Oct 22, 2019

Older people in the media: a moment or a trend?


For far too long, there has been the established fact that, in the mass media, older people are most likely to be invisible, or negatively stereotyped. But if the last few weeks are any indication, that tide may be turning, in both ways. To my delight, and keeping to the oceanic metaphor, there has been a wave of features about a rich variety of older people, in various media, and it’s worth listing those features and their sources, both to show how much older people rock and – in most of them – to enable any readers who might be interested and hasn’t already seen them, to track them down so that you can enjoy their stories for yourselves.

To start with, there is the ABC’s Conversation radio program, which dedicated the week of 23-27 September to older people, in the following interviews:

  • Secret of the native hibiscus: western science meets Indigenous knowledge: with botanist and Dharawal elder Fran Bodkin, who uses western science to explain up to 80,000 years of Australian Indigenous plant knowledge”;
  • RAF pilot Frank Dell’s story of survival in Nazi occupied Holland: in October 1944 Frank’s De Havilland Mosquito was shot out of the sky and he parachuted into Nazi territory”;
  • “A vibrant life Kath Venn at 84: the late Kath Venn was a powerhouse of community spirit. After serving in Tasmania’s parliament, she was State President of the Housewives Association, a marriage celebrant and much else besides”;
  • “The evolution of Charlie Veron, the Great Barrier Reef’s first scientist: school was nearly the undoing of the intensely curious child who went on to discover nearly a quarter of the world’s coral species, and be awarded the Darwin Medal”;
  • “A friendship and a giant literary hoax: Alison Hoddinott and Gwen Harwood were great friends with a shared love of English, family, and thumbing their noses at convention”.

Then, in Melbourne, there was The Age’s Spectrum, of 12 October, which had five excellent and very positive articles (including the cover story), over 10 pages (out of 40), featuring people in their 70s:

  • Dame Lynley Dodd (British), 78 years old: a full two-page interview with this author and illustrator, best known for her Hairy Maclary books, and in the context of her work being featured currently in The Lynley Dodd Story at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum;
  • John Waters (American), 73 years old: on the cover, plus a full two page account of his career as film maker, writer and writer, in the context of his performance in John Waters’ Make Trouble, at the Melbourne Arts Centre, to coincide with the release of his ninth book, Mr. Know-It-All, The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder;
  • Margaret Atwood (British), 79 years old: the more prominent partial two-page feature, in which she is the lead personality, with her photo accompanying it, in an article about the then forthcoming Booker Prize, which she later co-won for her book, The Testaments;
  • Peter Temple (Australian), who died last year, at the age of 71, while in the midst of writing a book: a one full page review of a publication including that partial book plus other essays and writings of his – very favourably written by celebrity fellow crime writer, (58-year-old) Michael Robotham;
  • The Weekend: a very favourably reviewed novel (the main feature over two pages) about three 70something female friends who are all “functional and independent and full of passionate feeling about many things”, written by (54-year-old Australian) Charlotte Wood.

Currently, we have the November issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, which kicked off the topic in praise of older people in the media by including in its letter section one from A Lansdowne of Maylands, who was delighted with the article in the previous issue, featuring the “bone fide legend”, 83-year-old Valerie Taylor, who has just written her memoir. She concluded her letter by saying “thanks for continuing to feature inspiring older women who challenge society’s ageist mentality.”

And to show that that is indeed a continuing theme in this magazine, the November edition followed that up with several major feature stories about older people (and so, not only women) in various contexts. They are as follows:

  • Kerri-Anne Kennerley (64 years old): on living with loss and grief. She also makes a passionate statement about ageism in health funding, on the basis of her husband having been deemed “too old” at 65, to receive the full NDIS care package;
  • Nell and David Brooks (70s): life in the outback as Birdsville cattle farmers;
  • Billy Connolly (76 years old): comedian, on forgiveness, and his new book while living with Parkinson’s;
  • Deborah Hutton (57 years old): media personality, on friendship;
  • A feature on innovative ways of retirement living/housing;
  • A beauty feature on styling grey hair, using realistically ageing models;
  • Maggie Beer (74 years old): recipe feature.

There is also the regular one-page column (maintained over the past 30 years), of humorous columnist, Pat McDermott (in her 70s). And there is a graphic article about elder abuse, centred around the last years – in his 90s – of Marvel Comic creator, Stan Lee.

All up, very good reading, and we can all take a leaf out of A Lansdowne’s book, and vocally encourage those media which are promoting older people, to keep it up in the interests of a combination of illuminating entertainment and a spotlight on issues of concern to the ageing, as well as a more representative picture of our current population demographics.

Anne Ring ©2019

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