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“Hope I die before I get Old:” Aging in America. Media Representation. "How this country thinks of older people and relates to older people, and how older people think of themselves ... is directly affected by what is put on television." Jeff Sagansky, CBS Entertainment Chief

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“Hope I die before I get Old:” Aging in America

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media representation
Media Representation

"How this country thinks of older people and relates to older people, and how older people think of themselves ... is directly affected by what is put on television."

Jeff Sagansky, CBS Entertainment Chief

The Tampa Tribune, Tuesday, October 5,1993. 

In The Graduate (1967) was 29, but played a 21 year-old. Ann Bancroft was only 6 years older, but played a woman in her 40s.

Fifty-plus adults now comprise 38 percent of the U.S. population and this number jumps to 47 percent by 2020. (Census Bureau)

  • Fifty-plus adults account for approximately 80 percent of personal wealth in U.S. banks and financial institutions, and have 50 percent of all discretionary income. (Age Wave Report, 2001)
  • A Baby Boomer turns 50 every seven seconds.
  • Median household net worth in 1999, according to age of household head:
  • 55-64, $145,000
  • 65-74, $190,000
  • 75 plus, $132,900.
  • (Administration on Aging, 2001)


“There is also the myth that old people are affluent. An examination of income data, however, revealsthat our nation’s older people are not a particularly wealthy segment of the population.

Although there are pockets of wealth, about 70 percent of older households have an annual income below $35,000.00 and almost 30 percent have an income of between $10,000 and $20,000. In addition, older women and minorities have very high rates of poverty, around 20 percent.

It should be noted that the Census Bureau uses a different income threshold to calculate poverty among older people, with the result being that older people must be poorer to be officially counted as poor. This too is ageist, in that it assumes older people can and should get by on less.”





Experience Corps.

media representation1
Media Representation

“Ageism is the last socially condoned bigotry. Unlike so many cultures where age is honored and elders of society revered, older Americans endure ugly, misguided stereotypes and must fight for a place at a table they themselves worked to build. It’s completely shortsighted. Unlike other targets of bigotry, we will all – if we’re blessed with a long life

– join the ranks of this group someday.”

Kim Miller, Vice President, Sales and Marketing

Willow Valley Retirement Communities, 2002

media representation2
Media Representation

“Less than 10 percent of today’s

advertising focuses on people over 50.

Up from one to two percent a decade


(Age Wave, 2002)


“How did the American culture develop such blatant disregard and disrespect for the elderly? Gerontologists Butler, Lewis and Sunderland (1990) suggest the following causes:

A number of factors have had a negative influence on U.S. attitudes toward old age:

1. A history of mass immigration, still ongoing, mostly consisting of the young leaving the elderly behind in Europe and Asia.

2. A nation founded on principles of individualism, independence, and autonomy.

3. The development of technologies that demand rapid change and specialized skills.


4. A general devaluation of tradition.

5. Increased mobility of the population within a large continental space.

6. Medical advances that have relegated most deaths to later life, producing a tendency to associate death with old age.

All these have made it difficult to embrace old age itself as a valued and contributory phase of life.”

“The Representation of Elderly Persons in Primetime Television Advertising,” Meredith Tupper, 1995


Myths of Aging

Myth #1: You get old; you get sick

Myth #2: You get old; you lose interest in intimacy

Myth #3: You get old; you are unwilling to try anything new

Myth #4: You get old; you lose control of bodily functions

Myth #5: You get old; you can’t function in the work place

Myth #6: You get old; you can’t understand technology

Myth #7: You get old; you have no social life

Myth # 8: You get old; you cannot fully participate or pull your own weight

Myth #9: You get old; you need help to make decisions






Ad Industry Numbers and Trends

The resulting status of marketing and advertising in the United States can be summarized as follows:

We have all been placed into buckets according to age, income and generation. It is generally assumed that because we are a certain age, read a certain magazine or are a part of a generational label (GI’s, Boomers, GenXers), we are very much alike others within that same generation.

