Thursday, 13 August 2015

Today's Rant: Ageism Makes My Blood Boil...

Yesterday, I saw something that made my blood pressure creep up.  It was a trivial comment - something that many people might have brushed aside and forgotten about - but it lingered with me for the rest of the day and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got.

I don't believe in the term "guilty pleasure."  As long as you don't derive pleasure out of doing something horrific, like using puppies as tennis balls, or enjoying the music of One Direction, then why should you feel guilty about something that makes you happy?  So, I won't apologise for saying that I get a great deal of joy out of watching BBC3's reality TV show, Don't Tell The Bride, in which a couple are given £12,000 towards planning their dream wedding, on the condition that the groom organises everything (even buying the wedding dress) in just three weeks and the bride has absolutely no input whatsoever and can't see or speak to the groom for that three week period, so that everything he (or she; the show has also featured gay and lesbian couples) plans is a complete shock on the big day.  The resulting programme almost always makes me laugh, as a hapless groom orders a dress in the wrong size for the bride, or comes up with a themed wedding so bad it's brilliant.  

For several years, Don't Tell The Bride has been a staple of the BBC's freeview channel, BBC3, but recently, it was given an upgrade and a new series aired on BBC1.  For the new, prime time BBC1 series, the show made three simple changes to the usual format:  They changed the narrator, they increased the wedding budget to £14,000 and they decided to feature couples of different ages, rather than focusing on couples in their early 20s as usual.  As a result, we had a few brides/grooms in their late 30s and 40s, mixed in with the usual young lovers.  For me, the only thing that was ever so slightly less enjoyable than usual was the change of narrator, as BBC3's Rebecca Statton is wonderfully sarcastic and witty, whereas BBC1's Zoe Ball seemed a little hesitant to go to some of the cattier (and therefore hilarious) places Rebecca takes her narrative.  That slight niggle aside, it was the same show entirely.

It still gave me this familiar feeling... YAY!

So, when I stumbled upon the Don't Tell The Bride twitter feed (oh, okay, I searched for it...) and saw that they'd retweeted a comment from a fan that made me bubble over with rage, it came as something of a shock.  The tweet was from a viewer commenting that the show is better on BBC3, "because who wants to see a middle aged couple get married?"

That was it.  No other reason for the BBC1 version of the show being inferior.  It was just because the BBC1 version featured "middle aged" couples, as well as some of the young ones that have featured since the very start of the BBC3 series and who continue to feature on the latest BBC3 incarnation.  To this viewer, the mere fact that a couple of the brides/grooms were in their late 30s/40s, was enough to put her off the BBC1 version of the show.  

Now, let me reiterate:  The premise of Don't Tell The Bride was exactly the same.  The grooms were still trying to create over-the-top weddings, with crazy themes.  They were still buying wedding dresses that the brides would have little choice but to wear, whether they liked them or not.  The same problems with running out of money due to silly spending, or failing to send any invites with only a week to go until the wedding were still happening.  All the elements that make the show were very much still there.

But "who wants to see a middle aged couple get married?"

It won't shock you to know that the girl who tweeted this comment looked fairly young.  But young doesn't have to mean ignorant or immature, so why was she making such an ignorant, immature comment?!

Probably because ageism, however we try to protest otherwise, is still rife in our society.  People in their teens and early twenties seem to view thirty as ancient.  God forbid you're past 40; you're practically a fossil.  You need only look at the way female television presenters in particular are put out to pasture once they stop being youthful and sexy, despite still being more than capable of doing their jobs, to see that we tolerate ageism in every sector of life.  When my mum and I stopped working at a pre-school we'd been employed at (as manager and room supervisor, respectively) for seven years, whereas I was optimistic about finding new employment, mum, at 56, admitted that she knew she would probably be viewed as "too old" by anyone who interviewed her.  Never mind the wealth of experience she had in the field, or the fact that she held glowing references.  She was aware that due to her age, she could potentially struggle to find work again.  When she did begin a new job, she spoke at length of her "gratitude" to the company for taking on an older person.  And that makes me sad, because why shouldn't they have taken on an older person?!  

But all too often, it's fair to say that older people are passed over in favour of the young.  And it's not just in the job market; it's a frighteningly general thing.  We don't show anywhere near as much care or respect for the older generation as we should.  For some reason, far too many people still view anyone much over 65 as being "past it," or uninteresting.  

Well said, Sir Ian.

Ageism is, perhaps, one of the most stupid "-isms" around.  Whilst discriminating against any group of people is quite obviously wrong, when we discriminate based on age, we're behaving as though we, ourselves, are immune from the passing of time.  Unlike any other form of discrimination, this is the one where we almost certainly will eventually become the people we're discriminating against and therefore we'll be put in the position of experiencing an uncomfortable role-reversal.  That girl, so mortified by the idea of having to watch a middle aged couple getting married, might find that she doesn't meet "the one" until she's in her late 30s and becomes a middle aged bride herself.  Those bosses who turn down potential employees because they're older than the other candidates, could eventually find themselves interviewing for jobs many years later and being turned down due to their age.  It is, frankly, a circle of stupidity.

If we're lucky, we'll all be old one day.  Our hair might turn grey and there'll be lines on our faces that aren't there in old photographs.  But, health providing, we'll still be the same people, with the same skills, memories and sense of humour.  Our thoughts and opinions will be no less relevant.  Our capacity to love, to fear and to dream won't simply disappear.  And we'll crave - and deserve - the same level of compassion and respect that we expect to receive now, whilst we're in our (relative) youth.  We'll have gained a few ailments along the way, I'm sure, but we'll have gained a whole lot of experience with it.

Years ago, I overheard a teenager say to his friends: "Old people are so boring."

Pictured: My reaction.

Through my dad's involvement with The Royal British Legion and also simply from knowing people as they've grown older, I can say that I've spent evenings in the company of people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s and laughed more than I have with younger acquaintances.  I've danced, I've gotten drunk (their fault completely, I should add) and I've heard some of the most incredible stories from them, too.  If you think about it logically; the older a person is, the longer they've lived and therefore the more experiences they've had to tell you about.  As the world constantly moves forward and changes, people of every generation have memories that become stories.  Whether it's about running down the road, chasing after a milk cart, or my generation boring younger people with stories about taping songs off the radio onto an old cassette tape, we experience things in our lives that newer generations won't.  And that makes our memories different and interesting.  Last year, a walk with my dog ended up taking well over an hour, because I stopped to talk to an elderly neighbour and was engrossed in the story of his wedding day, which had taken place more than fifty years earlier.  People of all ages want to be listened to and shown some respect - that's not something that magically stops once you reach 50, 60 or 70.  When you open the papers and read headlines about elderly people dying of loneliness, then you have to ask whether that's the kind of society you want to live in.  It's not one I could ever take pride in being part of and I think it's vital that we stop seeing the elderly as being past it, or not worth spending time with.  They're older, that's all.  They're still people.  And that's the point, really...We've got to start viewing people as people, rather than numbers.  Because, as the old cliche goes, that's all age is, really - a number.  If you genuinely think  that someone's not worth speaking to because they're older than the people you'd usually converse with, then all I can say is...

I do feel a bit better, now I've had a bit of a rant.  But I think I need to answer the question that started me off on this ramble in the first place:

"Who wants to watch a middle aged couple get married?!"

Me.  Especially seeing as I'll be a middle aged bride, if I'm ever lucky enough to get married.  I enjoyed watching a couple who'd been together for well over a decade tie the knot on TV.  I loved how well the groom knew his bride and I enjoyed seeing how he was overcome with a childlike enthusiasm when it came to giving her the most perfect day possible.  I liked seeing a bride who was finally having the wedding she'd waited years for.

I enjoyed seeing a middle aged couple get married.  I would find it absolutely charming if they had a couple in their 70s tying the knot on the show.  And if that girl really, really couldn't enjoy a TV programme, simply because the participants were a decade or more older than usual...  She has my sympathy.  Time's going to catch up with her, too.

And the bitch in me hopes she gets LOADS of wrinkles...


  1. Wonderful column! I loved it when you said: "But, health providing, we'll still be the same people, with the same skills, memories and sense of humour. Our thoughts and opinions will be no less relevant. Our capacity to love, to fear and to dream won't simply disappear. And we'll crave - and deserve - the same level of compassion and respect that we expect to receive now, whilst we're in our (relative) youth." I think this is what Bob Marley meant by "Respect!"


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