Why is Ageism So Acceptable?

 

You can probably tell from some of the concerts that I reminisce about that I’m not exactly a twenty-something. I am one of the last of the Baby Boomers, born right before Gen X. And, of late, I have been noticing that there is a pervasive negative attitude among many toward those of my generation.

This attitude didn’t start yesterday. If you are old enough to recall the 1980’s you may remember how rock groups and musicians who were popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s were being called dinosaurs in the rock press. I will never forget hearing someone older than myself at the time complaining that radio wasn’t playing enough “new music”.

I think we are partly responsible for this bias against the elderly. I sometimes wish that Pete Townshend had never penned the words “Hope I die before I get old” (although I still like the song). Before I was even a teenager someone had coined the phrase “Never trust anyone over the age of thirty”.

My generation has also perpetuated the myth of eternal youth, with some resorting to extreme diets, and, exercise routines, plastic surgery, etc.. Many, even the oldest of the Boomers, try to keep up with every new band, fad, pop culture trend, you name it.

However, something more insidious, yet mundane, is at work here. It is good old capitalism. Because of the (largely unfounded) belief that brand loyalty is developed at a young age, advertisers long ago set their sights on the under 30 demographic. I spoke in another post about the Disneyfication of Rock and Roll, Here,when innocuous pop idols were manufactured to neuter the power of Rock in the service of selling goods to teenyboppers. Yes, commercial media has a powerful effect on our attitudes and beliefs about Age.

Ageist stereotypes are viewed now as accepted wisdom. People over the age of 50 (or in the tech field, over 40) are viewed as unable to perform, unable to learn or be flexible. Sadly, my last memory of the late Chuck Berry was when I saw him in concert at the 40th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1993. Chuck appeared at the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1953. At the 40th anniversary he was the closing act. His music was probably my first memory of Rock and Roll. He was a lyricist who inspired Dylan and John Lennon, a guitarist who inspired Keith Richards, Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix and just about anybody who played rock, and here he was being heckled by some loudmouth, hipper than thou jazz fan making fun of him because his vintage Fender amp had a loose connection.

The abuse continued throughout Berry’s set and the crowd was not sympathetic to Chuck. Somehow the audience of 1953 was more open-minded than that of 1993. I left early in disgust, almost moved to tears for the mistreatment of such a wise elder. What happened to the kind of crowds who revered classical pianist Arthur Rubenstein as he played into his eighties?

What is happening in the workplace now is truly despicable. My cohort (late Boomers) has had to settle for crappy 401k plans instead of full pensions, so we don’t have enough to retire on. We are also being laid off before we can collect government benefits, such as, Social Security and Medicaid. Therefore, you end up losing a middle class income and heath benefits while still having credit card debt, a mortgage, car loan and possibly Parent Plus loans for your children’s college tuition. I know, some smug right wingers who got everything handed to them by Mom and Dad will say, “Well, you did this to yourself by living beyond your means.” But, it was within my means until someone like you pulled the rug out from under me for your own selfish ends.

Which leads me to my point. Just try finding a well paying job if you are over 50. The assumption is that you must have an inheritance, or a pension, or a big house to sell, etc. and you certainly can afford to work for peanuts. Hmm, what about those of us who are less fortunate, those who were the first generation of our families to go to college? We played by the rules. We not only went to college, we got advanced degrees and yet, we have found it very difficult to accumulate wealth. We are screwed.

Check LinkedIn and see what the average recruiter looks like. I’ll give you a hint, they don’t have grey hair. You will reply to an ad and you match the qualifications exactly. The recruiter will reply something like this: ‘I will review your resume and contact you if we have anything that may be a potential fit’. Excuse me. I just gave you a perfect fit, except that you can tell from the dates on my resume that I am – You guessed it – over 50.

So, what can we do? For one thing, If you are young you can, to borrow a phrase, check your privilege. Try to have some empathy. After all, you will get old too (this is why age bias makes no sense). If you are over 50 and being discriminated against, call it out – in the US you might want to check with the EEOC or your state department of human rights.  If you are an employer, stop this crap. And by the way, stop all this douche bag nonsense about “cultural fit”. It is not scientific and it is blatantly discriminatory. It only makes entitled founders and CEO’s feel good about being surrounded by people just like themselves. It does nothing for the bottom line of the income statement (not a cliche but an actual reference to profit vs. loss). It is cult-like reasoning – make them sacrifice, then make them feel like they are part of a family and then they will be loyal (think Jones town or Manson family).

I fear that we are fast approaching the kind of society where the young  would bring the elderly into the mountains and leave them to die, or more probably, a society that would bring them to an ethical suicide parlor, conveniently located next to a fast food restaurant (for their last meal),  and where an attractive hostess would give them a lethal injection, a la Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House.

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