The advertising world is dominated by youth. Companies with products to sell are, in general, mesmerized by the “need” to capture the youth market. The reasoning goes like this. “In order to preserve our market share for the future, we must capture them while they are young.” Research supports the notion that this is nonsense and yet companies and advertisers continue to do as they have always done.

Those over the age of 50 are, for the most part, labeled as “spill over” according to those who place media buys for major advertisers.

“Ageism in American Advertising: A Matter of Awareness,” J Walter Thompson Group, 2002


“The Mature Market Group and Seniors Resource Group conducted a study of adults 62-plus to determine if a person’s life events, situations and generational experiences shape their core values, and determined that they can be categorized into eight distinct segments to help predict their marketplace behavior:


Woeful Worriers (5 percent) never recovered their fiscal confidence after the depression, but they retained their faith in authority. They are comfortable with order and routine and shy away from excitement and risk – even if they are dissatisfied.

Liberal Loners (9 percent) find it difficult to become a part of the human family. They appear to fit a bleeding heart stereotype, but they focus on their own independence, concerns and needs, leaving little energy for family or friends.


Fiscal Conservatives (15 percent) are aware that they are admired for their accomplishments and for their possessions. They shop for quality over value, but manage to find the bargains. Wary of change, they focus on tradition and family pride.

Active Achievers (10 percent) have enjoyed all aspects of their lives. They don’t see themselves as “old” and don’t plan to join the older ranks, regardless of their chronological age. They are well educated, socially involved and usually well to do. Nonconformists, they enjoy excitement. They are often divorced and may lose touch with their families.


True Blue Believers (20 percent) are often the moderates. They are religious but not zealous, compassionate but not overindulgent, happy not giddy, smart not brilliant, conservative not inflexible. They are fulfilled by families and friends and satisfied with themselves.

In-charge Intellectuals (7 percent) are lifelong readers and thinkers who keep up with change and are secure in their abilities and opinions and perceptions. Their personal relationships may be casual. They expect more of themselves than others.


Intense Individualists (14 percent) see the world as unforgiving and a tough place to be. They have a pioneer’s resourcefulness and self-reliance. They assume a leadership role in their families and communities. They are unsentimental and uncompromising.

Hearth and Homemakers (20 percent) keep their family and friends at the center of their lives. Their religious congregation is the center of their community. Often caretakers and volunteers, they’re happy and see their lives as rewarding.

Ageism in America, Senate Report

dtc advertising
DTC Advertising
  • “Direct-to-Consumer” drug advertising began in 1996.
  • The only two developed countries where DTCA is currently legal are the U.S. and New Zealand.
  • In a review of DTCA spending between 1997 and 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted that "drug companies concentrate their spending on DTC advertising in specific forms of media and on relatively few drugs. Television and magazine advertising represented about 94 percent of all spending on DTC advertising in 2005. DTC advertising also tends to be concentrated on relatively few brand name prescription drugs--in 2005, the top 20 DTC advertised drugs accounted for more than 50 percent of all spending on DTC advertising."

“A recent survey of married men and women showed that 87% of married men and 89% of married women in the 60-64 age range are sexually active. Those numbers drop with advancing years, but 29% of men and 25% of women over the age of 80 are still sexually active.”

“Sex In The Elderly,” Patricia Bloom, MD - Mount Sinai-New York University Medical Center


Findings from a study involving 3,000 people aged 57 to 85 in the US are reported today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Many reported engaging in sexual activity with "at least one partner" in the 12 months before the study.

Although numbers reduced with age, 73 per cent of men and women aged 57 to 64, and 53 per cent aged 65 to 74, were leading active sex lives.

Even in the 75 to 85 age bracket, 26 per cent were still having sex.

Among the sexually active, 65 per cent of 65 to 74-year-olds and 54 per cent of 75 to 85-year-olds reported having sex with a partner at least two or three times a month.

And 23 per cent of sexually active septuagenarians and octogenarians claimed they had sex once a week or more.


More than 80 per cent of sexually active men and 70 per cent of women were still having full sex at the age of 75 to 85.

However, those in poor health were much less likely to be sexually active, while women of all ages were significantly less likely than men to report sexual activity.

