‘Why is everyone hellbent on portraying over-60s as past their used-by date?’

Nov 13, 2020
There's still plenty of gas left in the tank, according to Rod. Source: Getty

The advertising industry has a very strange idea of what it’s like to be elderly. (There – I’ve admitted it, after years of denial.) I figured this out because it’s cold outside and because of social distancing I’ve spent more time in front of the box than would ordinarily be the case, and I’ve become fascinated by the perception of our age cohort as it is expressed in TV ads.

Two particular ones have become almost a fixation with me. The first is for some item which is applied to sore legs with the promise that it could lead to greater muscle freedom or blood flow or something, with the result that the sufferer sheds the pain and gambols happily to a coffee shop. Possibly a case of your cup overflowing.

The second is a series of ads in which various couples lament the loss of a friend, before deciding they must get life insurance that offers a big payout on death; and the final scene is of a family group, now mightily relieved, sitting around with cheery smiles on their faces. Perhaps that’s a case of winning when you’re actually losing.

Sure, if you’ve got sore legs, it’s better to do something about it, rather than boring everyone senseless with your whingeing. And it’s always preferable to recognise that our time must inevitably come and that not even Shakespeare was immortal. But is that it?

My gripe is not with the ads, nor with the products the hucksters are trying to sell, as advertising is, I accept, a medium of communication between producer and consumer. What I do find alarming, and doubly so because this idea seems to have permeated the wider society, is that we, the elderly, have nothing to look forward to, have no sense of the future, either for society as a whole or for ourselves.

We certainly expect a sense of the future among the young; indeed, I find it saddening when I see so many of our young people denied that future, and exasperated when so many in my own generation refuse to understand the catastrophic shrivelling of opportunities in the very world that Baby Boomers and Generation Xers bequeathed to the young.

But what concerns me here is the expectation of society – and ourselves, I fear – that it is right and proper for us, the elderly, to also have no sense of a future. So why must the lady with sore legs revel in her recovery by going to a coffee shop, where she’ll sit down, sedentary-like, and passively slurp on a cup of Joe, as though that’s her lot in life.

Why couldn’t she get out of her chair and go to the local nursery and buy a sapling – for little more than a couple of cups of coffee – plant it, and then watch it grow. Even if the chances of her living to see it reach its full maturity are remote; it’s still a sense of life moving on and that we are an essential part of it, both as mentors to the young and as examples to them. That has always been the role of the elderly, since time immemorial, but it seems that in the age of shallow celebrity an aged person has to be an eccentric to get any attention worth five cents.

One of the reasons I write for Starts at 60 is to state, to myself more than to the world at large, that I can still look forward. Look forward to seeing my blogpost in print, to thinking about things beyond the next cup of coffee, to feel part of the great human journey, to living.

I wouldn’t suggest that writing blogs or your memoirs or a steamy novel is the only way to keep going. It happens that I have always been a writer, that’s my thing, ever since my first (heavily plagiarised) literary effort, Treasure Trove, was displayed in the New South Wales Public Library during Book Week 1954. And my mother was a gardening obsessive, planting annuals in her small backyard patch right up until she was admitted to hospital for the final time. (She liked her coffee, and also made provision for her family in her will.)

But the point is to keep that sense of a future, to enjoy the feeling that you might be 65 or 75 or 85 but you’re still part of the human race, and that it’s your journey as much as anyone else’s. That any idea you’ve been put out to pasture should be stamped on.

As it happens, my wife works in a local bookstore and she always comes home with a quiet chuckle about some of the idiosyncracies that obsess her customers. But just the other day, she came home rather sobered by one particular old gaffer who sought her assistance.

He would have been 80-plus, she said, arthritic, bent double, an old tradie, she guessed, and not travelling too well. But it was obvious that he was not looking backward at former glories or enmired in the bitterness of the present. What he was seeking were any books on tool sharpening, and unless the men in whitecoats are waiting outside to cart you off, you don’t sharpen tools unless you want to use them in the future. She was awed.

Now, my last example is the family of dear old Pearl who used to live next door when I lived in the outer western suburbs of Sydney. Pearl’s father hated the Sydney winters and every May he used to start out on his annual pilgrimage, driving a huge 1960s Yank tank with a caravan in tow, to Cairns, where he stayed until he returned in September. This was an annual ritual from his retirement at age 65 up until he was 93 when the cops took away his licence.

But his wife, Pearl’s mother, even outdid that! What her hobbies were, I have no real idea, but if I could guess at one, it would be conviviality. I suppose she’s passed on by now but the last time I met her she was 99 when we invited the two of them, mother and daughter, to lunch at our Illawarra (New South Wales) home.

Apparently, they misjudged the trip and arrived well before the agreed upon hour and so, to kill 50 minutes or so, they repaired to the local pub to knock down a couple. Quite a few bar-fly jaws dropped, I’m told, when a near-centurion old biddy slipped off her stool and hit the floor, then dusted herself off and calmly ordered one for the road. Before arriving at our place, laughing her head off, ready to tuck into a quiche and salad. Followed by a cup of Joe, no doubt. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Sue's sassy!

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