Films and demographic changes.

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 2012in 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

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
This entry was posted in Ageing, Ageism, Conferences and comments and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Films and demographic changes.

  1. zzella says:

    So what was it you said that stunned everyone?

    • rinaross says:

      It was not what I said but the angry way I said it. I was shaking, as I hate speaking in public, but I tried to make these points in a rather aggressive way:
      ‘You misjudged your audience. We all participate in society
      We are all over 70 here / Where are the 60+? probably looking after their grandchildren
      Why don’t we have the editors of the Mirror, the Mail and politicians here on the platform to be grilled by us?
      I blame the media and the politicians’.
      A deadly silence followed this. By then I had recovered from the frustration of nearly an hour of debate not dealing with the subject. I looked around me and said relaxed and smiling : “what no applause?” / a few claps followed.

  2. mish aminoff says:

    excellent piece!

  3. Elizabeth O'Dell says:

    Rina, thank you for your angriness in my behalf. I find your anger so important in the face of
    a complete lack of solidarity- ‘you ? NO, It is US!!!! ‘
    Elizabeth O’Dell

  4. I am very interested in your sentence “There seems to be no solidarity between the fit old and the frail old whatever their age . . .” I think that is true.

    When people ask me what it is like to be retired I often say that I am having a great time. However I have friends who would love to be able to do some of the things I do. Unfortunately for them, they are quite frail. I used to work at The Centre for Policy on Ageing and Eric Midwinter, then the Director, was very mindful of the true situation. (OK. I don’t like the word ‘mindful’, but it seems to fit here.) It is unrealistic to make sweeping statements and to paint too rosy a picture.

    And yet of course my frail friends contribute to the life around them. Some are wonderful grandparents, others are simply good friends and enrich other peoples’ lives.

  5. I should have signed my post Odette Elliott Not Children’s Author (that is my name in another WordPress blog.)

  6. Pingback: Greater London Forum for Older People. Question time | Old Feminists Speak

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