The New York Times recently released an op-doc (video) entitled Not Dead Yet, featuring Norman Lear, creator of some of the most successful sitcoms of all time: All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son. But in the 2010s, Lear is having trouble finding a studio to pick up a pilot entitled Guess Who Died, a show about older adults that “nobody wants,” according to Lear. He wrote the script five years ago, got it in front of the right people, and they said, “It’s not our demographic.” Lear turned 94 on July 27.
This is a sad commentary on attitudes in our culture towards aging. When will the reality that we ARE the demographic catch on? Adults 85 and older are the fastest growing demographic. Each day, more than 8,000 Baby Boomers turn 65. We are living longer. This changes the landscape and it should change the dialogue, the stories we tell ourselves and others.
Norman Lear hears the “Guess Who Died” script read for the first time in this short video. Who says it’s not our demographic?
In a culture that still glorifies youth, we have a long way to go in overcoming the pervasive and subtle oppression of ageism that exists in our culture. As adults, each of us plays a role in buying into the messages we hear and see every day: You need hair color. Buy this facial serum to reduce lines and wrinkles. Take this treatment for low testosterone. Growing old is sad. Old people have no value.
And don’t get me started on drug advertisements.
But there are anti-ageism advocates whose words are being heard, whose voices are rising above the mindless, misdirecting chatter. They are the leaders we need to listen to, follow, and join in confronting ageism.
Ashton Applewhite is such a voice. Her book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is the guidebook and our fuel for activism against ageism.
What started as an examination of her own fear of aging evolved into a well-researched, thoughtful and energizing read. During the process of writing this powerful book, Applewhite started to change, got excited about aging, and wanted to share this evolution with us.
You can’t help but laugh at yourself and your own prejudices about aging while feeling enlightened and excited by the evidence that aging is truly a wonderful thing. According to the Happiness U-Curve, humans are happiest at the beginning and at the end of our lives! Where’s that message in the media?
Applewhite has done a beautiful job of addressing the myths of aging. She first examines the history of ageism, then looks at where ageism can be found: from the boardroom to the bedroom to the doctor’s office. And she’s not afraid to address the effects of ageism on our minds, hearts, and spirits.
Beyond this review of myths and messages, she is writing a manifesto, and in this proclamation, she gives us sound counsel on how to reframe the conversation, how to change our thinking, how to move forward and embrace aging, “a mass shift of consciousness” as she calls it in the last chapter, whose title I love best: “Occupy Age! Beyond Ageism.”
I promise, This Chair Rocks will make you mad as you begin to recognize that ageism is ever-present, and that we’ve all bought into its messages. Then it makes you sit a little taller in your chair as you feel empowered to make a change in how you think, feel and perceive this journey of aging. This Chair Rocks is a Call to Action, to a new way of reflecting on these chapters in our wonderful lives and standing up to age discrimination.
Just as Norman Lear reflects in the New York Times op-doc referenced earlier, “The culture dictates how you behave. And maybe the elderly buy in to it, the way they grow old. My role here now is to say, ‘Wait a minute! That’s not all there is.’ There’s a good time to be had at this age.”
Ashton Applewhite provides the same gift of reminding and encouraging us that “there’s a good time to be had at this age.”
Ashton’s coming to Seattle in September:
- Wednesday, September 14—Keynote for Sound Generations’ Reimagine Aging Breakfast, WA State Convention Center, Seattle. Learn More
- Friday, September 16—Closing keynote at the University of Washington Elder Friendly Futures Conference, Lynnwood Convention Center. Learn More
- Sunday, September 18—Seattle Speaks with Ashton Applewhite about Age Equality, Cornish Playhouse, Seattle Center, 201 Mercer Street, Seattle. Learn More
Contributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care™ practice (geriatric care management) serving King, south Snohomish and Whatcom Counties, and is co-chair of the University of Washington Elder Friendly Futures Conference.