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SNL Takes on Ageism and It's a Win for Elders

Some TGB readers (and many other elders) do not believe in ageism. Whenever I write about the demeaning slights, substandard medical care, failure to hire due to gray hair and wrinkles, cutesy-poo language that infantilizes all elders, they dismiss it as unimportant or, even, that I'm misreading it.

Undoubtedly, many are the same people who are appalled by the alleged sexist treatment of women by Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and the self-confessed groping of women by our current president, along with the ongoing struggle of women to achieve parity with men in the working world.

There is no doubt in my mind that these people are also horrified by white supremacists and would bite their tongues off before uttering the N word.

But ageism? Doesn't exist or if it does, it is not on a par with racism, sexism, heterosexism and all the other hateful -isms.

A large part of ageism denial is that we hear it many times every day in print, on television and in casual conversation from the cradle and no one ever calls it out as is commonly done in response to sexism and racism. Another reason is that it often sounds too benign to be as contemptible as those other slurs.

As I've mentioned here in the past, I record most of the monologues of the late night talk show hosts because I can't stay up that late but they are among the best, sharpest commentators we have on our frightful predicament with President Trump. And they are also among the worst ageism offenders.

Hardly a night of the week goes by without one (or more) of the hosts denigrating old people or growing old in general. “He's so old...” Jay Leno once called Senator John McCain's presidential campaign the Antiques Roadshow.

It even shows up regularly on cable news. During Hurricane Irma, MSNBC host Ali Velshi explained that he wanted the audience to understand how experienced reporter Sam Champion is because he's been covering hurricanes for 30 years.

“I hate to say that,” said Velshi to Champion, “but you look terrific for your years.” The ultimate compliment in ageist America – to look younger than you are.

That anecdote explains why so many old people deny the ageism that denigrates them and all old people; it just seems so friendly and harmless. But let me be clear: repeated dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of times a day, it reminds everyone that elders are not equal with younger adults or, even, children.

The reason I'm banging on about this today is that sometimes – so rarely that it is a major media event to a blog like this that takes as its subject growing old – someone fights back.

This time, it was Saturday Night Live last weekend in a skit that takes place in a retirement community. It makes all the points that I make but unlike me, they make you laugh too.

The skit stars Kate McKinnon as the old woman, that evening's host, comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani as the retirement home attendant, along with Mikey Day and Heidi Gardner as the grandchildren of the old woman.

PS: As serendipity would have it, on Tuesday Medical News Today published a report of a study suggesting that frequent sex may help old brains work better. Who knows if the result will hold up over time, but here are the details.


The line I hate the most is "....he's/she's 90 (or whatever age) young. I'm not young, I'm 71 years old. I'm active, healthy and happy, but I'm not young. Been there, done that, I enjoy my age, don't make a joke out of it.

Well, OK. I found the skit icky. I am not sure it still didn't use stereotypes and play against them for laughs.

I hate the phrase, "XX years young" too. Its stupid.

Yes, there is agism. Often old people are not valued. But most of us still have agency.

I don't like "xx years young" any more than you, Janet and Sulibran. But it is common enough even from old people describing themselves so you can't expect younger people to know why it's offensive.

Overall, the skit promotes the rights of old people to control their personal behavior and even wins over the grandchildren to that point of view in then end. That's a win we should celebrate even if they get some details wrong.

As a resident of an assisted living facility whose residents are mostly older folks, I find myself constantly having to prove my abilities and mental acuity to the staff and administrators even to the point of being "required" to be evaluated by a psychologist at least once a year.
She asks me questions like "What year it is", or "What town I live in", and my favorite "Who's the president of the U.S", to which I always answer "Harry Truman." I love f-----g with them.

Bruce - You gave me the laugh of the month if not of the year!

Thank you!

I volunteering for about a year in my town with an WA state ombudsman group for elders in nursing homes. One of the biggest issues was preserving the client's autonomy and privacy. Everything from sex or the right to just close the door to their quarters and expect others including staff to knock before entering; eating when they wanted to getting up early or sleeping. These were not homes for dementia patients but homes for grown ups who needed some help. It's getting better here but it's still a struggle.

Sometimes elders are their own worst enemies. My daughter and I were just leaving a restaurant and, as I walked by, a woman sitting in a booth stopped me to tell me that her doctor had told her to use a walker (I was using one,) but she would never use one of those things. I just told her I would rather use a walker than have a fall.

I later wished that I had the presence of mind to tell her to celebrate being old and stop trying to deny it.

Sex? What's that? I haven't even had a date for 25 years.

We are 86 years old. Can't tell you how many times people have called us "cute." Perfect strangers even.

Yes, ageism is alive and well, no denying it, esp. in the work world.
That skit was hilarious - pushed the SNL envelope but still funny.
If one is older, why not be feisty? Why do we let the late night comics and their jokes slip through? If enough people raise a fuss, like other special interest groups, there wouldn't be any more of that "wink wink" let's make fun of older people.

Thank you for posting on this topic. Research tells us that ageism is as detrimental to our life expectancy as smoking - no kidding - 7 years! It's all around us - part of the 'master cultural narrative' of our lives. And hard to fight those back handed compliments, but it must be done.
I also don't like ageism on young people also, e.g. those millenials are ....
Must keep at it.

When my husband and I (clearly 60 and 70-ish) go into certain stores or restaurants, some staffers exclaim, "Hi, kids!"

They're trying to be friendly, I get that. But "kids?"

Have I corrected them? No. Too self-conscious, and it doesn't bother me as much as the other demeaning stuff: "X years young" or "Hi, young lady" and the like.

Besides, someday, they'll learn that you get farther with less friction if you treat everyone like they matter as a person. Experience will teach them that--one way or another.

The 'cuteness terms' are the most offensive. I still haven't found the right words to respond with, when someone calls me 'dear', 'honey', etc and etc! And late night hosts are the absolute worst offenders in their use of ageist language. I watch, because I need a laugh these days, but my patience is running out.

I've been called "young lady," waaay too much. I've actually said, "Please don't call me 'young lady,' I'm not young. The thing is, there's nothing wrong with being old. So you don't need to 'compliment' me by calling me young."

I come across as talkative and relatively high energy. I am astonished by the people for whom this now means using the adjective "spry." Variant: "sprightly." God, that pisses me off.

I live in the same circumstances I've been in for the last 30 years, independent, small house, friends, writing, editing. I'm now at a point with the piano where I give occasional recitals. I suppose I can look forward to audiences saying to me afterward, "It's amazing that you can do that at your age." Aaaargh!!

I love the expression "cutesy-poo" language.

I've often dealt with the assumption that I can't or don't use a computer based on having white hair. This tends to come up when I schedule an appointment with a medical facility I haven't been to before and need to fill out a very long questionnaire about my prescription meds, vaccinations, chronic conditions, and related medical history.

I can fill out a paper form from memory at my first visit, and this is what the receptionist assumes I will do. When I ask about filling it out at home, the receptionist is likely to say, "Do you have access to a computer?" Answer: Yes, ever since I bought a Gateway computer when I was working in Boston decades ago.

Why does anyone even need to ask?

This comment isn't directly related to age--but in a way, it is. As I read about the millions of women, primarily under 50, who weighed in on "#MeToo", I couldn't help but think that for most of us older women, sexual harassment (and sometimes worse) happened all the time. It was a given--simply "the way it was" in the workplace and almost everywhere else. It never occurred to us to challenge it (we didn't even recognize it), and we would have paid a heavy price if we had.

Maybe we realized that we were "too old" when the harassment stopped. I think most of us were relieved to see it finally stop, although it sent a message we may not have been ready to hear at the time.

I despise cutesy language and have even stopped doing business with a few establishments that were super-offensive in that regard. Old people are not generally "cute", nor are we any stranger or serviceperson's "honey" or "dearie"! Yuck!!

I hate it that my doctor's office seems to treat me as if I were demented and calls me by my first name even though I have indicated that I prefer to be called Mrs or Ms Giddens. They talk to me in simplistic terms even though I worked in the healthcare field for decades. I correct them, but then they look at me as though I were crazy or demented. Perhaps I have some dementia, but not enough for them to treat me like a 5-year-old... It is denigrating.

