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Old Christine, Same Old Age Bias

category_bug_ageism.gif You know how sometimes you get a song lyric stuck in your brain and it won’t go away? It drives you crazy for a couple of days until it returns to wherever it came from and life is good again.

Something like that has been rolling around inside my head not for a day, but for a week now. And it won’t go away. It is a promo for an episode of a television sitcom named The New Adventures of Old Christine which airs on CBS-TV.

Until last week, I had never heard of this show but – call me a snob – I don’t watch sitcoms, so there is no reason for me to recognize the title. I’ve since learned from poking around the web that it stars Julia Louis Dreyfus, past of Seinfeld, as a divorced mother who remains friendly with her former husband.

The reason for the title which, apparently, provides the underlying tension for the comedy is that Christine’s former husband takes on a girlfriend also named Christine who, at 25, is ten years younger than “old” Christine. Get it? New Christine, old Christine. Young Christine, old Christine. It’s a sort of clean double entrendre.

Because all the main characters on this program are younger than 40, it could be safely presumed, one would think, that it is free of age bias toward elders. But you would be wrong. Last week, clicking through channels, I encountered Ms. Dreyfus as Old Christine uttering this line in a promotion for her show – the line that’s been stuck in my head ever since:

“You can’t be a grandfather. Your hands don’t shake and you’ve heard of TIVO. (canned laughter)”

Does it never end, this gratuitous elder bashing? Let’s give it the standard TGB Bias Test: You can’t be a woman. Your hands don’t shake and you’ve heard of TIVO. Or, You can’t be black, your hands don’t shake and you’ve heard of TIVO.

Those two sound silly, don't they. Nonsensical. So why didn't anyone at the show or the network think it's nonsensical about a grandfather? Because jokes that cast old people as infirm and uninformed (and worse) are as common as dirt.

It should concern everyone that the young people who wrote that line and the actress who delivered it (who herself will soon be too old by Hollywood standards to star in a show) think it’s funny, and that a major network broadcast it.

These things don't happen by accident. Like the old song says, "They have to be carefully taught". They happen because people have heard ageist language all their lives, and when no one objected, when no one ever said, "This is wrong," it entered their belief system. Then the notion that elders are lesser beings became so ordinary, so deeply held, so ingrained, they don't even recognize its hatefulness.

This is why apologies from those who are occasionally called to account for their prejudices have no meaning. As with Mel Gibson's mea culpa following his drunken hate speech against Jews, it is not enough to say I'm sorry. Perpetrators must actually change their beliefs and live those changes. Unless that transformation is forthcoming, they remain unreconstructed bigots whose language teaches the next generation that elder bashing is acceptable and the cycle continues down the years.

It is the constant denigration of elders in circumstances as small as this little sitcom, in all forms of media, that upholds and preserves age bias as an acceptable cultural norm. And I am so tired of hearing this same old song.


Ronni, if you really watched TV I bet you'd be overwhelmed by the rampant ageism. Sometimes homophobia is described as the last acceptable prejudice but readers of TGB know better.

Good post, Ronni. In fact, it may explain why I watch so little TV any more, other than news or sports. It seems that as I grow older (and this started quite some years ago) I find myself with a decreasing interest in TV shows and movies in which the principal characters are all young enough to be my own children.

But paradoxically, I watch and enjoy many old movies in which the main actors were quite a bit younger than I at the time of filming, but not now. Hmmm.

The nice thing about being over sixty is remembering where we came from. We've witnessed a great sweep from denigration to respect in public discourse for some minorities. I remember growing up in the fifties, when women drivers were the butt of continual jokes by Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and other comedians. And then there were the pursued-by-the-harpy-wife jokes, as in RRRRING: "Hello, Mr. Smith's office." We then hear a woman's voice babbling in a daffy-duck voice through the receiver; secretary covers mouthpiece, calls to boss: "It's the War Department." And the constant insults around women's work, how wives bleach their husband's pants full of holes, etc. Like Ronni's old song that won't go away, this one's stayed in my head all these years: Dagwood in the Sunday Funnies to his buddies: "When I married my wife, she didn't know how to boil water! Now you should see her."
Next frame: an aproned, hair-netted Blondie in kitchen, with stove-top covered by pots of all sizes boiling water.
These jokes and their ilk have disappeared from our discourse, (and remember what heat feminists took back in the sixties for "having no sense of humor"?) Hopefully, consciousness-raising around denigration of the elderly won't be as hard, because we've had practice rooting out biases.

