Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 2 » Images of Aging - Geezer Bashing, Invisible Elders, "old Warhorses" In U.s. Newsrooms, Advertising Rates Trump Ratings

Images of Aging - Geezer Bashing

social elders percent people public

The provocative phrase, greedy geezers, was embossed on generational politics by a dramatically illustrated cover of the New Republic (see Figure 1). It showed a fearsome old man leading a charge of elders evidently bent, as the accompanying article would claim, on draining the nation's economy through massive entitlement spending for their own comfort. Since then, the term geezer has been increasingly applied to older adults, despite the word's obvious use by proponents of one side of a political controversy who want to diminish sympathy for the beneficiaries of public policies they would like to reverse. Principal examples in the year 2000 included crass references to "geezers" and the "old farts in Washington" by conservative syndicated newspaper columnist Michelle Malkin and an acerbic description of "increasingly fat, rested and healthy. . .geezers" by The New Republic's "TRB" columnist Andrew Sullivan. These negative political associations are reinforced by the frequently invoked image of elders as an unstoppable force—San Francisco Chronicle Washington correspondent Carolyn Lockhead described them as "probably the most powerful voting bloc in America."

There is no mistaking that the stream of images depicting generational greed, profligate political potency, and economic impotency among older adults have political consequences. For example, public-policy analysts Merril Silverstein, Fay Lomax Cook, and colleagues compared public opinion data from 1990 to 1997, "a period characterized by the intensification of generational politics." Their study found much good news for advocates of existing social policies, such as that 74 percent of all Americans still supported Social Security and Medicare "as an earned right." However, the researchers also discerned that "the public has grown more apprehensive about the value of government programs serving the elderly." The report showed, in part, that "perceptions of the elderly as well-off increased over the period. Where 33 percent of the public agreed in 1990 that people over sixty were well-off, this increased to 39 percent in 1997. Interestingly, about the same proportion of the population saw children as well-off in 1990, but by 1997 Figure 1. Cover of New Republic magazine from March 28, 1988 picturing the onslaught of the "Greedy Geezers." (Reprinted with permission.) only 19 percent saw children as well-off. . .This dramatic twenty-point shift suggests that a considerable number of people have come to view the elderly as having a material advantage over children in society." Silverstein and his colleagues noted that most of the increase in this viewpoint came from elders themselves, 53 percent of whom believed that those sixty or older were well-off in 1997.

The image of idle, affluent elders has been reinforced by the limited presentations of older people in advertising. Marc Freedman, in his book, Prime Time, describes "a classic illustration" of idealized retirement that appeared "ironically, in the middle of Peter G. Peterson's May 1996 Atlantic Monthly cover story, 'Will America Grow Up Before it Grows Old?"' According to Freedman, the article lambasts the older population as a bunch of shiftless freeloaders. Among its pages was a glossy full-page ad for the insurance company ITT/Hartford depicting a smartly dressed, youthful-looking older couple dancing on the deck of a boat, kicking up their heels, and laughing like joyous teenagers. Accompanying the idyllic scene was the message: "One day you'll get to act like a kid again, but for now, let's discuss your allowance." Freedman did note a hopeful trend in financial industry advertising toward depictions of social engagement by older people. For example, he cites a 1999 American Express ad showing a trio of elders helping to build a house for Habitats for Humanity. Yet in the year 2000 the relatively few images of elders in advertising continued to show people who are well-heeled and self-absorbed.

Images of Aging - Invisible Elders [next]

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