Ageism refers to any attitude, action, or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group on the basis of age or assignment of roles in society, purely on the basis of age.
It refers to negative discriminatory practices regardless of the age to which it is applied. Ageism stereotyping involves categorizing people into groups and attributing certain characteristics to these groups. It is mostly associated with the old, and people hold prejudicial attitudes about old people, old age and the aging process. They are discriminatory practices against old people and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people. The term also describes prejudicial discrimination against adolescent and children, ignoring their ideas because they are too young or that they behave in a certain way because of their age. Ageism for a long time focused only on the negative stereotypes of old age; but has since been expanded to include positive stereotypes.
Aging is considered to be one of the biological processes. In regard to Esposito (1987), all that is born must die and aging is one of the ways the body prepares for death (p.8). Unlike other biological processes, aging is beyond our control and happens against our will. Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have recognized a progression through the life course, from infancy through old age. Ageing involves multidimensional changes on physical, psychological, cultural and social levels.
It is the progressive accumulation of changes with time that are associated with or responsible for the ever increasing vulnerability to disease and death which accompanies advancing age (Kastenbaum, 1979). In the film ‘On Golden pond’, Norman has developed a palpitating heart and at a time, he lies prone and unmoving, and thus I realize not only the stereotypic health deterioration in old age, but the fear of the future as well. This makes him attract great support and great empathy from his wife Ethel.
Loss of memory or a slow down in the retrieval of material is a stereotype associated with old age. In the film, Norman finds it hard to remember the environment of the summer cottage they have had since the early days of their marriage. Ethel tries her best to make Norman to remember the cottage and the fact that they lived there during the early days of their marriage. I appreciate that though Ethel is also advanced in age her memory of the past is quite clear. She tries to understand Norman and helps him to catch up with the new realities of old age. I comprehend that Norman is reluctant to celebrate his 80th birthday and filled with a mixture of anger, cynicism and fear and is also showing signs of losing his faculties. However, on the contrary, I take in that his daughter Chelsea highly values Norman’s birthday and is keen to celebrate it along with her fiancé.
The absence of a son in his life is the main factor to the sour relationship he has with his daughter, Chelsea. Chelsea, I think sees her father as exacting and strict: simply someone that she can’t get along with. This perspective culminates in Chelsea going to Europe for many years. Even upon her arrival, I realize that Chelsea still lacks a way to approach her father. The father acknowledges that he has always thought he and her daughter are alike. I suppose that each one of them always strived to find a way of approaching the other, but never managed. I deem that Chelsea and her father could not get along because each of them held a prejudicial perspective on the other due to their ages.
What interests me is how Norman and Billy are getting along. At first, it was challenging for Billy and Norman to agree; but I see that, as Norman commits himself to teach his grandson how to fish, they begin to love each other truly and they become great friends. The lesson I draw from this is that even at old age the young can love and amicably relate with the old. Norman teaches Billy how to fish, meaning that older people can mentor younger ones despite their age. In addition, I realize that young people can choose to, and can find ways of relating with, older people like the case of Billy who loves his grandfather so much that they cannot be separated. This amicable relationship contrasts with that between Norman and his daughter Chelsea, indicating that stereotyping is evident and Norman acts as a perfect grandparent. In fact, I recognize that young people, like Billy, can take up critical responsibilities like restoring a broken between Chelsea and her father. He finally resolves the long lasting conflict between Norman and Chelsea. I consider that this is in contrast with the perception that roles and assignments are given in society according to age, especially those relating to dispute resolution.
In reference to Kastenbaum (1979), because death is feared and old age is feared, death and old age are synonymous in American society (p.27). The emphasis by society on productivity is a factor that contributes to ageism. At both ends of life, old age and childhood, productivity is minimal and is one of the reasons promoting ageism. In my view, some elderly people fear death while others do not. In the film, I appreciate the role played by Norman as a perfect companion to Billy. Norman, I accept as true is also a strong and productive man. Though he fears losing some of his faculties, his presence in the Thayer family is strongly appreciated. I agree that Chelsea had some deep-seated love for her father judging from her passion to attend her father’s 80th birthday, but she in the lacking in the manner of approach. Billy resolves the case between Norman and Chelsea and gives excellent company to aging Norman.
According to Woolf (1996), ageism affects both men and women and negative stereotyping for both older men and women has been observed. There are generalizations that stereotype older women as unhealthy, asexual, ineffective and inactive. In the film, it is evident to me that Norman’s health is frail as compared to that of his wife Ethel. In addition, I realize that Ethel passionately loves Norman and does all she can to stabilize the family. Ethel delightfully shows love to her husband and encourages him to meet the challenges of old age without fear. I appreciate the fact that Ethel can effectively control her anger. As to the perception that old women are dependent, ineffective and passive, Ethel demystifies it and she is the one depended upon to hold the family together.
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In conclusion, I have learned that ageism and stereotyping originates from such issues as narrowed productivity which is intently defined in terms of economic potential and this directly stereotypes children and the aged. Ageism is also caused by the fear of death, and the idea that old age is associated with death. I also learn that ageism has been caused by promotion of the youth culture, emphasizing youth, physical beauty and sexuality. In addition, ageism and stereotyping can severe relationships in society. On the other hand, I learn that positive stereotypes can promote strong ties in society. The point is that negative ageism and stereotyping can be overcome if one is exposed to and works with the stereotyped group long enough to appreciate their challenges and opportunities.
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