."


"Because I write a blog about aging, PR people seem to think it must be exclusively about health issues."

Advertisers and others market to the elders that way because it works, otherwise they would only be wasting their money...and they rarely do that.

Unfortunately, 'Perception is Reality' and so it's up to us, individually, to change that perception. That's a big job.

BTW, thanks for the work you do to change the perception.

Ronni please don't ever underestimate the impact of your thoughts, insights and words shared via TGB.

Here on the internet you have created a cyber-lighthouse, a point of navagation and warning for the uncharted waters of later life. I can only imagine the frustration you must feel at times unable to alter the course of captains seeming determined to run aground. But the remainder of us, sailing small ship (or row boats, lol) navigate dangerous reefs (and times) with the aid of your TGB lighthouse.

You give us oh-so-easy-to-access info, links, information and laughs. You and your enlisted cowriters encourage us to learn, to dance, to live as life unfolds, neither ignoring or fixating on the changes that later years bring.

Remember, lighthouse...
(and roflmao I like to think of crabby as the fog horn)!

Happy 2010

Do I have to personally come to Maine to kick your Yankee butt?

Nothing has changed...

I could fall back on that groaner of a cliche - "Rome wasn't built in a day". Or, that pearl of wisdom: "Anything worthwhile is worth waiting for".

Point being, you threw the rock and started the ripple and because of TGB, many more elder voices have contributed to the tidal swell.

Tamar made the point, the media is beginning to wake up to the fact that elder issues are more than hemorrhoids and life insurance.

You're a plugger, a mover, a shaker. Pull out that inner Peter and sail on:

"Second star to the right...and straight on 'til morning"

Feel free to recommend me to Obama's PR team any time...


Because I grew up with old people being respected and interesting, I didn't really get the whole idea of aging-- or so I would have said except when Marilyn Monroe died, I thought she was over the hill at what 36. A few years later, I'd have thought old started in your 50s. It seems to be relative.

Generally the anti-aging stuff just goes over my head today BUT when I saw the latest Vanity Fair cover showing Meryl Streep at 60 with a big article on how she had achieved bigger hits than when younger and was not botoxed or surgically enhanced, while they had photoshopped her face to do all of that, I was irked. Even inside the photos were all smudged and turned into a 30 something when she was talking about her being able to play interesting roles about older women-- if not yet old. When they can put her on the cover, looking 60 and still say it's beautiful (and it would be) that's when it would be interesting. We are sure not there yet where we worship at the altar of youth.

Ronni, your impact is far greater than you realize. When I started reading TGB I referred to myself, as did everyone else, as a Senior Citizen. Now I use the word 'Elder', thanks to you. I notice that word is being used more and more in news stories.

You have been spreading ripples all over by being mentor to elder bloggers. If it hadn't been for you I would never have dreamed of writing a blog. My blog has kept me from being lonesome as I have made so many cyberspace friends there.

In our youth culture society it is hard to make changes, but changes are being made.

As an interesting sidelight, I found that when I traveled the ones who were most thoughtful, courteous and helpful to me were the Asians. They revere their elders and that is missing in our culture.

Don't despair. Change comes slowly, but it does come. But only if we keep on plugging along.

Not true, not true. "Nothing has changed since I started TGB. So much for any influence it might have."

I quote you often, you and Paul Krugman are my go-to people for sorting out the health care changes and the coming regulation of the banks and finance systems. I am a retired programmer with a college degree but without the thinking woman's view you provide on those matters I'd be struggling even more with the details of those devilish issues. And I'm happy to send your link and quotes to everyone I know. Including my children and other younger relatives who regard their elders as less than they should at times.

I suspect the downstream effects of your efforts may not be so visible to you, casting your words out into the vastness of the internet, but you do change how people think, and you encourage me to show myself to the world as a rational, functioning older human, instead of just saying "crap" and staying in the house. Thanks Ronni

Ronni, keep on doing what you are doing - you bring a certain perspective to those of us struggling to find out "what is it all about." You write so well and you and your staff, are so educated in the aging matters, that TGB is refreshing and alive. So keep on doing must have been meant to do this and "if not now, when".

I have removed the original last sentence of this post. I am abashed at all your kind comments about Time Goes By, but I didn't mean to be begging for compliments.

You know, sometimes when I'm writing, I get all lost in too many details and go to far, losing the point. The bottom line of what I really wanted to say today is this:

1. The picture that generally comes to mind with the idea of children is not a kid lying in a hospital bed or uncommunicative with autism or the other terrible things that can befall them. What we think of are short, little humans running and jumping and laughing, making a lot of noise and having fun.

2. The picture that generally comes to mind with the idea of old people is not taller, wrinkly humans with dignity and perhaps some wisdom. It is, instead, sick, decrepit and fuzzy in the head if not outright senile.

That disturbs me and it needs to change.

It's time for the emergence of a new paradigm on aging, and we're all part of it! More and more older adults regard these years as an adventure full of new discoveries, whether they be in athletic, artistic, in social change or in spiritual pursuits and endeavors. The market-driven areas of society and mainstream concepts about aging are not aligned with the actual experience of older people, as the authors of Successful Aging pointed out years ago. But change is occuring. Thank you for all you have done and do to prepare the way.

