Stereotypical models of older age
There are four models of aging discussed in this research in relation to media and popular culture: 1) Aging as frailty and decline; 2) Healthy aging and “successful aging”; 3) The “new ageism” of the “greedy geezer” (Gullette, 2004) and “ok boomer“ (Lorenz, 2019), with its model of the ‘old, rich and spoiled older adults’ of the early 2000s who have evolved into the ‘OK boomer’ model of the late 2000s; and 4) Third age (save the world) superheroes; and the fourth age ‘Super-Ager’ who are those exceptionally healthy and physically fit successful agers in their late 80s and 90s who still run marathons and engage in thrill seeking activities into the ‘fourth age.’ These models reflect historical and contemporary perceptions of age and aging and provide a framework for the political and socioeconomic connections driven by neoliberalism that fuel ageist representations of age and aging in the media and popular culture and feed an anti-aging industry and consumer ideology in contemporary society.
Model #1: Aging as frailty and decline
Extensive gerontological research conducted over the last two decades suggests that negative stereotyping of aging as physical and cognitive decline still remains one of the prominent models of aging in North American society (Binstock, 2005; Gullette, 2011). The biomedicalization of aging (strongly linked to the anti-aging industry and Hollywood’s ‘cult of youth’ ideology) forms the foundation for the 1st stereotype of aging by advancing a socially constructed view of aging as a medical problem or disease (Estes & Binney, 1989). In addition, the biomedical model of aging, which endorses the notion of old age as frailty and decline, strongly influences public attitudes about “old age as a pathological, abnormal and an undesirable state” that subsequently affects societal attitudes toward older adults, while it also encourages older people to internalize, or accept and absorb these negative attitudes at an almost subconscious level so that they become part of their own identities (Estes et al., 2001: 46).
But in this sense, these ageist attitudes have been internalized by younger people too. Doing so has allowed them to view older adults in a negative and dismissive way that enables them to separate themselves from the older generation. And in the process, older people have gradually slipped into invisibility. This harmful image of automatic frailty and dependency that characterizes the older adult has become entrenched in the collective consciousness, where it reinforces negative associations of aging to the extent that it has become “a pervasive social attitude” (Chappell et al., 2008, p. 3) and consequently fosters ageism.
This negative model of aging as frailty and decline integrates societal attitudes that reflect the “cultural imperialism of youth” (Laws, 1995, p. 113) set in place by Hollywood decades ago, with the belief that aging is a disease that can be ‘fixed’ or even ‘cured’ (Kuczynski, 1998, de Grey, 2014). For example, Cambridge gerontologist, Audrey de Grey’s biomedical approach to aging as a curable disease that has to be tackled at the cellular level is becoming increasingly more popular. A 2014 Ageing Summit in the UK brought academics and biomedical and pharmaceutical interests together to discuss methods [or “anti-ageing therapies”] that could slow down the aging process. The three-day summit clearly had a direct anti-aging focus, summarized in this statement: “The last three decades have shown us how plastic the ageing process can be. It is becoming apparent that, with increased knowledge, more and more of the negative consequences of ageing can now be tackled, postponed or avoided [italics added]” (EuroSciCon Ltd., 2014). This approach has enabled the aging and anti-aging industries to utilize the fear of illness and death to sell their products and services. They promise “age-defying” solutions to the “problem” of old age, suggesting that they can slow (or even stop) the aging process (Calasanti et al, 2012).
Taking an opposing position to de Grey’s view of aging as a curable disease, Masora (2001), (citing various studies in the US and Europe that all showed a high rate of dementia or physical disability in centenarians), argues that it is highly unlikely “for a person to live to a very long life without significant physiological deterioration” (p. 416). For example, the majority of centenarians in one French study (Allard, 1991) did not meet the successful aging criteria; instead: one third of the participant centenarians needed assistance with eating, one half to two thirds needed assistance with other activities of daily living, and two thirds of the participants were unable to leave their rooms (Masora, 2001: 416-17). Even in Japan, known to have a high number of centenarians, a 2006 study of 304 centenarians showed that:
“Only 2% were classified as ‘Exceptional,’ with all of their functions graded as excellent,” 18% were ‘Normal,’ exhibiting maintenance of fine cognitive and physical functions; [while] 55% were ‘Frail’ exhibiting impairment of either cognitive or physical functions and 25% were ‘Fragile,’ exhibiting deterioration of both physical and cognitive functions” (Gondo, et al., 2006: 305).
Model #2: Healthy aging and 'successful aging'
Healthy aging: “The process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age” (World Health Organization, 2020).
Coexisting with negative perceptions of the biomedical model of aging as frailty and dependency are perspectives that provide alternative and often more positive models of aging which emphasize individual agency over the aging process. ‘Healthy aging’ as defined above, is the current version of these positive models of aging. Other earlier but similar models include: “productive aging” (Butler, 1969, 1985), which initially developed out of Butler’s response to the prejudice (which he described as age-ism) that he saw directed at older adults over a proposed 1969 public housing complex for low-income seniors in Washington, DC; “successful aging” (Havighurst, 1961; Butler, 1974; Rowe & Kahn, 1987); “active aging” (WHO, 2002); and healthy aging (McPherson, 1995), which is now the model used by the World Health Organization [defined above] (WHO, 2020). Rowe and Kahn’s model of “successful aging” has the three main principles: “low probability of disease and disease-related disability, high cognitive and physical functional capacity, and active engagement with life” (Rowe & Kahn, 1997: 433). Additionally, Laslett (1989) and Young & Schuller (1991) proposed that life following retirement is a unique, cohort driven approach to older age, which they defined as the third age.
“The third age” is a concept popularized by Peter Laslett’s (1989) book, A Fresh Map of Life. Laslett hypothesized that due to a combination of demographic and socioeconomic factors a new and positive stage of life was emerging for older adults after retirement (specifically when the majority of a birth cohort became 70 years of age). Laslett argued that in place of “old age,” the retirement years provided older adults with greater agency, enabling them to make individual choices that would translate into personally fulfilling lives outside the confines of work providing them with a new identity – “a new third age.” Although Laslett built on the model of successful aging, in order to create a concept that provided another positive model of aging it was also embedded in the neoliberal ideology of personal responsibility and choice, which includes the concept of agelessness and anti-aging.
In the 1980s, a variation of the concept of the third age arose – ‘Freedom 55’ – a model that originated as a Canadian ad campaign by London Life Company to encourage people to invest and save money in order to be able to retire at age 55, rather than 65, and to retire well (Swystun, 2018). In Canada, for a time prior to 2008, the Freedom 55 image represented the endless possibilities of a financially secure life of leisure in early retirement, living a carefree life of perfect health and happiness, with the freedom to travel the world and enjoy life, with no worries or responsibilities to hinder that ideal life (Krashinsky, 2012). However, in Canada even before the financial crisis of 2008, in the1990s and early 2000s these dreams of a stress-free and financially secure third age were only available to a select group of people. After the financial crisis of 2008, followed by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, boomers in contemporary Canadian society (and in much of the Western world) found that they had even fewer options available to them in their third age. Freedom 55 had been reduced to a fantasy for all but a very select few individuals (Krashinsky, 2012). However, with the financial and societal insecurity of the past decade, ‘Freedom 85’ has been making headway as a replacement phrase. The options of early retirement or financial security that existed for some people prior to 2008 in Canada (and the US) are now distant memories for many other individuals, while in the US, a 2011 poll conducted in the US by the Associated Press and LifeGoesStrong.com revealed that:
“Baby Boomers fear retirement and are actively worried about their financial future. 44% of Boomer-aged Americans (born between 1946 and 1965) are not confident they’ll have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, [while] 57% say they lost money during the recession; and 42% of those affected say that’s why they’re delaying their retirement” (ThirdAge.com, 2011).
Based on the concept of “successful aging,” these models of older age attempt to dispel the myth that aging inevitably means decline and lack of function and ability and propose instead that a healthy and active life can be the norm for older adults. It should be noted that Butler’s early definition of productive aging as “avoidance of disease or disease susceptibility, high cognitive capacity, and active engagement with life,” (Butler & Gleason, 1985) is remarkably similar to the three main tenets of Rowe and Kahn’s successful aging model described above. Like Butler, Rowe and Kahn included the importance of activity in the lives of older adults and active engagement with a primary focus on “interpersonal relations and productive activity” (p. 433). They also made a distinction between two groups of “non-diseased” older adults: “usual (non-pathologic but high risk)” and “successful (low risk and high function),” with a goal of stimulating research that would identify the determinants of successful aging and develop interventions that would have the potential to reduce the number of adults in the usual category (p. 433). However, Rowe and Kahn (1998) emphasize that the primary components of successful aging are nevertheless hierarchically arranged with the biomedical aspects taking precedence over social engagement and active participation in life (p. 39). Over time as critiques arose over the definition, Rowe and Kahn came to enhance the model of successful aging and placed more of an emphasis on “active engagement with life” (Holstein & Minkler, 2003). With the biomedicalperspective forming the foundation, the focus of successful aging is on enhancing mental and physical health functioning which results in increasing longevity, while reducing disability and the frailty caused by mental and physical decline (Rowe & Kahn, 1997; Seeman, et al. 1994; Kahana, et al., 2003).
While the concept of successful aging may be grounded in an intention to promote healthy and positive aging, certain problems are embedded in this concept, which have generated debates within the academic community over the last 15-20 years (Angus & Reeve, 2006; Dillway & Byrnes, 2009). First of all, it is important to note that academics such as Bytheway (1995) have argued that even having a category called “old age” generates a situation of ‘otherness’ that ignores the actual continuities that take place over time throughout life.
Debates around the concept of successful aging revolve around: the concept and definition of successful aging; the socioeconomic bias that is embedded in the model of successful aging; and the sociopolitical context in which the concept was developed, which includes American political and biomedical interests and networks. As a result, other scholars argue that the influence of the successful aging model in fact supports a perspective that views aging in a negative light, consequently creating even more fear and anxiety around the normal aging process (Kaufman, et al, 2004). In this way, the model of successful aging has not eliminated the stigma or negative associations of old age, it has merely changed the definition of “old” to an older age category where frailty resides—the fourth age (Higgs & Gilleard, 2014, 2019; Laslett, 1996). As old age categories have been developed and shifted, Chappell (2008) suggests that: “Indeed, one day old might come to be equated with frail” (p. 229).
The fact that academic debates still continue over ‘successful aging’ reflect the continuing influence and persistence of this concept. In addition, the debates around successful aging (and anti-aging) that have taken place in academia have also been reproduced in the dominant media, specifically in text-based sources (e.g. newspaper and magazine articles), television info-news programs, and the Internet (such as the Ted Talks of de Grey’s research on YouTube) (de Grey, 2014b
Scholars have also asked the question: What exactly does it mean to age successfully? What happens if you don’t age successfully, and instead become frail either physically or mentally in old age? Have you then become a “failure” at aging? Or are you a successful ager only up until the time when any kind of physical or mental decline sets in? Bowling (2007) points out in a systematic review of the literature examining the concept of successful aging that definitions vary considerably and with much inconsistency. Her research reveals that although successful aging is in fact made up of a number of components, many models are one-dimensional, focusing only on aspects of the biomedical or psychosocial models. At the same time, Bowling points out that definitions were also vague and often stated implicitly. In addition, “criteria of successful aging [e.g. satisfaction with life, having close social contacts], in some studies have been labelled as predictors of the same concept in others” (Larson, 2002 in Bowling, 2007: 273). She concludes by suggesting that successful aging as a concept needs to expand and become more multidimensional, with greater sensitivity to individual and cultural differences, taking into account the political economy of aging.
As a result, some scholars argue that the influence of the successful aging model in fact supports a perspective that views aging itself in a negative light, consequently creating even more fear and anxiety around the normal aging process (Kaufman, et al, 2004). Where previously ‘old age’ may have been conceptualized as age 60+ or 65+, the model of successful aging and the third age have not eliminated the stigma or negative associations of ‘old age,’ they are merely shifting the old age category into age 80-90+, where physical and mental decline occur more often – the fourth age. Nevertheless, because old age has become even more defined by physical and mental decline, individuals could be considered ‘old’ at 60, if frailty and dependence were present. However, even living to age 90+ does not prevent the pressure to age “successfully” to cease. Other scholars have also raised concerns with the concept of successful aging itself, concerned that successful aging gives the impression that through a careful lifetime regime that encompasses proper diet and exercise, living into the fourth age without serious physical or mental deterioration is an achievable goal in old age (Masoro, 2001; Bowling, 2007; Holstein & Minkler, 2003).
There are also a few writers within the popular press who avoid casting older adults in a stereotypical and homogenous mold and instead take a critical look at old age and the anti-aging industry. In an October 2014 Maclean’s article, Age-old problems: Despite a demographic boom, the elderly are rendered invisible by a society in denial, Anne Kingston, suggests that our society is in denial about the realities of old age. Instead, she argues that we have become obsessed with the belief in anti-aging, fostered by an anti-aging industry that reaps huge profits out of our fear and denial. She points out that those who discuss growing old as increased frailty and decline – the first model of aging – are few and unpopular in the academic community. One such alternative voice is Canadian sociologist, Stephen Katz, who suggests that with a focus on rejecting and resisting old age, we are left unprepared for old age. Interviewed for a Maclean’s article in 2014, Katz pointed out that: “We talk about the ‘Rs’— revitalizing, rejuvenation, rementia. We don’t talk about the ‘Ds’ – decrepitude, dependency, death. Not everybody is healthy or independent or prosperous” (Katz, as cited in Kingston, 2014).
Model #3: The "new ageism" of the "greedy geezer" and "ok boomer"
Another kind of ageism has resurfaced out of the combined perspectives of successful aging and apocalyptic demography – “the new ageism.” The new ageism of the apocalyptic demographic perspective (also referred to as voodoo demography or demographic determinism), which generates resentment and anger in the populace, perpetuates a myth of the growing “catastrophic” landslide of an aging population who will drain the resources of the younger generation (Binney & Estes, 1988; Hooyman & Gonyea, 1999; Binstock 2005). “Apocalyptic demography” has been widely criticized by numerous gerontologists who argue that the consequences of an aging boomer population have been exaggerated and sensationalized by the media and used to justify government retreat from public responsibility, transferring that responsibility back to the community, the family, and the individual (Gee & Gutman, 2000; Walker, 2010).
Nevertheless, apocalyptic demography has been reinforced through government policy and sustained by the dominant media, presenting the idea of aging as a social problem and planting the idea of older people as “greedy geezers” (Binstock, 2005; Chappell, 2007), suggesting entitlement at the expense of the younger generation. However, the term “greedy geezers” is not a new phrase. In 1989, Robert Butler pointed out that a cover article in the New Republic had used the phrase “greedy geezers” to criticize government programs for its senior population, arguing that this funding was wasted on this “unproductive” segment of society who were draining the resources of the general population (Butler, 1989).
Ellen Gee and Gloria Gutman (2000) argue that in Canada, demographic determinism has been used by neoliberal governments to dismantle social programs and cut health care funding, while Binstock (2005) points out that in the US during the late 1980s as health care costs escalated, the blame was cast on older Americans who were accused of draining government resources, while the actual parties responsible were “healthcare providers, suppliers, administrators and insurers” (p. 75).
With the emergence of neoliberalism in the late 1970s, the liberal policies of the New Deal that were enacted after World War II under President Franklin Roosevelt in the US came under attack (Binstock, 2010). According to Binstock (2010) a neoliberal ideology based on individual responsibility and productivity was in conflict with the model of collectivity and “compassionate ageism” that formed the foundation for the programs and policies of the New Deal, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. In addition, during the 1980s as health care costs escalated, older Americans were being blamed not only for rising health care costs in the US, but also for the general economic problems that were taking place within the country (Cohen, 1994). Finding parallels with the situation of the “new ageism” found in contemporary society, older adults became the scapegoat for concerns about the economy, high unemployment rates and healthcare costs, and were portrayed as ‘greedy geezers’ (Fairlie, 1988) who were becoming increasingly dependent on younger workers, while draining the social security coffers by taking “Social Security handouts” (Dillaway & Byrnes, 2009: 712). Media reinforced this perspective, fueling the apocalyptic demographic perspective and intergenerational antagonism through repetitive use of the term “greedy geezers” to refer to the negative effect older people were having on economy (Cohen, 1994, p. 400).
This finds resonance with more recent criticism targeted at baby boomers/boomers (a person born between 1946-1964). For example, the slang expression – “ok boomer” – surfaced on social media as a pejorative phrase that has been primarily used by Millennials and Generation Z to mock or dismiss an individual from the boomer generation. This expression was first used in 2009 but was popularized and became a meme on Tik Tok and Twitter in October 2019 when thousands of teens responded with the phrase “ok boomer” to a viral audio clip of an older man declaring that: “Millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up” (Lorenz, 2019). And in November 2019, 25-year-old New Zealand Green Party MP, Chlöe Swarbrick, made international news headlines and elicited accusations of ageism when she replied to an older lawmaker who had interrupted her speech to parliament on climate change by saying “ok boomer” to indicate that the lawmaker had conservative views that were not worth consideration. This phrase also has an additional subtext of blaming the older generation of boomers for everything that is wrong in the world today – from the housing shortage, to the lack of decent employment for younger people, to the climate crisis, while also suggesting that boomers, due to their conservative views, do not believe in climate change.
Text-based sources (e.g. newspapers and popular magazines) of popular media also support ageism through language and article content. Ageist language, consisting of ageist words for older adults and expressions that denigrate aging, is ubiquitous in society, disseminated in the dominant media where it reinforces negative assumptions about older age and aging (Williams & Nussbaum, 2001). Terms such as greedy geezer (mentioned earlier) imply a selfish older person with a sense of entitlement, while terms such as curmudgeon, old coot, old fogey, codger, or geezer connote a disagreeable personality in men, and expressions such as crone, old bat, hag, or little old lady imply either unattractiveness or a dislikable personality in women (Palmore, 1999). Even the expressions “granny/gran’ or ‘granddad/gramps’ are often used in a pejorative manner, sometimes suggesting an unpleasant person or a bad driver (Gendron, et al, 2016). Ageist language, consisting of ageist words for older adults and expressions that denigrate aging, is pervasive and generally goes unnoticed in society, disseminated in the dominant media where it reinforces negative assumptions about older age and aging (Williams & Nussbaum, 2001; Walker, 2010).
Model #4: Third age 'superheroes' and fourth age 'super-agers'
Third age “superheroes”
Building on the concept of the third age, Chris Gilleard and Paul Higgs (2000, 2005a, 2005b,2007) proposed another model of aging – the “boomers save the world third age superhero” in their examination of aging through the lens of culture. Incorporating the third age framework into their hypothesis they proposed that the boomer generation (now between the ages of 57-75 years of age), is a unique generation who would not only change perceptions about aging but would transform the very nature of retirement and aging. They argued that without a generation such as the boomers, Laslett’s third age concept could not be completely accomplished (2002: 380). They noted that many individuals from the early boomer generation grew up during the 1960s when a cultural revolution that included Vietnam, feminism, and the civil rights movement swept the Western world.
During this time Gilleard and Higgs (2007) suggest that cultural divisions based on gender and class differences shifted to those of a generational nature that focused on: “choice, autonomy and self-expression … along with a growth in everyday hedonism” (p. 16). This period marked an era in which the slogan “don’t trust anyone over 30” was a key component. Being “young” was essential in the counterculture decade, which translated into an aversion of (and resistance to) aging and the attitudes and values held by the older generation. But although the ‘countercultural generation’ was rebelling against the values of an older generation that included materialism and conformity, they were able to do so because the wealth generated by WWII had created a stable society with full employment and economic growth that facilitated the expansion of a market economy and consumerism (Gilleard & Higgs, 2007: 16).
Quite quickly however, the individualism and idealism of the 1960s counterculture slid seamlessly into the ideology of a 1970s-80s neoliberalism focused on “choice” and consumerism (Harvey, 2005; Binkley, 2007; Heath & Potter, 2005 in Gilleard & Higgs, 2007). Very early on in the countercultural revolution “youth culture” was commodified and shaped by market interests that saw numerous opportunities to expand the consumption of their products, first targeted to young people in the late 1960s-1970s, and later to boomers as they entered their 40s and 50s. In this way, Gilleard and Higgs (2007) argue that this persistence in resisting age by the boomers in turn also fed the anti-aging industry.
Although the marketing of middle age was not a new phenomenon Gilleard and Higgs (2007) point out that what was new was the marketing of middle age as the start of a new stage of life beginning in middle age – a way to reinvent oneself. To accompany these new life changes, products, such as self-help books, and a vast array of anti-aging products and cosmetics, were marketed that promised a way to “ward off the signs of old age” (Gilleard & Higgs, 2000). It is this “appropriation by the market” that Gilleard & Higgs (2007) believe links the 1960s youth culture with the baby boomers of today (p. 21).
At the same time, there is a dialectic between the commodification of the counterculture and the social activism of the era. Gilleard and Higgs (2007) argue that because the boomers were part of a cultural revolution that brought tremendous social change during their youth, they also have the potential to engender important change around aging as they themselves age. Feminism and the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s that brought about more equality for women and African Americans, as well as the global anti-war movement that brought an end to the Vietnam War could have an equivalent in old age. Consequently, Gilleard and Higgs posit that the boomer generation, which largely defined itself by its opposition to the older generation in the 1960s and which is now part either in older age (or about to enter older age) may transform the very nature of retirement and aging through its rejection of ‘old age.’ And as activism and collectivism were important to a segment of the boomer generation, this may carry over into their own age. But, while the possibility exists for boomers to create positive change in the world during their retirement years, the negative beliefs boomers have internalized about being old may dampen that possibility considerably. If they turn to a rejection of old age in an attempt to remain ‘forever young,’ instead of ‘changing the world’ they may find that the ‘choices’ they have made have come at the cost of embracing an anti-aging industry and the services and products it offers.
Fourth age ‘super-agers’
A subcategory has emerged out of the fourth age category – the fourth age “super-agers“. These are individual in their 90s are still very physically fit and physically active, often capable of running marathons, doing aerobics, swimming, dancing, working out and engaging in thrill seeking activities, such as walking the Edgewalk around the CN Tower and sky diving.
Categories of age have shifted and expanded over the decades to include the ‘oldest-old,’ while the division of old age has re-emerged as the third and fourth ages as proposed by Laslett (1996). Where previously ‘old age’ may have been conceptualized as age 60+ or 65+, the concept of successful aging model has merely shifted the old age category into age 80-90+, (often referred to as the fourth age), where physical and mental decline occur more often (Higgs & Gilleard, 2014).
Even though old age, now defined as being the fourth (or final) age, seems to have moved to a time closer to death, dominant media takes a contradictory position by reinforcing the belief that frailty does not need to be part of life with stories of the new ‘super-agers’ – those exceptional physically fit fourth age individuals bungee jumping or running marathons in their 90s. But the other prominent media theme reinforces a model of aging as frailty and decline, presenting scaremongering newspaper articles and TV programs that suggest that dementia and mental decline are inevitable. And currently, media give more attention to in the new fourth age ‘super-agers’ than to older third and fourth age individuals who are doing what they can to try to save the world (e.g. environmentalists and activists such as Maud Barlow, David Suzuki and Sir David Attenborough).
While media and popular culture often turn away from those individuals of the o(older adults in the 80-90+ category), the super-agers are celebrated by the media and popular culture. For example, a newsclip on CBC’s The National on July 16, 2013 titled “The New 90,” highlighted individuals in their 90s who were physically active – performing aerobics, swimming, dancing, working out and engaging in thrill seeking activities, such as walking the Edgewalk around the CN Tower. Within the news clip, Dr. Parminder Raina, Lead Principal Investigator on the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging which began in 2012, called these 90-year-olds “the survivors, the heartiest bunch” and emphasized that “good education, good nutrition, physical activity and brain activity” have the potential to improve cognition and general health in older age (CBC, 2013).
Consequently, although media images and stories of physically healthy and exceptional adults of the fourth age are uplifting and may encourage individuals of all ages to become more physically active, while helping to diffuse the fear of old age and death that are entrenched in Western society (Martens, et al. 2004), media stories such as these nevertheless also have an underlying message that infirmity in late old age does not have to occur. Instead, the images and commentary of the 90+-year-old marathoner suggest that good health can be achieved in the oldest-old as long as every individual takes personal responsibility for his or her own health throughout their lifetime – reinforcing neoliberal ideology of choice and individual responsibility. While providing inspiration for an ageist society afraid of illness and mortality, these kinds of popular news features also doubly stigmatize and marginalize older adults who do not have the capacity to undertake these physical challenges and who are instead frail and in ill health. By implication, these kinds of messages also indirectly “blame the victim,” suggesting that accountability for illness and disability lie solely with the individual, and not with the structural inequalities ingrained in North American society (Wallace, 2014; Higgs & Gilleard, 2019).
Popular culture, especially Hollywood, reinforces the concept of ‘successful aging’ and the myth of the “new American super agers” (Rahnama, 2019), but almost exclusively with male actors and characters. The emphasis on youth remains first and foremost in Hollywood, causing actors to understand that their career options are limited as they age into their 40s. Consequently, female actors often resort to cosmetic surgery or Botox to preserve a more youthful image, while different options are available for their male counterparts. Male actors often try to replicate youthfulness through action roles that emphasize physical fitness and strength. For example, a number of older male actors from the 1980s have starred in action film sequels such as Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Rambo: Last Blood (2019), and Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) that reinforce). It should also be noted that although male actors such as Ford (Indiana Jones) are willing to look “old” and reveal their actual age, they must also appear to act young. (For more detail, refer to Concepts and Definitions – Hollywood and ‘the cult of youth,’ and the Aging and anti-aging industries’ pages of this website).