By Sally Barnes
I’ve experienced my share of racism and sexism in my life and now in my so-called golden years, I am especially sensitive to ageism.
It runs rampant in case you haven’t noticed—and if you’re under 50 you probably don’t know or care.
Attitudes and practices that lead to prejudice and discrimination against the elderly are not new but as a rapidly aging society, this will increasingly become an important issue.
Like so many other prosperous countries, our birth rate has plummeted. For a variety of reasons, young people are postponing, limiting, or taking a pass on parenthood. Far be it for me to criticize these very personal and important decisions but, in our dotage, there are more than a few of us whose greatest source of pleasure, comfort, and pride is our children and grandchildren. That includes those of us who have been blessed with exciting and enjoyable careers.
Today’s old folks are sitting on a huge pile of lifetime earnings and savings and just plain luck, which is soon to be redistributed when they sever their mortal coils. This will be a windfall in taxes for governments and recipients of charity and inheritance. In the meantime, it’s going to cost young members of the workforce a fortune to provide the health care and other services required to keep us comfortable and alive.
The widening gap between rich and poor is cause for deep concern as various elements in society become more polarized and aggressive about their expectations and entitlements.
Will the day come when young and old are at loggerheads over finite resources to finance public services? More daycare or nursing homes? More tax breaks for young families or seniors? Politicians are already facing these difficult decisions.
With the proportion of seniors in our society on the rise, one might assume that with our voting power and our propensity to vote more consistently than youngsters, the oldies will have the advantage.
Ageism will temper that by lessening respect and appreciation for seniors and the contribution they can make to society.
Some everyday examples come readily to mind:
More and more seniors are being put out to pasture at younger ages.
Youth and a youthful appearance become ever more valuable in marketing products, services, and people.
Commercials that smother news, and public affairs television programs that are especially popular with seniors, naturally focus on products that appeal to this age group—such as reverse mortgages, chair lifts, drugs, and health care insurance.
Almost without exception, the people in these commercials either look orgiastic about their newfound freedom of easy cash and getting up stairs, or just plain stupid. Mercifully, the old bird who appeared senile while proclaiming he had become “king of my own castle again” with a chair lift has been replaced.
Elderly TV couples are always affluent with perfect hair-dos and flawless teeth and are having the time of their lives travelling the world—-unlike most seniors who suffer daily from arthritic pain and worry about paying their bills.
Talking heads on North American TV are primarily young and attractive. Trying to attract a younger audience to appeal to advertisers and increase their ratings, producers ensure grey hair and wrinkles are as scarce as hen’s teeth.
I believe our own public broadcaster, the CBC, is especially guilty of this and it especially irritates me as it relates to the discussion of politics, governance and public affairs.
It may well be that viewers do not want to be reminded of the toll taken by age on the human body—especially under the glare of studio lights—but what a waste of talent, experience and expertise in abandoning the wealth of talent that exists in veteran broadcasters, politicians and other experts in the field.
One longtime acquaintance of mine comes to mind. A veteran of several decades of covering election campaigns, this skilled broadcaster was informed a couple of years ago that the CBC, because of his age, would not include him in its upcoming election coverage. Featuring younger content and performers is part of the corporation’s desperate need to attract younger audiences and justify its heavy reliance on taxpayer funding.
Check it out. We have witnessed successful efforts to include racial and other minorities and women in our newsrooms and broadcast studios. Seniors? Nada. Some real gems have been handed their pink slips and told to go home and take their experience and expertise with them. Pickleball anyone?
And what about the politicians who make the important decisions about how our tax dollars will be spent?
It seems to me that ageism has infected this field as well.
The days of reverence for the outstanding leadership skills of old coots like Churchill and Roosevelt despite their many infirmities are long gone. Financial support, physical appearance, charisma, and youth are now what it’s all about.
In the current leadership race of the Conservative Party of Canada, some argue that former Quebec Premier and federal cabinet minister Jean Charest is too old at 64. (His younger competitors are leading this charge. I for one believe his age and political experience are major assets.)
In the last federal election, Justin Trudeau at age 50 was the oldest leader in the race. His hair and his socks often seem more newsworthy than his vision and courage.
The front benches of our federal and provincial governments have only token representation of veterans of various backgrounds.
If some had their way, age limits would be imposed of politicians. But I hope that day never comes. A U.S. Democratic nominee for Governor of South Carolina recommended this week that the age limit for politicians be capped at age 72.
“Our country and our state are being run by a geriatric oligarchy. People who stay in office way past their prime,” said Joe Cunningham, who just happens to be running against a 75-year-old incumbent.
“The folks who are making a career out of politics are making a mess of our country.”
Well, there is no question that someone and his demented disciples are making a mess of America with their stubborn determination to make the country “great again” while destroying pillar after pillar of democracy.
Some of those calling for President Joe Biden’s resignation because of his age and alleged infirmity fail to admit that by the time of the next U.S. election their dream candidate Donald J. Trump will be 78, the same age as Biden when he took office.
As an old political junkie who has watched politicians and governments come and go, I believe age is like race, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity—-no grounds on which anyone for any reason should be discriminated against. We should choose our politicians carefully on the basis of their character, experience, skills, courage, and ability to do the job.
Joe Biden may muddle his words on occasion and probably requires a nap each afternoon and Metamucil at breakfast—just like the rest of us. But he is a good and honest person with a stellar career in public service. That’s more than can be said of the multitude who would bring back the tyrant who has brought a great nation to its knees and has cast a shadow on democracy here in Canada and around the world.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!