Dear Ronni:
I would disagree that the skit is fighting ageism. Yes, it is true that it has some positive things to say about the fact that whatever age one might be, the libido can remain active and that this is a healthy thing. But much of the point is to garner laughs. In fact, in the skit, one of the worst offenses that perpetuates ageism and the way individuals are made invisible in retirement homes is the staff and family talking "over" the person they are discussing. For this skit to really counter ageism, Kate McKinnon should have been made to join the conversation rather than make faces showing the audience that she was listening to the conversation. She could have had the audience laughing by participating in the conversation as well.
Ageism is subtle and when so prevalent, as Elizabeth Rogers pointed out about sexism, we don't recognize it. I gave a presentation this Spring entitled: "Media’s Affect on the Public’s Perception of Aging" The point I was trying to make, using advertising and TV skits, was that ageism was an outlook that was encouraged. My audience were 30-50 somethings who were serving the aging community. It turned out that many of them just could not see it. It was astounding! They did not recognize how an ad for a vehicle in which a nerd answers the door to an elderly gentleman who is coming to take his mother out and how when they enter the car they become teenagers as they take off diminished aging. They could not see the difference between that and another ad I showed them in which two elderly men are having coffee at McDonalds and a woman about their age walks in and they both start to try and get her attention. When I asked them if they thought this ad was ageist, the audience member who answered said "yes" (because the two men were being silly in trying to outdo the other to get the woman's attention) or how an ad showing older people acting like adolescent fools was not showing the elderly as being active members of society but rather showing them as being fools as they jumped into a neighbor's pool and skidded off in a car. Anyway, it was a real eye opener and somewhat of a disappointment.

Just came back from a great weekend with friends from college, celebrating a 50th Founder's Day at the University of South Florida TEP weekend, so much has changed, from a quiet campus to a very Modern one, with a winning football team ranked #13 as of today, well the thing is, I was an Resident assistant in a dorm which is now a Senior Housing facility, near the campus, I could have aged in place. (most of us are 72 and younger) I have worked in Assisted Living Facilities in Miami, and found the SNL skit kind of sad, but know of a few beautiful people who found love at The Palace later in life.

9249 TANEY RD.

Bruce Cooper, once again you cracked me up.

I also enjoy popping ageist balloons.

I thought it was icky too. Playing to another common image of old age.

I did see the intended humor in the SNL skit I viewed that night, but was disappointed and thought they missed the mark they might have been trying to make — so that it did come across as ageist to me — and, heaven only knows, I can laugh at all sorts of jokes and am not a prig about ageism. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt as not an easy concept always to get across. Perhaps even making people think about older people and the situation is accomplishment enough.

The issue did prompt me to think about actual situations with which I’ve been familiar where a touch of denentia in a male with aggressive libido directed toward a touch of dementia in a meek tiny subdued female created interesting complications all around.

I’ve noticed cultural influences in some endearing terms used such as “honey”, often common for all ages in south. I don’t like “dearie”, so simply smile and respond by using that term toward them when I respond. Other terms like “grandma” and “auntie” are considered affectionate respectful terms used for special older people where some, often foreign born Asian facility staff come from. All residents are asked what they want to be called and if a relationship develops may evolve with mutual agreement to usage of those terms. I was startled when I first heard such usage, but later it was explained to me. I wouldn’t welcome being called by those terms, but some I have seen do.

There is a purpose beneficial to individuals of all ages in certain situations for being asked simplistic questions asking them to provide their name, day/date/year, where they are, who the president is and more. A few people feel threatened by this, can become defensive, but the purpose is not to be demeaning and does not need to be interpreted as such. There is no need to be fearful if the responses the person gives are not always 100% accurate either, though some stress at that possibility. We would be wise to welcome knowing those we chose to entrust with our care in those various facilities do care as much about how our minds are functioning as they do about whether our bowels are constpated, or we can see to read the menu, hear a normal speaking voice, walk down the hallway without tripping, etc. I do understand the antagonistic perception expressed by some here, and the underlying reasons they react in that manner, but that’s an unnecessary, unfortunate attitude. ;-). FWIW I’m an older blogger, too.

I agree with Yvonne that the skit is more ageist than not. When the "old woman" never got to comment on her own feelings or situation, I found myself being offended. The skit's recognition that sex happens among older people didn't quite compensate for its general air of superiority over them. In fact the way the sex thing was discussed was far too "aren't old folks cute" for me.

Too often I have endured being made invisible, whether in a doctor's office or a hardware store, when I've been with one of my sons who is there strictly for the purpose of giving me a ride. The doctor or clerk, male variety especially, begins to address all questions and comments to the younger man in the room as if I were a child accompanying him. Since I am perfectly capable of speaking for myself and very outspoken I always insist on being recognized.

