What Does Ageism in the Media Look Like? Michelle Cottle’s Article re “The Villages” in the New York Times Today – That’s What It Looks Like.


Dave Kingsley

The Villages Is Not a Place I Want to Be in Elderhood. No One I Know Wants to Be There Either.

Michelle Cottle, a member of the New York Times editorial board, has demonstrated the type of dangerous stereotypes regarding so-called “Baby Boomers” that recur frequently in mainstream media. In her article today with the blaring headline “The Nihilism of The Golden Years,” she generalizes from attitudes and behavior of a few elderly residents of a senior housing and entertainment enclave in Florida to a group of people born between 1946 and 1964 that now comprises most of the 65+ population in the United States.

I’ve seen a documentary on the Villages and am frankly somewhat embarrassed for my fellow elderly Americans who choose a second childhood over a life of productivity, societal contributions, and family and community leadership. If that is indeed a fair statement about the people who choose to move there in their retirement years. I’ve never been to the Villages, so all I know is what I’ve heard, seen in the media, and learned from the documentary.

Ms. Cottle presents the residents of The Villages as hedonistic and politically oriented toward Trump’s MAGA movement. Two-thirds of a full two page spread was filled with photojournalism displaying golf courses, golf carts, dancing to “Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville,” and MAGA demonstrations. This may or may not fairly describe the people living in The Villages, but the article drags the entire group of 65+ Americans into the negativism she focuses on people living there. For instance, toward the end Ms. Cottle writes, “Big Government is eyed with skepticism, even as the aging populace commands an increasing larger chunk of the federal budget for programs such as Social Security and Medicare.”

That article also states that “Baby boomers long accustomed to setting the agenda are being eased out of their slot atop the sociopolitical ladder – especially conservative white boomers.” According to Ms. Cottle, the underlying problem, in the final analysis, are aging Americans: …the community is a distillation of the cultural crosscurrents at play in an America that is simultaneously graying and diversifying.” I don’t think I need to tell the readers of this blog post how many ugly stereotypes and ill informed generalizations are included in these types of statements.

Scapegoating the Elderly

“Isms,” whether they be racism, sexism, ageism, or any other type of ism such as those against sexual orientation, and religion, are dehumanizing and damaging to the victims of stereotyping. In many cases they are dangerous and can lead to physical harm – indeed often do. A psychological boundary is placed around groups of individuals who are themselves often very diverse and then misinformation is used to scapegoat them. For instance, an aging population or the elderly in general are not causing an increase in the cost of government. That is well accepted in the literature. I have debunked that myth in my own research. I would be happy to supply a list of references to support that.

Not one bit of Social Security is “on budget.” Approximately two-thirds of all Medicare expenditures are paid into the program through payroll taxes, premiums, and other out of pocket expenses. Traditional Medicare and Social Security have administrative costs equal to 1.5% and .9% of revenue respectively. So Ms. Cottle is ill informed and misinforming her readers. These two programs are a model of government run retirement and medical programs. If that doesn’t remain as such, it won’t be the fault of the beneficiaries.

“The Nihilism of The Golden Years” Does Not Represent the 65+ Population of the U.S.

The 65+ population is comprised of veterans, poor people, middle class people, people who have worked hard throughout their lives, and on and on and on when we talk about 70 million Americans 65 years of age or older. They have raised families, robbed banks, worked for corporations at a variety of levels. Some have made a fortune, some are living in dire poverty, some are struggling to live on pensions and Social Security. The variety of people 65 or older is so diverse that it would take a book or volumes to describe it. What we all have in common are needs for healthcare, housing, and basic other living necessities.

Turning a group of people born in an 18 year span of time into a “thing” with negative characteristics is a form of human thinking that has led to more human tragedy and suffering than any other mental disposition characteristic of homo sapiens. It is one reason that we can institutionalize elderly people in subhuman nursing homes and mistreat them. They are seen as a “silver tsunami,” a disaster, a problem. What else are we going to do with them?

Attitudes Need Work in The United States

At Kansas University Medical School, I taught class after class of marvelous graduate students headed into health care professions. I designed and validated an attitudinal survey to measure their attitude toward the elderly. In the next few blog posts, I will report some results from that survey and write about the need to change the way we think of aging. Here is a hint at the findings from my survey: To the item “In the next 20 years, the 65+ population will have the greatest impact on health care costs,” only 12 of 100 of the students responded strongly disagree or disagree. Two were uncertain and the rest either agreed or strongly agreed. This is false and scapegoating. It should concern us.