Media, especially television, is often the major form of companionship for older people. We’ve often heard that parents need to limit screen time for children.
The same admonishment should apply to older people when it comes to TV viewing. Too much TV is dangerous.
Why? Because television networks treat older people with disrespect.
Network executives have a narrow view of how to portray older people. They employ older actors in grandparent roles but most often, eliminate them from programming.
Regularly, the standard programming line-up ridicules and mocks elderly people. They are the targets of pranks, jokes and ridicule.
Experienced and older female news announcers are regularly replaced with younger women due to popular assumptions that audiences prefer to see role models that are wrinkle free and have big hair.
Male news announcers fare slightly better although older male announcers are under pressure to consider hair implants, to cover grey hair, and to stay slim.
Age is considered a ‘turn off’ for viewers.
Older women are mostly portrayed as demanding and forgetful. The beauty and wisdom of an older woman is not celebrated or acknowledged. There are no white-haired female reporters, hosts, experts. And if the woman is overweight she can forget most roles, regardless of her age. Women in key anchor roles are forced to made radical changes to appearance including hair coloring, cosmetic surgery, and weight loss.
Men fare slightly better with late night talk show hosts surviving as the years add up although there is little demand for eye glasses, sagging jowls, baldness or bulging abdomens.
There are a few exceptions. Betty White, often called the patron saint of older female actors has survived and prospered in sitcoms. Barbara Walters regularly appears on various news and talk shows. Oprah is legendary. Larry King stayed with his popular CNN news program well past his ‘best before’ date. Peter Mansbridge clings tenaciously to his anchor job on the CBC nightly news. These, and a few others, have survived but too many actors and TV journalists are suddenly replaced by younger ‘personalities’.
Older people are a significant audience.
They often live alone and the TV set becomes their room mate.
Sometimes TV acts as a substitute for non-existent human interaction. Shut-ins and disabled people consider television as a lifeline. It’s their method of staying in touch with the world.
TV becomes a key source of information. The easy availability of news, sports, and other programming keeps elderly people informed when diminishing eyesight may make reading newspapers or magazines difficult. Many are not comfortable accessing news via the internet and avoid online presence other than occasional emails to children and grand children.
Television is also a source of entertainment. It becomes a favourite leisure activity for older people. When mobility issues arise, an evening of watching TV is effortless as there is no need to leave the comfort of home.
TV is also economical for seniors living on fixed incomes. There are no tickets to purchase; no transportation costs and no expectations to meet dress codes for theatre wear.
Why limit TV time?
If you limit the amount of time spent watching television you stop buying into the tokenism that networks give to older people. You don’t support the prevalent and distorted myths of aging where most actors are relegated to elder roles of grand parents, dirty old men or ditzy old women.
TV programs are aimed at young people with the idea that appealing to the young is the way forward. The older demographic, though potentially lucrative and loyal, is largely ignored.
Everyone is going to get old; many of us may become infirm but the cohort of elderly people is a growing group that deserves an accurate portrayal of the wisdom that comes from experience and knowledge of the world. Older people deserve to see themselves in roles that properly reflect the reality of life as it is lived — both the positives and the negatives.
Real old age will happen and some of the physical changes may not look as pretty as popular TV would have it.
Rather than suffer through inappropriate portrayal of older people, I will exercise my finger muscles and press the off button. Quiet is preferable to the disrespect seen on the screen.