Aged by popular culture

Aged by popular culture is a research project that was undertaken for my PhD dissertation to investigate how our perceptions of age and aging are shaped by Western media and popular culture, and subsequently result in an ageism that is normalized and largely accepted by the general population.

My research is drawn from the work of Margaret Gullette, Margaret Cruickshank and Laura Hurd Clark who propose that our aging process is formed according to the attitudes and values of an ageist culture present in our society which cause us to internalize or absorb the ideology of ‘aging as decline,’ rather than by biological forces or chronological stages of aging. Gullette referred to this process as being “aged by culture” (2006). I focused my research on two specific aspects of North American culture – media and popular culture – which I believe have advanced and reinforced ageism though their celebration of the cult of youth and negative depictions of aging and old age that are promoted by the aging and anti-aging industries. This combination of factors has pushed older adults out into the margins of society where they have largely become invisible.

Sixteen participants (5 between the ages of 20-35 years of age, and 11 between the ages of 65-80-years of age) contributed to this research. Aged by popular culture could not have been done without their cooperation and ideas. The inclusion of the perspectives and experiences of these two different age groups was invaluable, adding depth and insight to the discourse about age and aging. Participants created 6 images based on 3 sets of specific interview questions that focused on media and popular culture’s depictions of aging and older age in contemporary society, which were then discussed in a recorded interview setting. Please note that all interviews were completed prior to the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020.

This research was specifically designed as a teaching tool to be used in K-12 schools, post-secondary institutions, and other organizations and senior’s centres, as well as by the general public. It has the objective of promoting critical thinking that may generate a positive change in attitudes towards aging, build more positive intergenerational connections, and help to reduce the harmful effects of ageism in contemporary society.

Seven theme topics were created based on an analysis of the participant images and interviews which can be accessed through the ‘Themes’ menu above. I suggest using these themes as your navigation tools through the website. The seven themes are: The ‘cult of youth’ and the anti-aging industry; Healthy aging; Time, creativity and relationships; Frailty and care; Gender and class – bias and inequality; What is old age?; and Moving beyond stereotypes. Each section contains a discussion and analysis of the topic, plus participant photos, text and audio clips. Links within pages provide access to detailed information on various concepts and definitions connected to each theme topic. Additional information on Aged by popular culture and the research process is available through links on the ‘Research’ section of the ‘Menu.’

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