Career Changers

Ageism at Work (and Play)

October 18th, 2010

Getting old stinks. I'm 54 and that's ancient for screenwriters in the movie biz. Someone once said that Hollywood is the only place where experience is considered a negative. But I'm starting to think it's not just the entertainment industry that looks askance at middle-aged people. While age discrimination is supposed to be illegal, it seems fairly obvious that many companies are shunning older job applicants.

The New York Times ran this depressing headline not long ago: "For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again" ... sigh. Yet at the same time, many senior citizens have no choice but to keep working after seeing their pension funds and investments go down the tubes at the end of the Bush era when the Dow sunk below the 8,000 mark.

Another article in U.S. News & World Report likens the attitude towards older workers as being similar to how women were viewed 40 years ago. Back then, females weren't considered to be physically or mentally up to the challenges of jobs typically done by men. Now it's gray-haired folks who face that kind of discrimination... but isn't there a certain amount of truth to old-age stereotypes?

Take me, for example. I can do basic computer and social media stuff. However, I'm not into texting, don't know how to send photos with my cell phone (and don't care to) and have given up on following new music/fashion/youth trends for the most part. On the other hand, I've probably read more and seen or done a lot more things than my younger screenwriting competition, who primarily seem to get their life "experience" from mediocre TV shows and comic book movies they watch. Snarky dialogue is in; thoughtful conversation is an idiom of the past.

What distresses me most though, is much of this Youth worship stems from aging Baby Boomers themselves, who put such a high premium on maintaining the illusion of a Never Never Land where none of us grow old -- in spirit at least, if not in body. Signs of denial are all over Facebook: the pages and pages of photos taken during high school, college or post-college days when nearly everyone played in a band or hung out with one. A college friend of mine, who was in one of the first all-girl punk rock groups in the 70s just played a reunion gig in NYC. I jokingly noted on her Facebook page that it sounded like it could be a funny sit-com premise: aging punk rock girl band goes on tour -- sponsored by Centrum Silver, Depends, and AARP. Her band mates were not amused. (She later sent me a link to a real group named "Grumpy Old Punks," which does songs in that vein.)

To make matters worse, you have shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance that suggest younger is better when it comes to talent search competitions. Really? How in the world can a 16-year-old sing about meaningful relationships and what it's like to REALLY suffer or struggle, when parents have been sheltering them all their lives? Yes, they may have the vocal chops or lithe bodies that perform amazing athletic stunts. But when I listen to an old Solomon Burke blues number or watch Clapton and Bonnie Raitt on stage, those performers can convey more emotion with a single small gesture than the most talented teenager using every inch of their body or lungs.

And while I'm on my Grumpy Old Writer rant, I have one more thing to add: I love Ellen DeGeneres because she's done so much for gay rights simply by being honest about herself and showing straight people that gays aren't a threat to hetero society. Plus, she's funny without being mean or scatological. But she's gotten sucked into the Youth worship cult too, and regularly brings on stage precocious kids that she or her staff "discovered" on YouTube videos. They sing! They dance! They're so darn cute! Fine... except she's also cashing in on them by launching her own record label to promote these kiddie entertainers. Meanwhile, I know of many musicians and artists, who are talented and have worked a lot harder for their entire lives, and they will never get a shot on Ellen's show because they're "too old." That's a shame too, because young people are missing out on some great stories about life and enduring when times get tough. Instead, you'll see those same kids crying on TV when they get cut from American Idol, saying their life is over at the age of 19 because they haven't become famous yet.

As I told one of my more "mature" friends the other day, I'm grateful to be getting old. It sure beats the alternative.

Today's relevant links:

NY Times article on older workers struggling to find jobs.

U.S. News & World Report piece on the Senior Movement... um, no, not the Depends kind.

Grumpy Old Punks website and Facebook. One of their songs is called, "Anarchy in the Prostrate." Ouch.

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2 Responses to “Ageism at Work (and Play)”

  1. Scott:

    Good post Rich. I'm 30 and am glad I was raised at the tail end of Clapton, Stones, etc. That's the music I listen to. The young kids these days are simply not ready for the real world. It's gonna be a baby coddling life for these cell phone, facebook kids. Too bad for their parents who thought they'd retire at 60 and their kids would be off their payroll. Ha Ha!
    Hope you're well, glad to read your thoughts again my friend.

  2. Rich Figel:

    Howzit, Scott -

    Thirty? You're still young! To be honest though, I think early retirement is not necessarily a good thing for a lot of people. I want to keep writing and working on books or other creative projects until the day I die...

    So how's the job going? Hope all is well where you are!