OK OK OK Lets hear it for the oldie Brits ! - please can we have a translation of this "TIVO" into oldie English speak ? Now if you'd said TVO I should know that it was "Tractor Vapourising Oil", but somehow I don't think this is what you are talking about.

There's little doubt the language we use reflects what we believe and our attitudes. The more attention we can draw to those instances where the play is to stereotypes about older individuals, as you've done with the line from Ms Dreyfus' TV character, the closer we come to creating awareness to bring about change. Actors can sometimes refuse to utter some lines, or change them....hm-m-m-m.

We have to nip ageism in the bud somewhere, for as you say, Ronni, if we don't bring about change,
"...language teaches the next generation that elder bashing is acceptable and the cycle continues down the years."

As for Gibson and his "drunken hate speech against Jews," I think all the alcohol did was depress his inhibitions and loosen his tongue, to enable him to tell us what he really believes. I, too, am a long way from thinking from his merely offering a mea culpa, that the leopard has changed his spots, as the old saying goes.

I'm wondering if attitudes toward the elderly will be different when my grandson, now four, is forty. He will remember that his grandmother worked on a computer and knew how to program video recorder. When my daughter was four (she is not in her forties), her grandmother (my mother) did not have a driver's license and never wore pants. Because we "older" people of today (unlike many of our parents) continue to grow and learn, are interested in what is happening in the world around us and make an effort to continue participating in it, we will dismantle the stereotype that Christine describes.

And, I do watch sitcoms (since I sit keeping my 90 year old mother company). I can't think of any program that has an elderly character who reflects that stereotype. "King of Queens," for example, has an elderly father who has the beginnings of dementia. He is played for comedy, poignancy, and the kind of frustration and aggravation that goes along with someone in that situation.

Having said all of that, I do agree that we have to call attention to and refute any indication of ageism, while we are waiting for the the younger generations to catch up to us.

Septuagent: TIVO is a U.S. subscription service that allows people to record television programs to watch at their leisure and skip through the commercials.

It has become so popular with some people that the word is sometimes used as a verb, as in: No, I haven't seen that show yet, but I TIVOed it and will watch it tonight.


The above is quite interesting on the origins of the saying that The USA and GB are "Two nations separated by a common language". Also the meaning of "quite" !!

There's a 'feedback' button on the page you linked (in green above) for the show.
Let's all send 'em an email; I did!

I teach at a community college. In one decision-making activity, students must decide which of 8 hostages on a plane they will save, and which four left to almost certain death. The "older" passengers -- who range in age from 63 to 57 -- are almost always left to die "because they've already lived their lives." Whereas, the younger people "have their whole lives to live." I often joke that I would not want to be a hostage with any of my students making the decision about whether I am to live or die. Ageism in deeply entrenched and apparently never-ending.

I have been saying for awhile that I see many of these 'agist' remarks to be coming from ignorance, cultural blindness and indifference more than being a conscious negative bias. The kind of homophobia and racism we've seen over the years is personal and clearly directed against individuals. I think Agism is a different kind of discrimination, still hurtful, damaging and wasteful, but not the same kind of cruel and even evil hatred we see in some other areas. Our response needs to be continuing education, continuing to express our commitments and what we stand for...and hopefully not get sucked into becoming victims. As I said in a recent blog, let's use 'ageism' as a positive term like 'feminism' to express our responsibility for the larger culture and who we are.

I had not thought about these comments because at 67, for some reason, I still think I am not old. I will start paying attention to ageism and I will start e mailing to the powers that be.

And not one of you has ever been behind some terrible or slow driver and passed and looked and said, "Old geezer" or thought "Old Fart"?? I doubt it. Stereotypes have basis in data. Some of us get through a majority of the aging process with mind and body intact. Face it, lots don't. It's all a matter of time. Lots of elders are out of the loop regarding modern technology, it can be a sign of old age, Stereotype, ergo measuring tool, ergo, humor in common denominator in Christine line. If you're one of the lucky modern Seniors, be grateful, if not, you probably wont even see this. But the attitude of outraged injustice expressed here is another stereotype of getting old.

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