Just as white Americans were blind to blatant racism in the dialogue, stories and characterizations of mainstream media during most of the 20th century, we are generally blind to matter of fact bias against older people in mainstream media and even AAU courseware. It is unnoticed, transparent, like the air we breathe, however, the idea that a recent entrant in this field, even if he has twenty or thirty years or more of professionally astute, productive life ahead, would be foolish to assume he’ll be hired over a younger, less experienced and far less talented individual. That’s the way it is today, just as people of color still face different economic opportunities.
This is important to me now and because, one day it will be just as important to you, I’m sharing with you what I’ve seen because it relates to the issue of careers available in media that depend on your circumstances more than your talent or ability.
We live in a culture of unexamined economic priorities that show up as discrimination. Extremes are less apparent in North America in comparison with Rio, San Juan and parts of Latin America, Asia, the middle-east and Africa, however, by dint of age, ethnic provenance and/or economic status people categorically receive few opportunities for education, health care, employment mobility, housing, entertainment and almost everything related to standard of living and quality of life in our culture. I’m paying attention to this because I feel that those, like me and you, who are privileged to participate have a greater obligation than just our own survival.
Agism is a discrimination that includes the greatest number of people that suffer the worst effects and more kinds of discriminatory practice and ironically, it affects people in North America far more than residents of European countries and lesser developed places. Moreover, agism affects people of every ethnic background in America, including the widest range of economic status, with highest degree of exclusion from employment advancement, fewest housing opportunities; and as a consequence of greater need, older people in general receive the least competent medical attention. While we cry out when bias is inflicted on categories of ethnicity and gender, discrimination against older people is a taken-for-granted fact of life in America in the same way that slavery was in the 18th century and child labor in the 19th century and the greatest effect is economic.
The future productive work life of a person over 50 is substantial and probably equal to the time a young person stays in the field.
Statistically, a person over 50 has the potential of twenty to fifty useful ahead of him/her plus the advantage of 30+ years of applicable experience and education, yet based on the discriminatory hiring practices, it is difficult and some would say, impossible for an older man or woman to begin a career in a new field. This circumstance definitely colors my outlook but I shall not let discriminatory practices and attitude prevent me from pursuing my wish to fully participate and contribute and share the wisdom of my experience.
An outstanding characteristic of age-related discrimination for you to consider now, is that the bias of agism will effect your life. Everyone in America, including those who will die young is affected. Everyone is eventually subsumed into the category of age-related discrimination. If you talk to older people who have been confined to the warehouses we call, “residential care” and “senior residential communities,” you will hear resignation that is like the parlance of “happy” slaves on Thomas Jefferson’s plantation. As people age in America, they are taught to pretend their fate was pre-ordained, as if discrimination was sanctioned by a higher power. But it isn’t.
Media is the unwitting source of agism.
In promoting and selling youth, commercial media validates the bias by instilling values that negatively condition views of maturity. It’s not intentional to implant such values but it’s the predictable outcome since, if it’s good to appear young and beautiful, it must be less good to be older and wiser. It seems obvious that by promoting youth, there is a correlative pejorative created about non-youth. The same argument is made about the negative effect of promoting ideal physical proportions, or white skin vs black. Predominantly casting Anglo-Saxons as heroic protagonists leaves the impression that the skin color of heroes is lighter. In the same way, youth is preferable to maturity.
While media is unwittingly complicit, the medical profession practices age bias in the face of science. This is the strongest argument for requiring that doctors be educated in the humanities, history and social sciences. Genetic information contained in our cells mutates after repeated iterations, producing observable physical effects but the way this occurs and the areas affected varies enormously among all individuals and our brains contain enormously more cells than we use and we now know that areas of the brain can take over the tasks of other areas when they are damaged and mitigate or enhance types and effects of mutation. There are even enhancements due to this mutation. The medical profession is beginning to think differently about aging because new therapies defeat increasing numbers of specific mutational effects but there are economic reasons why the mentality of the medical profession in America remains stuck in the 19th century.
Effects of agism are becoming the greatest direct economic expense in America.
The most lethal age bias occurs in U.S. courts of law, where juries are instructed to base awards for liability when a patient has died, not on the enormity of the neglect or malpractice that caused the loss of life or the pain inflicted on victims and families but instead on the percentage of a span of life that was lost based on actuarial tables and the economic status of those who suffer. The parents of a two year old child of a middle class family, who dies on account of medical neglect or malpractice, will be entitled to compensation that interests attorneys in pursuing a lengthy case against a hospital’s well-heeled insurance company, while the children and grand children of an 72 year old field worker won’t find an attorney. As a result, doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and medical product manufacturers can and do get away with murder. Ironically, even though lawyers, doctors and lawmakers must see their own vulnerability, they have accepted the personal risk in return for financial support from insurers.
Not ensuring a healthy, productive life for older people has a huge cost for society because human beings become depressed when they feel they have no future and treating the symptoms of depression is rapidly becoming the greatest cost of medical care and depression is now known to lead to other conditions that are very expensive to treat.
When I review the great variety of media produced these days, I don’t see all that much brilliance, knowledge, talent and expertise in most of the product. We need people who possess such qualities and statistically, to discriminate against employment of older citizens denies us a greater number of artists and craftspersons.