Does America Hate the Poor? The Other American Dilemma: Lessons for the 21st Century from the 1960s and the 1970s

By John E. Tropman | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
American Culture and the Aged:
Stereotypes and Realities

As already suggested, the stereotypes of old age generally run in a negative direction (see also Tibbitts 1979). 1 This negativism is contained in the very language we use to think and talk about older people. Phrases abound like "geezer," "coot," "old bag," and "old biddy."

One particularly egregious example is the myth of familial alienation--the disengagement idea--that seniors pull away from their families, perhaps as a preparation for death. This myth is not true and has not been true. Here is a case where negative stereotypes about seniors persist, and, phoenix--like, keep returning. Since the idea does not appear to have origins in fact, it must be that it serves some other purpose. I think it is sustained as a sort of rationale. The myth of alienation is a version, an expression, of "hate the poor." It is all right to hate the life cycle poor because they are pulling away anyway. I draw upon two sources of data to look at the relationship between myth and fact, much as I did in the last chapter, seeking to understand the nature of the "fact/ value" separation and exploring the ways it might be used to provide fuel for poor hate.

The first of these is a Louis Harris poll ( Harris 1978) of scientifically selected respondents whose views could be considered representative of both old and young people. The second is a self-selected popular survey, done through Better Homes and Gardens magazine in 1978 ( Greer and Keating 1978).

The first point of interest was to see if there was much difference between senior and non-senior responses. In Chapter 7 those differences were mini

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Does America Hate the Poor? The Other American Dilemma: Lessons for the 21st Century from the 1960s and the 1970s
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Note x
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Part I Who are the Poor, and Does America Hate Them? 1
  • Note 4
  • Chapter 1 How America Hates the Poor 5
  • Conclusion 15
  • Notes 15
  • Chapter 2 Poorfare Culture, Welfare State 17
  • Conclusion 23
  • Part II Pictures in Plenty: Conceptions of the Underclass 25
  • Chapter 3 Laggards and Lushes: Images of the Poor 27
  • Conclusion 43
  • Notes 43
  • Chapter 4 The Decent Poverty Stricken: Images of the Near Poor 45
  • Conclusion 57
  • Chapter 5 The Overseer of the Poor: View from the County Welfare Office 59
  • Conclusion 70
  • Note 71
  • Chapter 6 Mothers: Opinions and Stereotypes 73
  • Conclusion 79
  • Note 80
  • Part III The Life Cycle Poor: Images of the Aged 81
  • Note 83
  • Chapter 7 Images of the Elderly 85
  • Conclusion 91
  • Notes 91
  • Chapter 8 American Culture and the Aged: Stereotypes and Realities 93
  • Conclusion 104
  • Notes 105
  • Chapter 9 What the Public Thinks: Older and Younger Adults 107
  • Conclusion 123
  • Note 123
  • Part IV Why America Hates Poor 125
  • Chapter 10 The Poorfare State: Embodiment and Revelation 129
  • Conclusion 131
  • Chapter 11 Social Exploitation 133
  • Conclusion 142
  • Notes 143
  • Chapter 12: Mirror of Destiny 145
  • Notes 152
  • References 153
  • Bibliography 159
  • Index 169
  • About the Author 173
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