The Lonely Gerontologist

Kelly Yokum's Adventures in Gerontology

Archive for the ‘ageism’ Category

Perpetuating Aging Stereotypes – Just another night in front of the tv.

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I was inspired by a recent comment from a reader who posted, “let’s get right down to it and talk about anti-aging…or not.” I’m up for this and you should be too! It’s a new year, with new opportunities to challenge ourselves and address important issues.  I challenge all of you to think critically about aging and the context in which old age is often presented.  Does it matter? If so, why?  And, more importantly, what can we do about it? I want to just mention two shows that I believe are a couple of the worst offenders. I know you’ll have others in mind, so send them to me, I’ll call them out! And, I’m always looking for classroom material to help me make my points.

Anti-aging. Let’s break down the term – Anti – we all know what that means, and Aging, the process of growing older. So, why would anyone be against aging? Isn’t that one of the three things we all have in common? We’re all born, we all age, hopefully living long lives, and we all die.  Do a Google search on the term and you get 96,000,000 results. I’m not sure what that means but I think we can make some assumptions about anything from big bucks to fear of aging.

Mainstream media is a good example of  how open we are to accepting negative constructions of old age and how much is out there. One of the worst offenders when it comes to perpetuating the fear of aging?  Dr. Oz. Now, don’t get me wrong…Dr. Oz has done some great things for his viewers including increasing awareness about health issues and making health education accessible to a wide audience. But, it’s that wide audience that is at the heart of why his constant use of the term anti-aging is so dangerous. Even Oprah has an anti-aging checklist.

The other serious offender, and I’ll probably get some grief over this one, Betty White. Yes, I said it. Betty White. I’m mainly referring to the television show, Off Their Rockers. This was touted as a series where older adults would be making fun of the younger generation. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m hypersensitive to all this ageism stuff. But, when I watch this show I don’t see the “younger generation” being the butt of the jokes. I see something quite different.  I see the us and them concept being perpetuated in prime time.  I so wanted this show to work. I so wanted something I could show my students that would  help illustrate the concepts of gerontology in a contemporary way.  This isn’t it. But, it may be what I didn’t anticipate. It may be something I use as an example of what I’ve just stated…a television show that perpetuates society’s ageist views.

Dr. Oz frames his shows on anti-aging around how to avoid aging, how to look younger. Because, who wants to look old? Why would anyone in their right mind want to grow old? Betty White and her crew use their old age as a tool to poke fun at…who? We should laugh because an older woman is on the phone discussing her sexual adventures? What are we really supposed to be laughing at? Oh…that’s right, old people don’t have sex so that scene is funny because it’s an older woman actually talking about having sex. Off Their Rockers takes every stereotype about old people – from bad drivers, to being asexual, to being off their rockers – and exaggerates them in a way that even I didn’t think possible.

As a social gerontologist I  think about how older adults are viewed and treated in society as well as how old age is socially constructed in this country. The song for the Betty White series is a Twisted Sister song,  We’re Not Gonna Take It. I feel the same way. I don’t think we should take it anymore.

Here’s a link to a clip from Off Their Rockers.  You Decide

Here are some tips from the Dr. Oz show. Again,“It’s every woman’s dream!”


Written by The Lonely Gerontologist

January 2, 2013 at 2:37 am

Volver – Film Review from Old Woman in Feature Films Blog

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A wonderful review of a film that addresses many of the issues we gerontologists and everyone who cares about aging from a substantive perspective should know about. I have yet to watch it but I’m on the search as we speak!

Thank you for a great suggestion and a fabulous review!

ageing, ageism and feature films

The U3A screening at the Lexi in March was Almodovar’s Volver. The audience, as usual composed of a majority of women, greatly appreciated the film.   This was expressed by lively contributions by many of them.

There were general comments: idealisation of women by Almodovar, absence and/or stereotyping of men, and the resilience of ordinary women.   The themes mentioned were family lies, the need to deal with unfinished business and its relevance to us older women, the support of neighbours and friends in the country. More specifically the multiple  relationships between women: mother/daughter, sisters, grandmother/granddaughter, aunts, friends and neighbours.

