The new Dove commercial we discussed yesterday may be a step forward for the portrayal of elders on television, but is no more than a grain of sand on large ocean beach.
A Tylenol PM commercial has been running for several months. Encouragingly, it opens with an older woman, passed her 50th birthday, who is not made up to appear younger. Then, unfortunately, she opens her mouth:
“Aging doesn’t happen one problem at a time,” she says. “First, there was high blood pressure. Then came arthritis…”
That, apparently, is how the owners, executives and creative types at Tylenol view the totality of aging – as one problem after another.
The company is not alone. It is a standard stereotype that there is nothing good about getting old. It is perpetrated by most product advertising and pervades all media influencing everyone – young and even the old – into believing that aging is the worst thing that can happen to a person.
Commercials are the one place on television where elders are numerous and in plain view. However, unlike beautiful young men and women, they are not driving shiny new automobiles. They don’t even use new laundry detergents. Not one has been spied with an iPod. Apple promotes its kewl computers using a hip, young kid contrasted with a dumpy old man portraying the rival PC. And even the latest AARP commercials feature children, no elders.
Elder commercial actors are pushing pain pills, constipation remedies, medical devices and prescription drugs meant to alleviate gastro-intestinal difficulties that would be better left undescribed. And that’s about all the air time elders regularly get.
The absence of elders in any media context except pain and suffering is what keeps those deadly, elder stereotypes alive.
Alternately, paeans are written to youth and young love, motherhood has become the latest celebrity trend and a fetish has been made of children – all stages of human development that are held up as the gold standard of life.
But who speaks for elders?
That’s what Time Goes By is for and a large part of why this blog was founded three years ago. Do I sometimes go over the top in extolling the virtues of elders? Sure. Am I partisan on the side of elders against the slurs and stereotypes flung our way? You betcha.
But there are few enough who take the elders’ side in any manner and way too many Tylenols who think elderhood is nothing but a problem.