Geoff Pevere: Welcome to Geezerville. Population: Us.
The confirmation provided by this week’s Canadian census data that the country’s gone geezer – more Canadians than ever before are over 65 – provided an opportunity to consider a paradox. If so many of us are old, I was asked to ponder, how come there are so few codgers in pop culture? As a question, it’s more interesting than good, but in that it’s perfectly apt, as most popular culture itself is more interesting than good.
On the surface of things, it’s true: while the most populous part of the world’s population is staggering towards retirement, you’d be hard pressed to see this epic march of humanity on TV or in the movies. Indeed, if one regarded popular culture as a mirror of reality, you’d think that everyone turned vampire when they reached the golden years. Where are they?
Well, they’re there if you look closely enough: currently Tommy Lee Jones is enjoying second billing in MIB3, and the venerable Samuel L. Jackson is presiding over the super-heroic world-saving club called The Avengers. I see that Michael Caine is returning as Alfred in the upcoming Batman movie, and that Sylvester Stallone is directing such spry young cohorts as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Chuck Norris in the forthcoming Expendables 2. Dame Judi Dench will be back as the formidable M in the next Bond installment, and Robert de Niro has been involved in no less than fourteen movie projects over the past two years. As for TV: there’s Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Ed O’Neill on Modern Family, Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte on the recent Luck, Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad and just about all the leading characters on all the various offshoots of Law and Order and CSI.
If you’ll permit to anticipate what you’re thinking, yes, I know: very few of these are anything other than marginal, supporting or glorified cameo parts, and most of them are in the context of programs or movies that otherwise feature considerably younger people in leading roles.
This is true, but it is also same as it ever was. Ever since photographic-based media became pop culture’s most formidably popular form of entertainment, the main attraction has been people who are young, beautiful and easily pleasing to the eye. Movies and TV are not only visual media, they are largely visceral media, and their appeal to the senses lies largely in the simple appeal of providing things that are both easy and lovely to look at, ergo, young and beautiful people. Pictured above: The cast of Revenge
We must also remember that pop culture is way more pop than culture, and as an aggregate of profit-driven enterprises it exists to appeal to the widest audience possible. For years now, producers of movies and TV have known that the most avid consumers of new entertainment are young people, and that’s where the bulk of their efforts are understandably inclined: to sell stuff to those mostly like to buy it. Think Jersey Shore is stupid? Don’t get Justin Bieber? Can’t imagine the appeal of all those ridiculous-looking teen vampire movies? Then you’re probably too old for them anyway, so your opinion doesn’t matter.
Plus, the entire question of representation forgets that the primary purpose of popular culture is not to reflect reality – never has been and most likely never will – but to provide idealized fantasy alternatives to reality. That’s why we watch, and that’s what drives the entire consumer engine of popular culture: for glimpses of life not as we live it but as we’d like to live it, we will pay. For reflections of life as it’s actually lived, not so much. Nobody ever got rich showing people themselves as they are, but quite a few have cashed in on exploiting our desire to be what we’re not.
Yes the population is growing older, and yes that massive demographic shift can be accounted for by the fact that the largest bulge in the recorded history of birth rates is now edging toward their seventies. But to expect that that will result in a concurrent bounty of popular entertainment that concerns itself with people the same age as the demographic majority is to miss the point of entertainment itself, which is to deliver us from our lives and not back into it. Besides, given the exponentially multiplying opportunities for alternative forms of entertainment permitted by digital technology, and considering the vast potential for specifically target boutique entertainment programming, it’s hardly unlikely that the future might hold all kinds of channels, movies and other forms of amusement that focus entirely on the lives of people who have reached, as they so delicately say, a certain age. But this much is certain: those forms of amusement will never be as popular or as lucrative as those featuring hot young slabs of buffed humanity performing amazing stunts of physical derring-do, and not only with young audiences either. When it comes to just looking, old people like pretty things too.
- 30 -
Geoff Pevere politely requests you consider checking out his websites: meanjustice.com, rifffreeordie.com, thebigshadow.com and directoryofintemperateenthusiasms.com.
Geoff Pevere’s column appears every Friday.
Contact us at email@example.com