January 28, 2011 Leave a comment
There’s been a lot in the media lately about discrimination and the various “isms” – first the BBC presenter Miriam O’Reilly’s case concerning ageism and this week, the Sky football commentators being dismissed for sexism.
Both cases accentuate the extent to which although derogatory comments arguably spoken in jest (“watch those wrinkles”, “women don’t understand the offside rule”) might be innocuous at a certain level, they nevertheless inflict significant and incremental damage in terms of overall societal attitudes.
What we say perpetuates myths and stereotypes that simply aren’t true, but by saying them – and hearing and reading them – it reinforces the message that they must be.
Two news items today have emphasised this. First, a press release from LV (the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society) summarising the findings of a new report into ageing. Their findings really aren’t anything new; they simply reinforce that 60-somethings are happier than their younger counterparts, feel financially and physically fitter and take more holidays.
Again unsurprisingly, the report shows that the definition of what is ‘old’ is different for every age group. According to the research, no one in the UK thinks they themselves are old; 18-19 year olds say 44 is officially ‘old’ while 40-somethings balk at this and say 67 is when you are actually ‘old’. Those in their 50s think you’re over the hill at 71 while those in their 60s think you’re past it at 73. Presumably they didn’t ask the over 70s if they felt “past it”.
So all this did was reinforce what we all know is reality: these days old age isn’t at all bad and starts much later than some younger people think. Why then in writing an otherwise quite informative article about marketing to older people does a journalist (or his editor) in the Independent think it’s okay to use a subheading “the booming consumer market is not young and funky, it’s old and wrinkly.”
“Old and wrinkly” is a term that arguably is offensive even for ageing elephants. Used in respect of older people in the twentyfirst century it is inexcusable. The offence is then compounded by use of a number of other terms such as “granny friendly”
In common with many in his profession the journalist fails to specify who exactly he is talking about in referring to older people making the inevitable journalistic error of treating us all as one group, e.g. in talking about mobility aids he says, “Is it possible to make them acceptable to a generation who think they’re Keith Richards and Helen Mirren?” Stairlifts for people in their sixties – what is he on about?
Meanwhile Stannah show a greater grasp of reality by stating “They (stairlifts) are a really positive thing for people, so we talk to the extended family, the sons and daughters”. Yes, it is the sons and the daughters – “older people” themselves – who are involved in the buying decisions, not for themselves but the generation above them.
The article ends on an even worse note in terms of a lack of understanding of older people: “Stand by for an explosion in goods for the Third Age generation. Sit tight for the supercharged golf buggy. Hold on for Jean-Paul Gaultier incontinence pants. Stand by for the Philippe Starck walk-in bathtub…”
A clear reminder, if any was needed, that any “ism” is fuelled by a complete disregard for reality.