Ageism in the USA: The paradox of prejudice against the elderly
Ashton Applewhite is a Brooklyn-based activist and writer. Her latest book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, debunks many myths about late life.
ASHTON APPLEWHITE: All prejudice is rooted in seeing a group as other than ourselves. Ageism is unique and uniquely weird in that that other is us, our own future older selves. It's rooted in this crazy idea that somehow if we eat enough kale, or don't think about it, we're not going to become old, when, of course, actually, no one wants to die young, and we all aspire to getting old.
And if we can become an old person in training, which is simply to form, like just a little leap of the imagination and acknowledge, someday I'm going to get old. That older you can be as far off on the horizon as you need it to be. But if you acknowledge that you, of course, are someday going to get old, and PS, it might not even all be so terrible, then you never get stuck on that hamster wheel of age denial. You are more likely to look at and listen to the older people around you, and make friends of all ages, which is so important, for people everywhere on the age spectrum.
America is a deeply consumer driven society and deeply influenced by popular culture. And neither of those are friends to aging. If you look at pop culture, if you look at advertising, if you look at billboards, younger people are doing and selling all the fun stuff. Older people never seem to do anything, but a few rich ones with great hair get to go on cruises. And everyone else just stays home and takes drugs, and not the fun drugs either. If a group is missing from the popular conversation, then we don't notice its concerns and we're not awake to it.
Over 50% of workers over 50 leave their jobs involuntarily. They are either fired or forced out. There is this massive growing body of workers. And we're talking 50 and up, we're talking people with 20 or 30 more years in which to support themselves. Most of them no longer have traditional pensions to support themselves. So they're thrown on their own ways they have to draw on Social Security earlier, which means that they get less out of the bucket. And if any younger people are thinking, well, too bad, you had a really good run of it, two things to think about. Social Security can very easily be fixed with very small changes, like, hello, taxing businesses at a higher rate, unlike Medicare, which really is a huge snake pit and very complicated to fix. But I hope there will be ton of Social Security left for my children and grandchildren. And I think it's very easy to make that happen.
But also, if older people can't support themselves, who is going to support us? You know you can't take us out and shoot us, even if you want to. And the world is full of grandparents who help their kids with tuition, with childcare. More resources have always flowed from older people to younger people, which seems entirely appropriate to me. So we really, really need to be careful about old versus young framing in economic arenas or anywhere else.
Another place you hear old versus young logic applied is the workforce. If only those old people would retire or get the heck out of dodge so we could have their jobs. When jobs are really few, if the only job in town is a barista at Starbucks, and a bunch of people are competing for them, that's true in the narrowest sense. You might have a 19-year-old and a 59-year-old who both really need that job. But in general, older and younger workers do not compete for the same jobs. And more tellingly, the amount and nature of labor is not fixed. Economists call this the fallacy of the lump of labor. And it has been debunked countless times. Otherwise, when women flooded into the workforce, all these guys would have been put out of work. And that's not the way it works. Or the time-honored example for Marxism, about Polish work factory workers and Irish factory workers competing, instead of organizing and striking to have their employer pay them all a decent wage.
Prejudice does that. It pits us against each other in order to maintain the status quo. We are facing an unparalleled set of challenges. I'm thinking in particular the health of the planet. Older people and younger people are going to have to collaborate to solve these problems. So when you hear old versus young rhetoric, question it.
- Prejudice is typically perpetrated against 'the other', i.e. a group outside our own.
- But ageism is prejudice against ourselves — at least, the people we will (hopefully!) become.
- Different generations needs to cooperate now more than ever to solve global problems.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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