Age discrimination normally is the one type of discrimination that is so prevalent that it goes unnoticed.
But I couldn’t help but notice it this week.
First, Republican Mitt Romney, 67, claimed that he decided not to stage a third run for the presidency because it is time to pass the reigns to a “new generation:” Romney, of course, didn’t mention that his backers have fled because he proved on two occasions that he is hopelessly out of touch with the American public and surprisingly inept at being a politician. Romney’s ageist stab at Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, 67, and Republican Jeb Bush, 61, shows he is just as clueless about aging as he is about the lives of ordinary Americans.
This morning, I was taken aback by a segment on the National Public Radio program, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” A panel spent several minutes joking about Bob Dylan’s appearance on the cover of “AARP The Magazine.” Host Peter Sagel, 50, compared Dylan, who is 73, to a “strange withered troll.” He goes on to say, “If you’ve seen the cover, I know you’re thinking, ‘Aww, that’s too bad’ … but no, Bob Dylan is still alive … He’s updating his songs, like, Lay Lady Lay, lay across my adjustable hospital bed … His real name is Bob Zimmerman. He’s an old Jewish man now.”
Is it completely humorless to note that Sagel’s jokes are really about age? His comments perpetuate mean-spirited, dehumanizing and false stereotypes about aging. It is almost as if Sagel feels that Dylan has forfeited his brilliance and talent and suffered the final humiliation by becoming an “old Jewish man.” This type of humor is on the same spectrum as tasteless jokes about blondes and minorities, which presumably would not be allowed on NPR.
The mission of NPR is to “to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.” NPR is informing the public but what it is telling the public is that ageism is acceptable, entertaining and doesn’t hurt older people.
In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that older workers are subject to epidemic discrimination because of deep-seated animus against aging and false stereotypes about older Americans. I cite a 2002 study of 68,144 participants of diverse ages that found that age bias “remains in our experience … among the largest negative implicit attitudes we have observed … consistently larger than the anti-black attitude among white Americans.”