About half of men and women who were sexually active had experienced at least one sexual problem.

Erectile problems affected 37 per cent of men, while 43 per cent of sexually active women reported low desire.

Reuters, August 2007


The researchers say their survey overturns stereotypical ideas about sex and ageing, an area that has been little studied.

"There are a lot of people who feel that age is very tightly correlated with sexual activity or interest," Professor Edward Laumann of the University of Chicago, one of the report's authors, told the BBC.

"But it turns out that healthy people are sexually active if they have a partner, and that this is an important part of the quality of life."

Sex with a partner in the last year was reported by:

* 73% of those aged 57 to 64

* 53% of those aged 64 to 75

* 26% of those aged 75 to 85

BBC, August 2007

  • Colonial America tended to treat death fearfully, anticipating possible grim Judgment and pain in the afterlife.
  • During the 18th Century, this Puritan fundamentalism softened, and emphasis was placed on Heaven and the ease of suffering.
  • 1800s: Currier & Ives and other card manufacturers begin to offer memorial lithographs – early mourning cards.
  • In 1820, the first Memorial Garden is established in Mount Auburn, Boston, and a tradition established of visiting cemeteries on Sunday.
  • In the 1830s, funeral businesses begin to appear, and funerals become more ornate. Catalogs are printed of funeral goods.

Geo. L. Brownell.

Hearses and Carriages ...: Urns, Silver and Gold Fringes, Plumes, Coffin Rails ... New Haven, Conn.: Punderson & Crisand, printers, [ca. 1880]

civil war
Civil War
  • Photographers such as Matthew Brady bring images of death in the Civil War home to Americans.
victorian death
Victorian Death

The “Beautification Movement” of death: Death is seen in Victorian America as a peaceful sleep. Books such as The Gates Ajar by Elizabeth Stewart Phelps (1868) emphasize the peacefulness of death:

"It will be like going around a corner, don't you see?" she says. "You will know that I am there all the while, though hidden, and that if you call me I shall hear."


19th Century Post-Mortem photography


In the refiguring of the language of death, the “funeral home” becomes the “funeral parlor,” and the word “parlor” is changed to “living room” in the home. The Ladies’ Home Journal bans the use of the word “parlor” in 1910.

first world war
First World War
  • The massive scale of the killing of WWI results in huge, stark graveyards in Europe. Britain bans public grieving in 1917.
second world war
Second World War
  • The “Good War” did not have the same shock as WWI on American perceptions of death until after the war, with revelations of the Holocaust.
  • Soldiers were venerated much more greatly as heroes.
  • Jessica Mitford’s The American way of Death attacks the funeral industry, pointing out that Americans in 1960 spend more on funerals than higher education.
  • TV brings images of death into America’s living rooms as never before, and heightens the unpopularity of the war.
  • The Vietnam Memorial in Washington spurs a new public memorial movement.


“The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the Bush administration has ordered the Pentagon to prevent any news coverage of the bodies of US troops being sent home from Iraq. The blackout on casualties is part of the attempt by the White House to recast the nightmare in Iraq as a “good news” story.”

Washington Post

death as entertainment
Death as Entertainment

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, pub. 1818

Dracula, Bram Stoker, 1897

death as entertainment1
Death as Entertainment
  • Horror movies become a staple of the movie industry

Nosferatu, 1922

Bride of Frankenstein, 1935

death as entertainment2
Death as Entertainment
  • Westerns become the distinctly American genre

Stagecoach, 1939

The Lone Ranger, popular on both TV and radio starting in 1933

High Noon, 1952

death as entertainment3
Death as Entertainment
  • 2000s: “Horror Porn” pushes the limits of movie violence

Dawn of the Dead, 1978

Kill Bill, 2003

death as science
Death as Science
  • 2000: C.S.I. debuts, and soon spins off a series of copycat shows.
death as business
Death as Business
  • 2001: HBO debuts Six Feet Under.

Video: series end

death as fantasy
Death as Fantasy
  • Bryan Fuller’s Dead Like Me (2003)and Pushing Daisies (2007)