In Western society today, there has been an overwhelming tendency towards a concern with remaining as youthful as possible for as long as possible. Although this does extend towards the qualities of energy and vitality, the main focus of this drive is upon appearance. In American society particularly, the media has both encouraged and perpetuated this trend. Advertisements, greeting cards, and even cartoons often portray older people as feeble, foolish, and worthy of little more than providing some derisive entertainment for the younger generations. While the mass media has been improving its images of the elderly as citizens worthy of respect, there are still many images that cater to the general drive towards remaining young and physically attractive (Vickers, 2007).
Vickers (2007) notes that stereotypes occur in all sorts of media, including television, comics, and cartoons. One example of the cartoon genre is the online rendition of "Honesty on the Internet." In this cartoon, an elderly man and woman, both out of shape, communicate via an online messenger service. The cartoon implies that both are lying about their appearance and interests, with the woman saying that she was a model, and the man lying that he is a Chippendale's dancer and racer of speed boats. In addition, the junk food, smoke, and cans of beer in their environment suggests a lack of basic hygiene and care for their health. The words suggest that elderly people must lie about their appearance and interests to be appealing, even to each other. This type of cartoon typifies a large amount of today's online interaction, which is what makes it funny. However, it is also both tragic and indicative of the general social attitude that the elderly is used as a vehicle for derisive humor.
Television advertising is another genre in which the elderly tends to be either marginalized or ignored as insignificant members of society. In the 1980s advertisement for Wendy's, which has now become iconic for its question "Where's the beef?," is a primary example of the elderly being portrayed not only as feeble and unattractive, but also as mentally less than agile. The question became so popular that Walter Mondale used it in his presidential campaign. The advertisement is still available to view online today. The clip features three older women who are dressed in typical "little old lady" style. They look at a small piece of meat in a very big bun, which is the source of the question "Where's the beef," which one of the women repeatedly asks. This advertisement exploits older people by stereotyping them for the purpose of making a point about fast food. It implies that the role of older people in society is no more important than making people laugh. The laughter is sourced by the portrayal of the typical older person as weak and stupid.
According to Vickers (2007, p. 102), elderly people are not only derided when they do appear in the media, but they are also underrepresented. Although their numbers have been increasing since the 1980s, the reverence that nations such as those residing in Japan and Ghana have for their elderly is absent from the youth-worshiping American mind. Beauty- and youth-driven reality shows such as "Extreme Makeover" also imply that the highest desire anybody could possibly have is to be young and beautiful. The experience and wisdom that come with age are completely overrided by this desire. Age means being closer to death and nothing more. Ironically, longevity means increased age. Society is, however, finding it difficult to promote the idea of both a long life and eternal youth without also promoting the idea that youth is desirable over old age.
To promote this idea, there has been an increase in shows that promote plastic surgery Botox injections, and other artificial means of maintaining one's physical appearance. The show "Extreme Makeover" is just one among many other such as "The New You" and "Doctor 90210." This has created a general obsession with doing whatever it takes to remain young-looking for as long as possible. The impact of such shows on young people is that it has created a dramatic fear of old age and its concomitant lack of attractiveness.
Another common media item that tends to deride older people is the greeting card. Messages on these…