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Chapter 23

SOCI 1F90 Chapter 23: Rethinking Society - "Old People are Useless": Representations of Aging on The Simpsons

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Michelle Webber

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SOCI 1F90: Introduction to Sociology
Rethinking Society – Chapter 23
Wednesday, February 10th, 2016
“Old People are Useless:” Representations of Aging on The Simpsons by Darren Blakeborough (pg. 259 – 273)
“You’re a very old man now, and old people are useless”
This is a sentiment about aging that is increasingly echoed in North American culture
Cultural stereotypes abound that portray elderly people as senile, feeble, frail, financially distressed,
lonely, non-productive members of society, or as the site of some other social people
Research indicates that the mass media are largely responsible for helping to construct and transmit the ideologies
that shape the attitudes of both young and old toward the aging process
“Factual information about aging is rarely … presented in popular media”
Many elderly people cite this as a primary problem with media representations of old age
TV helps to convey the images and ideals that ultimately help construct our social fabric
If the media exclude, stereotypically portray, show them as less than active members of society, or
misrepresent, this is the message the majority of the viewing public internalizes
The argument that media images of aging are evolving into a more positive look at older adults is beginning to
emerge, together with the notion that these positive images of the elderly are directly tied to consumer culture and
product consumption
Case Study
The episode of The Simpsons being analyzed is “Old Money”
The representations of elderly people in “Old Money” conform to rigid stereotypes and expectations, to the point
of helping to show just how ridiculous these are
This is the result of satirizing of these beliefs
Example: the sign in front of the retirement home that says, “Where the elderly can hide from the
Mocks the ideas that elderly people, at least those in homes, have no purpose left and are simply
waiting for death’s embrace
Painting an entire group with one ludicrous brush of homogeneity shows, in a humorous fashion,
how wrong this portrayal ultimately is
The Simpsons uses ironic parody and satire as a tool for criticizing the values and representations shown and for
helping to historicize them
By recognizing the history of these representations, by questioning their past and their legitimacy, the
show offers a political critique that open the door for these representations to be undermined or subverted
The Simpsons portrays the elderly as frail, helpless, lonely, and a burden, but the use of parodic and ironic devices
within the show allows the viewer to see these portrayals with a critical eye
The Simpsons succeeds for many reasons, not the least of which is that it encourages a critical evaluation of our
The Simpsons employs what can be considered negative representations of the elderly
While these familiar stereotypes exist within the larger social structure and are repeated in our cultural
texts, there exists a means by which such representations can be historicized, contextualized, probed,
questioned, undermined, and subverted
With the opening of a critical discourse through the satiric and ironic parodzations of such representations
on The Simpsons, we can look into the ideology that drives these portrayals in the mass media and our
We look at representations of our elderly, question them, fight them, and – as we understand
better their basis in ideology – dispel them
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