Betty Davis said, "Getting old ain't for sissies." And she, in many ways, was right because it's a strange new world for most of us. You, Ronni, were/are a pioneer in dispelling the myths and offering support but, like any change, it is isn't happening overnight. Thank you for your excellent and tireless efforts. And yeah, down the road things will get better!

Thanks for articulating thoughts that have been rumbling around in my head and occasionally breaking out into a rant considerably less coherent than your post. Thanks, too, for providing two other things:

- the forum for the exchange of ideas through the comments; and
- the list of elderblogs, a source of enlightenment, entertainment, inspiration and encouragement.

I live in Hawaii, a place where being old is not a social liability. The minute I set foot on the Mainland, I feel that old age miasma creeping over me as I experience again the pervasive ageism of mainstream American life. Ageism forces old people to segregate themselves, imitate young people, etc. etc. which is not how it is here.
Respect for elders is part of Hawaiian and Asian society, and I benefit from that. I never have to feel defensive about my age.
It can be different. I have experienced this.

Maintenance....that's the trick. Trying to keep up the maintenance when you are sick is the best you can do. That's me for the last few months.

There seems to be only one view of aging: you don't want to go there. Even though it's inevitable, you don't want to go there! When I was young, we said the saying was "Don't trust anyone over 30." Somehow I think this continues. On the other hand, when I'm with people my age (63), it seems like way too much of the conversation is about what hurts or who is sick or what hurts. I had three surgeries in 9 months but two of them - the weight loss surgery and my double knee replacement surgery - were designed to make me better. (I also had a hysterectomy which was relatively painless if a little tiring.) Now I feel like a new person. I seldom tell anyone my age and would never let it slip to a prospective employer. I color my hair and, luckily, don't have a lot of wrinkles yet. I HATE the attitude that I get from some people that I can't do anything, couldn't possibly know anything about computers, etc. I went back to school when I was in my late 50's and did very well, better than when I was younger. Most of my classes were online including math which had been my most hated class in the past. I got a B!

I've given up on complex analysis of aging. I have concluded that my life is similar to that of a car's, low mileage, mid-range mileage and high mileage. Youth, middle age and old age equivalents. Eventually we just wear out. You hope that the repairs are minor along the way, but know you'll blow a transmission or engine eventually. You only see new cars on TV. New cars are sexy. They smell good. etc. Old cars, eventually, mainly stay in the garage until they go to the junkyard. The only good news is that cars are lasting longer nowadays and my prospects are the same.

I am almost 90. Every survey drops off age-wise at age 60 as if nothing ever changes after that age. I hate that.I have grown and developed and learned so much since then.

After age 86 I became my husband's total caregiver for four years supervising daytime health aides for two of those years before he died.

I went on the comedy stage for the first time and recently got my first pay for standup comedy at age 89. I have just begun violin lessons since I taught myself to play with the help of my elementary music teacher and stopped playing violin after junior high.
I published two books and three mini-books since I was 60 and am on my third book. I wrote about grandma's sexuality when no one thought that grandparents were still having sex.

My daughter is planning a cruise to Alaska for my 90th birthday next summer. If you haven't been on an Alaska cruise,call 206-246-4116 for reservations!

There had better be a talent show on board as I don't like to just sit around, I like to be involved.

My 86 year old mother reclines on her couch, sleeps in late, ignores the activities available to her and always has a smile on her face. When asked if she'd like some more excitement in her life she says "It's taken me 86 years to figure this out - leave me alone!"

It's that confidence in the way life is (walker and pills and all)and the acceptance of what is possible that is so striking to me about her behavior. Knowing that she is safe and secure (though I need to remind her of that from time to time)she revels in the things which interest her and ignores those which don't. And she's not that interested in her aches and pains. Her life is more restricted than it used to be, but I've never seen her as content as she is now.

Her pod-castle wants to use us in a tv ad; we've laughed that it will have to be filmed on her couch or in her bed. Yet she is the resident they choose to highlight. She is neither decrepit nor a gym rat. She's just old. Perhaps the visuals are changing just a little, Ronni.

The fact that I have a forum to share these thoughts is thanks to YOU, Ronni. Don't be abashed about your original last sentence; be glad that you have a community to pick you up when you are feeling down :)

And this is the main reason I like mAazing posts.

Hi all,
Since I wrote the post above I did make the finals of the talent show on boad our Alaska cruise ship and I came in second to the winner.
However,I got a standing ovation after my act.

I have since worked on a production of a one-person show called Tea with Georgie
which will give me a chance to do comedy, read from all my writing and sing a little as well. If you are in Seattle on October 3rd at 2:00 p.m. why not attend the local Admiral Theater and
see what this 90 year old has cooked up for entertainment.

Correction on the previous post. My name is spelled Kunkel. Wow, my fingers aren't as agile as they were when I was 20.

Go to West Seattle Herald
website to Google a slide show of my latest adventure, being on stage for 70 minutes in a show called Tea with Georgie at our local Admiral Theater. I just turned 90
in August so I have a lot of things left to do.

I now sing jazz with a local
jazz combo. That's a hoot.

The comments to this entry are closed.