Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Representations of Middle Age in Comedy Film: A Critical Discourse Analysis

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Representations of Middle Age in Comedy Film: A Critical Discourse Analysis

Article excerpt


The ability of media such as film and television to influence viewers and promulgate inaccurate "knowledge" is well-documented (Anderson et al., 2003; Cohen-Shalev & Marcus, 2007; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1986). The key aim of comedy films is to amuse and entertain hence a film about an uneventful, unproblematic mid-life without crises to trigger hilarious plot points would be unlikely to succeed at the box office. Comedy films about mid-life, therefore, show a period fraught with problems, feeding preconceptions that it is a time of crisis. As Horton and Rapf (2012) note, "screen comedy has been free to work its complex and often subversive process, revealing and commenting on the preoccupations, prejudices, and dreams of societies that produce it" (p. 5). In the case of comedy films about middle age, fear of ageing and anticipation of crises is the preoccupation. This fear is fed by films that portray stereotypical representations, situations and behaviours for the amusement of audiences. Though researchers and psychologists find that both men and women experience changes, these changes are not necessarily crises (Boston, 2006; Lachman, 2004; Lachman, Lewkowicz, Marcus, & Peng, 1994). Many films about mid-life, however, concern crisis rather than transition.

A growing body of research is highlighting the negative effects of ageism on the health and well-being of older people (Minichiello, Browne, & Kendig, 2000; Palmore, 2005) and, as noted above, stereotyping in the media contributes to the development of ageist views. There is a paucity of research however, investigating media representations of middle age. This paper, which is part of a larger study about representations of age and ageing in comedy film, will provide insight into how middle age is portrayed. We suggest that the discourse about middle age in comedy films shows it to be a time of crisis sparked by fears about ageing. Thus the discourse of middle age feeds into the discourse of "old age," which is largely negative and emphasises declining abilities, deteriorating health and reduced opportunities and status.

This paper is one of several papers included in a PhD thesis submitted by Margaret Gatling. The thesis examines how age and ageing are represented in the genre of comedy film. The purpose of the thesis is to alert readers to the possibility that they might be exposed to insidious indoctrination of ageist stereotyping by simply watching the most popular film genre--comedy. This particular study of middle age in film demonstrates that inaccuracies about the ageing process are promulgated through humour not only in relation to old age but also to middle age.

The researchers are all registered nurses who have a commitment to combatting ageist behaviours and attitudes particularly by health professionals. By virtue of their close connection with nurse education they hope to provide student nurses with the tools to critically evaluate the media they consume. When students are made aware of the prevalence of negative stereotyping of age and the ageing journey they will be better equipped to resist the unquestioning acceptance of those stereotypes.

What is middle age?

The middle age or mid-life of a person occurs between the ages of 40 and 65 years, depending on the dictionary, journal article or book consulted to define the period. Being exact about the beginning and end of middle age is not crucial, however, an essential concept of middle age is that it follows childhood, teenage years and young adulthood, and precedes old age. In 2012, the UK educational website for adults "Love to Learn" commissioned a survey to gauge public opinion on when middle age begins and ends (Pearson, 2012). A large sample of adults over 50 years of age (n=1002) were asked a number of questions about middle age, including when it begins and ends and what the advantages and disadvantages of being middle-aged were. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.