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-