Apart from the general comments, it was interesting for me to see how Almodovar’s mise-en-scene was also appreciated and commented on. The first scene in the cemetery, the landscape with wind farms between the town and country, the use of the ghost superstition, the motif of  the knife, the role of food, the…

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Written by The Lonely Gerontologist

December 28, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Posted in ageism, Aging, Old, Uncategorized

Hello? Is anyone out there?

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So, the title of my blog…aging is a lonely business. Particularly when you are trying to engage that 18 – 22 year-old crowd. And, really, can you blame them? Can you blame any of us? For those of us who know better, yes. Yes, I can and I do. When I first started my doctoral program in gerontology I never imagined that there would be anyone who wasn’t interested in issues related to aging. And, being a social gerontologist, I saw it all around me. The negative and the positive – Ageism, stigma, discrimination and also the contributions, the individuals, the history.

While the use of the word Lonely in my blog may not be immediately clear since we often hear about “seniors” on the nightly news, in political debates, discussions about Social Security, etc. we don’t often hear the voices of gerontologists like me and my colleagues who want people to pay attention to the substantive issues related to aging and the experience of growing old from both a personal and societal perspective. Gerontologists spend a lot of time talking to each other. We’re not that great at getting outside our own heads or our own in general.

Even on my own college campus where there are only two of us who teach courses in gerontology, it’s a struggle. And we are lucky. My colleague and I are fully supported when it comes to our program. I was hired to teach courses in gerontology. That’s actually amazing given the view of gerontology in higher education and in society in general. I came to my current position after the program I was directing, a 30-year old program started by Rosalie Wolf (see link below for more information) was discontinued after the Provosts from the 5 participating colleges and universities decided that aging wasn’t the direction they wanted to take. Really? It’s a shame none of them read the data presented to them on the demographic shift currently taking place. Or, the projections from the Institute on Medicine report entitled, Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce (see link below). Or, just paid attention to what’s happening in our society around these issues.

In general there is a lot of confusion about gerontology. We have a major marketing problem. What do we do? Who are we? Doesn’t everyone know about aging? And, everyone has a grandparent right? We all must be gerontologists! As for students, they come to gerontology for a couple of reasons, they think the classes must be easy (it’s old people, how tough can it be?) or, they have a real personal interest because they were lucky enough to have a positive connection with an older person(s), usually a relative. A word of caution here though. Gerontologists are passionate. We have to be. Because we have to walk a very delicate line with our students who come to us with an interest but one that is framed around what Bob Binstock referred to as Compassionate Ageism (see link below). When I first meet with a student who is either taking one of my classes or comes to see me to find out about gerontology one of the first things I usually hear is, “I love old people!” or “Old people are soooo cute!” For me, that’s a dilemma. I usually try to reframe things for them. I really want to shout at the top of my lungs, “Noooo!” But, I don’t. I generally ask them if they love the idea of old people, or if they love how old people are portrayed in the media, or if they love the “otherness”, the us and them notion of those old people. So, you can see. The dilemma – both courses of action are right – immediate correction, or a delicate restructuring of their reality of what is old. I try to always take the right path.

I have much less tolerance off campus. And, therein lies the birth of my blog. I plan to use my blog in a variety of ways, framed around aging and how aging is socially constructed, not only in the U.S. but around the world. I want to educate, illustrate, be a media watchdog – Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show last week made a joke about “cougars”…really? Yes. I’ll need help from you – old friends, new friends, family, colleagues. Let’s have a conversation about the experience of aging and why we should care. It’s the only thing we all have in common…if we’re lucky. The alternative to growing old isn’t very attractive. Unfortunately, in this society aging = death. And, if we don’t let others hear our voices, it will stay that way. As an educator and a gerontologist, I want to motivate people to think differently about old age.  Let’s ask some critical questions, let’s shake things up.

I’ll be calling on my friends, family, and colleagues to help me with this. Let me know when you find something that’s not right, needs attention, or you have your own thoughts about aging. Want to be a guest blogger? Let me know! I’ll also be hitting up Ronni Bennett who has a great blog, As Time Goes By (, for ideas and commentary.

This lonely gerontologist needs you.

Rosalie Wolf:

IoM Report:


Written by The Lonely Gerontologist

December 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm