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On Aging: The Last “ism” Standing

Ageism is as odious as racism and sexism.

~Claude Pepper

On Aging

It was Super Bowl Sunday and the much-anticipated commercials were being played to the estimated crowd of 103.4 million viewers; reportedly to be the smallest number since 2009. CNNMoney listed E*TRADE’s “This Is Getting Old” commercial as one of The Most Memorable 2018 Super Bowl ads on YouTube. MONEY contributing writer, Ian Salisbury noted:

The ad was meant to draw laughs. But for anyone contemplating retirement, it was pretty scary. Discount brokerage E*Trade’s Super Bowl ad featured elderly lifeguards, firefighters and D.J.’s struggling on the job and singing, “I’m 85 and I want to go home,” to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song.

The message E*TRADE was conveying was this:

Over ⅓ of Americans have no retirement savings. This is getting old. At E*TRADE, we want to empower people of all ages to take control of their financial destiny so they can have the opportunity to enjoy their golden years in whatever way they choose. Whether that’s continuing to work or not continuing to work. That’s why we made this extended version of our Big Game ad. Check it out and start saving for your retirement with E*TRADE.

The problem is there was more than one message sent, and CNNMoney hits the unintended consequences directly on the head: “THE MOST MEMORABLE.” The damaging unintended consequences of this kind of ageism is the perpetuation of negative stereotypes.

Can you for one minute imagine E*TRADE making fun of say, minorities? women? gay or lesbians? Not a chance, it would be corporate suicide. And yet, sexism, racism, genderism, are the 3rd rail in our society and ageism is still OK! Not just OK, but elevated to the status of most funny and memorable Super Bowl Commercials of 2018 (who is voting–Let me guess…).

This portrayal of bumbling older folks staying too long in the workforce when they should be out of society’s way was brought to my attention on LinkedIn by Paul Irving, Chairman @ Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.

His take:

This Super Bowl commercial reinforces ageist ideas and attitudes. Older adults work, and they don’t look silly. They add to inter-generational workplaces in meaningful ways. Imagine if this piece had been done about women or people of color. Suggestion to ETRADE leadership–let’s talk about how thoughtful and realistic outreach to older adults can create new opportunities and propel your business in exciting and positive ways.

Sally Abrahms, a national writer/expert on boomers, seniors, 50+ caregiving, senior living/senior housing, aging in place technology said this:

More than sophomoric, stunningly out of touch.


Other Voices on Ageism

Joseph Coughlin, Founder, and director of MIT’s AgeLab and the author of The Longevity Economy speaks eloquently about this persistent narrative of old age:

Today, ask anyone over the age of 60 or so if she wants to sit in a rocking chair for the rest of her life — on average, a far longer life than at the turn of the 20th century — and she’ll laugh you out of the room. And yet, outmoded norms concerning the capabilities and goals of older people persist. They remain at the core of misguided products, policies, workplace expectations — you name it. As the demographic swell of the Baby Boomers begins to make its demands heard, however, that will change.

In 2017 a powerful presentation was given by Ashton Applewhite at TED: Let’s End Ageism:

It’s not the passage of time that makes it so hard to get older. It’s ageism, a prejudice that pits us against our future selves — and each other. Ashton Applewhite urges us to dismantle the dread and mobilize against the last socially acceptable prejudice. “Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured,” she says. “It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.”

Freedom to Market Stereotypes 

We live in a free capitalist society, which means E*TRADE and other businesses are free to market their wears as they see fit (ironically this was made possible in large part–the freedom that is, by the older generation which they are making fun of). This also means that the older generation is free to choose who they do business with.

It’s time to call out ageism because THIS IS GETTING OLD…



Dr Bill Thomas: The Consequences of Ageism

Why Ageism Never Gets Old 

I’m 85 and I Want GO Home