Humor and the Elderly: The Fine Line between Comfort, Coping, and Ageism

“Grumpy Old Men.” Betty White as the crazy grandma. Dennis the Menace’s crotchety neighbor. Homer Simpson’s goofball father. We are all quite familiar with these often degrading media portrayals of older adults. Sometimes, we know it is offensive – but they are just so funny, we can’t help but chuckle. This tug of war between right and wrong, between innocent comedy and unnecessary ridicule, is no easy battle. We walk a fine line between the comfort and joy that humor can bring to help ease the stresses and burdens of aging and the propagation of stereotypes of the elderly as feeble, senile, cranky, or delusional. So when is it safe for us to laugh? How do we know when to protest?

Humor as a “Good Medicine”

Considering the increase in incidences of chronic illnesses and the natural decline of various physical and mental capacities associated with older adults, many would argue that aging is no laughing manner. In fact, seniors often grapple with feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and depression, especially in light of these issues. Robert Ingersoll thus posits that humor is invaluable as “a good medicine against all aging-related anxieties of… reality.” He further notes that laughter “has long been a mental salve for soothing the discomforts of human suffering.” Professionals can certainly provide comfort in addressing the issues and concerns of aging. However, good humor has proven remarkably therapeutic in helping the elderly to navigate their advanced life stages with the ability to “look on the bright side.” Tears may be an inevitable part of life, but for older adults, we can help to ensure that many become tears of laughter.

Derogatory Humor: Geezer Planet

While humor sometimes serves as prime medicine, it can also prove to be rather poisonous. In addition to tasteless portrayals of the elderly in movies and on television as grumpy, incompetent, and nutty, numerous websites such as Geezer Planet are shockingly offensive and degrading. Geezer Planet sardonically assures its public that “no old people were harmed in the making of this blog,” yet the photographs, videos, and cartoons posted throughout the site call this disclaimer very much into question. One particular video demonstrates how “disgusting” an older woman in a bathing suit is, while a “Geezers Gone Wild” page contains pictures of older men in provocative sexual poses with young women. Visitors can also seek wisdom and insight from columnist Arthur Ritis and can purchase Old Geezer Bumper Stickers, one of which literally made my stomach turn: “Geezer: Not Young. Not Dead. Somewhere in between.” Ironically, one can contact the site’s creator at michael@pmcaregivers.com. The only care being given here, though, is at the expense of older adults. The site doesn’t give so much as it robs the elderly of the dignity and respect that they deserve.

Why Not Go To The Source?

Although Geezer Planet is a controversial and blatantly unfunny example of the downside of aging humor, it is often difficult to discern when it’s okay for us to laugh. Despite the fact that young people are often the source of jokes and funny stories related to the elderly, Avrum Krause recently blogged about the Time Of Your Life Players, who are “a troupe of actors, ranging in age from 55 through the 70s, who create and perform original comedies.” The group’s 2010 performance of “What’s To Fear” incorporated humor into addressing the serious topic of prostate cancer. Krause notes that “the play’s message is that health issues can arise at any time in our lives, and it is up to us how we choose to deal with them.” A gerontological professional was available after performances to open a forum for processing and discussion, and the troupe also managed to include an array of musical talents aged 65+. Sadly, we do not have the time or means to properly debate each and every reference to the elderly that we encounter. However, whenever possible, it is always best to go to the source. Please, make the effort to reach out to older adults in your community. Smile. Laugh together. And if you see something that doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to speak out. You’ll be glad you did. For more on this subject, I recommend reading Donal Ardell’s blog post at Elder Care abc Blog .  
This article was edited by Jaimie Robinson – Also big thanks to hir008 for sharing this great picture

3 Comments

  • Arlene Wanetick

    Well said, Dan, and that’s no joke. 🙂

  • Susan Ifergan

    Never underestimate the importance and power of laughter. I love the term “mental salve”. Thanks for reminding us of this Dan!

  • smith

    I am tired of being depicted in this manner. It is not funny it is ageism

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *