Ron Friedman and David Gittins (1)

Age stereotypes in the media hurt everyone

A conversation with writer-producer Ron Friedman and David Gittins, executive director, Age Inclusion in Media

In this episode of Work in Progress, I’m joined by writer-producer Ron Friedman and David Gittins, executive director of Age Inclusion in Media, to talk about the way the media portrays older adults and how these stereotypes can have a profound impact on workers and job seekers in the real world.

I’m going to start out by saying, you can read about this conversation, but I believe you need to hear it or watch it for yourself to really capture what it means to be portrayed as “out of your prime” just because of your age.

At 91, Ron is a great example of someone whose creative mind and spirit are just as sharp as they were when he started writing more than 60 years ago.

The name Ron Friedman may not be familiar to you, but there is no doubt you’ve heard of some of the television shows that he’s written for in his career – All in the Family, Get Smart, The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and Starsky and Hutch to name a few.

In all, Ron has written more than 700 episodes of television and is well-known among action hero fans for creating the animated series G.I. Joe and developing Transformers for American TV. Along with his good friend Stan Lee, the pair created The Marvel Action Hour.

“I still get residuals. I still get fan mail. Somebody wrote to tell me that they loved my Odd Couple. I wrote that in the 70s, but they’re still playing it. I must have known something valuable to contribute what I contributed to give something that life expectancy,” Ron says.

Yet, despite all the early success, as he got older, he found that he was getting hired for fewer and fewer writing jobs. He says it come down to ageism, and, unfortunately, it is something most older adults face today when they are looking for work, whether it is in entertainment or another industry.

“Not only is it acceptable, but of all the protected classes – where you have to be on guard not to use the offensive terms or reproduce the memes that offensive – ageism is still not even considered,” says Ron.

Ron, David, and I sit on the board of Age Inclusion in Media, a nonprofit campaign to change the way older adults are portrayed in film, TV, and advertising.

“It’s still a very stereotypical way, and that’s down to the fact that we don’t have proper representation behind the screen. We don’t have proper representation in the writer’s room,” David argues. “When we don’t have older writers writing for older characters, we get stereotypical portrayals of what an older character is, which means we get tropes, we get cranky old characters, we get forgetful old characters, and we get sidekicks as opposed to central characters in their own lives.”

David says that this lack of representation, and the stereotypes it creates, has an impact on every older adult.

“From what we show on screen teaches us how to believe and that then teaches us how to act. So, if we see older characters being portrayed as passive morons who are just leaching on society, then we start to treat older people like that in their life, which then circles back in and saying, we’re not going to hire an older person because we know they’re idiots. We know they’re useless because we’ve seen not on TV and we believe it.”

Ron says we’ve got to stop telling the “same old story.” Older adults, like all of us, come in many different shapes and sizes – one stereotype doesn’t fit al. Society needs to embrace that age is jus one part of who we are. We are an amalgamation of our life experiences – what we have learned at school, in our jobs, and just living our lives.

Like everyone, it is very personal. He believes that despite already being “two and a half times older than Taylor Swift,” the older he gets, the more he has to share.

“Writers remind us of our humanity, and if we do it well, we create an event. Those are moments by which life becomes livable and beautiful and life is made up of moments. That’s what we remember. It doesn’t matter what you had for breakfast on Tuesday, it’s rather how you felt when you heard something at your kid’s graduation from college or what you felt when your child said his first sentence,” says Ron.

There is so much more to our conversation and I invite you to listen to the podcast here, or download and listen wherever you get your podcasts.

You can also find it on my Work in Progress YouTube channel.

Episode 321: Ron Friedman and David Gittins
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4
Transcript: Download the transcript for this episode here
Work in Progress Podcast: Catch up on previous episodes here

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