I thought my days of getting angry were over. Not so. I broke my vow of remaining silent in public meetings and spoke out in anger stunning the audience and the panel. It was at the annual Pensioners Forum for Old people event ‘Question Time at the House of Commons’. Chaired by Paul Burstow, MP. The two key speakers were Jane Young, London Historian and Yvonne Roberts, Journalist. The attendance was composed mainly of members of the Pensioners Forum for Older People. It seemed to me that most of us were well over the age of 70.
The subject: Older people make a lifetime contribution to the economy and their community. Are we recognised for it?
What has this got to do with old women and films? I will tell you. The historian mentioned a handful of films, the media person did not touch on representation and the media. I will not question the word ‘lifetime’, a word that obscures the issue. Neither will I question the word ‘veneration’ used by one of the speakers. No I do not need veneration but politeness.
Young gave us a potted history of post war London. The interesting thing in her talk was her naming several films: Look Back in Anger (1959), A Taste of Honey (1961). L Shaped Room (1962), Georgy Girl (1966), Up the Junction (1968). In short, popular films which addressed the social issues of the day. She pointed out the change of attitude from “never had it so good” to an awareness of social problems and consequent social reforms of the 70s that followed. Of course, Alive and Kicking (1964 see January’s post on this site) addressed the issues of indignity of retirement homes and the potential of older women contribution to society. The film was not picked out by Jane Young because presumably it did not change attitudes to old women.
While Young pointed out the importance of popular culture in a rather subtle way, Roberts, a leader writer in a national newspaper, having declared herself a feminist hardly mentioned the media. She touched on the importance of language and declared she would never use the word ‘elderly’, she mentioned the stereotypical images of old women and gave one example of the mugged grandmother. She said that she was the oldest woman on her newspaper without giving the age of Philip French the male film critic who is 79. She did mention the fact that old people contribute – did she say £40 millions?- It is estimated at £40 billions to the economy but did not spell out the details of this contribution. Neither did she spell out the role of the media in not recognising this contribution. Or indeed the combination of ageism and sexism that is the prevalent culture in the popular media.
I think that what made me angry is the phenomenon that I referred to in one of my earlier post about the ‘otherness’ of old people (see post November 2009). Yvonne Roberts was addressing the old people in the audience as You. ‘You have enormous potential, You have to tell your stories, You have to make yourselves a nuisance so that you are heard, You have to make alliances, to convince You have to give figures, You have to make links”. These recommendations were made to a gathering of people who knew what they have to give, an audience who volunteers probably to the limit of their physical capabilities, an audience who would have liked to be informed of the national figures for the importance of old people in the economy, and why they are invisible, an audience who are too busy involved in the grassroots to do the research that is the domain of academics, journalists and politicians.
Roberts is 64. In most academic studies old age is defined as 60+ or 65+ . Yet she addressed us using You. It was clear to me that she did not identify with the audience. She referred to her dead father, her mother. There was no mention of her own contribution to journalism and the ageism that leads to her contemporaries being dismissed from TV jobs.
It seems to me that ageism is so ingrained in us that people cannot admit to being old, as long as they are fit and healthy. Yet it us the fit and healthy ‘old’ of whatever age who have the energies needed to be militant about old age and give the frail and tired the voice to obtain their rights.* Oh yes we also heard about the necessity to reform the Welfare State.
To finish on a film note. It is depressing to see that The Marigold Hotel is so like Alive and Kicking (see post July 2012) in spite of the demographic changes that have occurred in the last 50 years. It is not Late Bloomers either (post March 2012) that is going to change the attitudes to the old and recognition of their contributions. It is up to writers, producers, and film makers to give us the equivalent of Quartet. Films about what it feels like to struggle between care for grandchildren and care for parents. About old people juggling with a job and caring for a disabled partner. About old people who are volunteering in all sorts of campaigns in the company of younger people. About old people experts in their field. About the very real rich relationships between the generations. About old people who prefer to meditate and contemplate after a lifetime of work. And about the crisis in social care.
There are some minor films dealing with intergenerational relationships, a retirement home, about the grandmother who sorts out a dysfunctional family but they were heavily criticised and not well-distributed (see resources page).
There seem to be no solidarity between the fit old and the frail old whatever their age and I am angry. No we are not all in this together.
*see post ‘Jamileh is 62’ in blog http://www.ageingageismdiary.wordpress.com