As a matter of fact, a similar thing used to happen when, an elder myself, I would drive my quite mentally competent 90 year old mother to a store or clinic. The oldest person in the room always seems to be treated like the most infantile. This is not a minor expression of ageism. It is very insulting.

Although I've certainly been made to feel invisible at times, I haven't yet had Emmajay's specific experience, and the first time I do will preferably be the last wherever it occurs. If professionals, clerks and others cannot address me as a fellow adult , I do my best to find ones who do.

After four years of widowhood, I decided to get back into action but was having some trepidation. Then I went to visit my 93 year old aunt in her assisted living apartment and she introduced me to her 97 year old boyfriend. Yes!

Here's an ageism story that I'm not sure how to categorize. I don't think this particular scenario has been discussed on TGB before, but perhaps it has and I missed it.

Yesterday, my niece posted a message on Facebook, saying that she was baffled about how to handle a troubling situation. A male neighbor who lives on her street has been hitting on her every day when she walks her dog. This has been going on for months. He's 76 years old. He knows that she is married and that he is the same age as her father, but that doesn't stop him. Neither do her repeated polite "no thank-you's" to his invitations. She posted that if he was 25 or 45 years old, she would have told him long ago to get lost. But because she was raised to be polite and respectful to her elders, she's at a loss to know how to deal with this guy.

After she posted this story, other women started chiming in, saying they have had the same thing happen with creepy old guys who apparently fancy themselves irresistible to young women and also apparently don't see anything wrong with this kind of harassment. In each case, the women felt they couldn't respond the way they wanted to, because it would be disrespectful to their elders. I was blown away by their reticence.

Interestingly, it was young men who countered with arguments of: "This guy has lost all right to your respect" and "Don't let him play the age card with you, he's being a jerk".

It all seemed like a strangely reversed sort of ageist scenario, in which an old person was being treated with far greater respect than he deserved.

I'm assuming here that, like me, no self-respecting elder wants to be treated with any greater consideration than any other human being, we just want to be treated like everybody else. So by treating him with respect and restraint when in fact he deserved to be told off, she was in fact engaging in a super-polite form of ageism, although obviously that wasn't her intent.

I'd be interested to hear anybody else's take on this. As a life-long feminist and anti-ageist, I've never had any patience with this kind of crap coming from anybody, regardless of age. But maybe that's just me.

Seems to me it's time to find another route, such as don't respond to his 'hits' or speak up. If it was me, I'd firmly tell him he is making me uncomfortable and does he want to do that, then walk away and/or cut to the chase by saying she wants you to stop. No judgement, nor outrage, at this point she's stating how she feels.

Nor does this issue belong, imo, in a respect-your-elders scenario. The man could have a condition like Alzheimers or dementia, or perhaps he is a jerk, trying to do what he did as a young stallion.

By not engaging him as someone who's offending her, with all deference to elder respect, it sounds as though this is about her, too and why she won't react as she would choose, rather than as she was taught.

Correction, paragraph 1, should be wants HIM to stop.

She has in fact, with our encouragement, decided to confront him and state her feelings firmly and clearly, so that's great. (We discussed the possibility of dementia, but it didn't seem likely given other information available, so we are assuming it's a case of an old man behaving badly towards a young woman).

My major interest in relaying this story was with the broader question of "respect for elders" as it relates to ageism... if it DOES relate to ageism, which I rather suspect it does. But I'm not entirely clear on how to unravel it, other than to emphasize to young people that in general, everybody should, of course, respect everybody else, but that old people behaving badly are no more deserving of respect than anybody else who's behaving badly.

NURSING HOME STAFF COMMITTING ILLEGAL ACTS: I didn't think the skit was funny - and in fact parts were dangerous - and illegal. Sure, it's great that Grammy is still exercising her right to express herself sexually, but the aides "wheeling her into rooms" of people who are unhappy for a little pick-me-up like she is the nursing home prostitute? She's doing it for a rose? AND WITH STAFF?!?! That's prima facie INCREDIBLY SERIOUS nursing home abuse for which any care facility's license should be revoked. Grammy looks competent, so yes, she can make her own decisions, but that nursing home would have to be 100% sure that this is what SHE wanted to do, not to help the staff cheer up other residents, or the staff themselves.

and let me be clearer -- never sexual relations with staff. Never. Ever.

Give me a pill, so I don't EVER have to go into a nursing g home!

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