I’ve just realised how angry those greetings cards are making me: the ones that make a joke about getting older. Angry? That’s one big understatement. They make my blood boil. And they are everywhere – so I must be a minority here. Lots and lots of people clearly find them hilarious. I wanted to put an example with this post and if you think the one I’ve chosen is offensive, do a Google search of ‘humorous greetings cards on age’. And feel my pain.
My knee-jerk reaction is let’s campaign to ban these cards. Burn’em all! My more considered reaction is how can we make them no longer seem funny? And that means a longer campaign, one that would involve just talking more about older age, de-stigmatising it, reframing and disrupting the old stereotypes.
We need to re-position ageing as a time of potential rather than decrepitude. But hang on a moment. How is it that vulnerability – for what could be more vulnerable than decrepitude? – is even seen as the butt of jokes? I suspect this reflects some sort of collective defence mechanism, a means of avoiding thinking with any seriousness about a period of life that scares a lot of people senseless.
Because these cards are senseless. And the only way that they’ll disappear from the shelves is when they seem incomprehensible and absurd rather than funny. And that’s only going to happen when this whole debate about ageing, about what it means to grow old, and when ‘old’ starts, and whether we should use words like ‘elderly’ or ‘elder’, and so on and on, comes out into the open and becomes mainstream. When people in their 20s and 30s start thinking about the possible 40 year period in their lives when they’re post-60. And when they start reconfiguring their lives in this knowledge and in the awareness that you can even think about being President of the United States, for heaven’s sake, when you’re an ‘old woman’ of 68.
The times they are a’changing, thank heavens. Let’s hope that soon those cards will seem as dated and irrelevant as the ideas they convey within them.
Just on the off-chance, do any of you actually like them?