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 - Invisible Elders

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Media images of older people today alternate sharply between the figure of the geezer, who is to be feared and satirized, and of the sweet and vulnerable, if ineffectual, senior citizen. Older women, in particular, are cast in diminished roles or dismissed entirely, not only in the United States but worldwide. The attitude that elders constitute a group not needing to be seen or heard was addressed at the United Nations in New York City during a conference held on 13–15 October 1999, titled "The Impact of Globalization on the Images of Older Women." In one presentation, veteran BBC news anchor Nigel Kay reported that his network's recently completed second annual survey of older people in its news and entertainment programming found that even though 20 percent of the British population are sixty or older, only 7 percent of the BBC onscreen population were of that age. "Even more distressing," Kay emphasized, "on television older men significantly outnumber older women by about 70 percent to 30 percent," in spite of the women's holding a 57 percent majority among the country's older citizens.

Kay explained that the network began conducting the yearly television census in cooperation with Age Concern, England's principal nongovernmental organization (NGO) involved with issues in aging, as part of the broadcaster's process of developing policies concerning its treatment of elders.

At one session of the U.N. conference, O. Burtch Drake, president and CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, spoke of women's media image with sharp irony. "Older women are not being portrayed at all; there is no imagery to worry about." Political scientist Hamideh Sedghhi commented that "images of older women differ globally. Perceptions of the aged range from positive traits such as sweet, pleasant, giving, and caring, to negative characteristics like slow, feeble, cranky, and repetitive." She went on to surmise, "Antiaging pursuits and gender stereotyping are economically profitable," especially in the marketing of cosmetics and plastic surgery. Sedgahhi added that often "businesses replace older employees with younger ones in an effort to give the failing organization a more youthful image."

The general absence of older women in the media was underscored at the conference by results of a survey of public broadcasters in six northern European countries (the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Germany). Bernadette van Dijck, who heads the Gender Portrayal Department of the Netherlands Broadcasting Organization in Utrecht, said the 1997–1998 study revealed that both women and men aged sixty-five or older represented merely 2 percent of the television populations in those nations, and older women "were mainly invisible."

Furthermore, a 1999 British study titled Older Generations in Print surveyed 3,686 articles appearing in 1,096 local, regional, and national news outlets. Its authors state that "older people these days often lead full and active lives, but this rarely is acknowledged in the media." The investigators claim that despite their documenting good coverage of the primary social and political issues regarding Britain's aging demographics, "when it comes to the actual portrayal of older people there is a problem with the identification of old age with vulnerability, epitomized in the predominance of the frail-victim story." The authors continue: "We are not bidding for what is often called a 'positive image' of ageing [sic], since this would suggest something like PR for older people, and that would be just another kind of distortion. We are suggesting that news values need to be more imaginative and diverse."

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