As a child growing up through the ’80s and ‘ 90s, part of me felt that it was as if television was made specifically for the older people.
As the depressing theme song from M*A*S*H rang out at 5.00pm signaling the bitter end to my cartoons and the start of the news, It seemed as though every night of the week had a familiar old face as part of the regularly scheduled programming in the hours of prime time.
The Golden Girls, Murder She Wrote, Matlock, Empty Nest, Columbo and Keeping Up Appearances were merely a portion of the programs that depicted older people in positive leading roles, and in 1989, a near 60-year-old Sean Connery was even voted the sexiest man alive.
While watching these TV shows may not have exactly been my choice back in those days, looking back, I can definitely see the benefits of having watched these programs that depict older people as the most important and valued focal point of the show.
As a child, your social circle is relatively small, and in those days, due to the non-existence of the internet, the main influence outside of your family and friends was the television, and what you saw on TV was the clearest indication of what society valued and what it didn’t.
And there was no doubt in my mind in those days that society viewed the older age groups including the elderly as the wisest, most charismatic, cherished, and revered people that there was. And that’s exactly how I saw them.
Mainstream in 2019
Media in 2019 is a completely different experience to what it was only two decades ago.
Not only has the subject matter of the content changed dramatically, but the way in which we access our entertainment has done a complete 180-degree turn.
Thanks to the invention of the internet, things have gone from turning on our radios and televisions and hoping to find entertainment that suited our interests, to having 24-7 instant access to content relating to absolutely anything we can think of.
Another way to put it might be that we transformed from the set menu into the all you can eat buffet.
While modern technology does bring with it a number of positive benefits, one of the problems with giving someone the ability to access their own entertainment is that people rarely venture outside of their comfort zone.
Having the ability to avoid everything except your current interests lessens a person’s likelihood of interacting with something new and different, and this ultimately inhibits their ability to learn and grow.
To be completely honest, If I would have had the ability to watch my favorite cartoons instead of the programs showcasing the elderly in those leading roles back in the 1980’s I would have done so, and it probably would have been to my detriment.
Although I saw the amazing love and respect that my mother had for her mother (my grandmother) on a daily basis in our family home, seeing older and elderly people on TV on a daily basis definitely reinforced the fact that these were people who should be valued in the highest regard.
Out of Sight Out of Mind
The unlimited smorgasbord of information and entertainment that we currently have at our disposal is removing the elderly from the hearts and minds of the vast majority of people outside of the older age demographics.
Even though ageing is something that none of us are immune to, the lack of value being placed on issues affecting the elderly shows that the majority of people view aging as an afterthought.
The structure of these modern-day entertainment platforms have the masses thinking and feeling that issues that are not relevant to them, simply aren’t relevant, and this mindset has even trickled down into the mainstream news.
The mainstream TV news is one of the last remaining outlets of mass media consumption that the majority of people have some awareness of collectively.
These are the rare stories that some families will still actually talk about at their dinner tables and amongst friends.
This is the new window into what society values.
Unfortunately, in 2019 it takes sensational headlines of shocking abuse and scandals to peak the interest of the mainstream media and even then the conversation surrounding these types of things generally fizzles away rather quickly.
Not only are these moments few and far between, the horrible subject matter means that on the rare occasion elderly faces do grace the silver screen they are associated with something negative, and this has the ability to shape impressionable minds.
People don’t value the elderly in the high regard that they should because they simply don’t hear enough good things about them to care.
In stark contrast to the television screens of my childhood era, media platforms are now a sea of younger faces who either present or star in programs geared specifically to an audience of a similar age demographic.
It is extremely rare to see mainstream media figures aged 65 and above, and the idea of seeing people of that age bracket playing positive leading roles in quality programming is even more unusual in 2019.
While there may be the odd person who manages to secure a role presenting a program, there are very little older and elderly people portraying characters with substance, that will resonate with an audience.
Older men and women have been relegated to the stereotyped side-kick and comic-relief cameo parts that we now often see them in, and the majority of these characters are devoid of any real depth or feeling, and unfortunately attitudes towards older people and the issues that they face currently reflect these characters.
Opinions begin to take shape at an early age, and the lack of an older presence within media and entertainment gives young people who are just beginning to form their opinion, the idea that elderly are not valuable enough to be represented on a grand scale.
This type of negative reinforcement through absence has the ability to affect the way that children view and treat the elderly, and it is also an indication of the importance that they will place on elderly issues as they begin to age.
Older people rely on the younger generations to provide the leadership and forward planning that advocates their safety, and while I don’t expect the elderly will take center stage in the media spotlight again any time soon, I do think that having them take a step out of the darkness and bringing them back into the picture, can have a positive and lasting impact on those who will be making decisions about them in the future.
Seeing is believing. So if we want people to believe that elderly people are valuable members of our society, maybe it’s time we started seeing them, free to air, and in the prime time hours once again.