Journal of Aging and Identity

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 79–109 | Cite as

Naturalizing Myths of Aging: Reading Popular Culture

  • Kirk Combe
  • Kenneth Schmader


This essay blends distinct fields of study--namely semiotics, gerontology, geriatrics, and the critical analysis of dramatic and filmic comedy of the modern era--in a way that we hope sheds light on the perception of elders both in our cultural tradition and in our current society. By bringing to bear these disciplines on this issue, we attempt to expose one way that erroneous perceptions about the elderly--myths, if you will--are propagated. Why is it, for example, that the majority of Americans have generally negative attitudes towards elders and the aging process despite the fact that such stereotypes are all contradicted by reality (Palmore, 1990)? What is it that we fear--and perhaps loathe--when it comes to our aging ? And why are we so irrational about this topic? How do myths of aging originate? And whose agenda might they serve? Is there some effective way that these myths can be defused in the popular mind? The above are all problematic questions, some with potentially disturbing answers. Yet we believe that by beginning to understand the linguistic and perceptual mechanisms by which myths of aging come into existence, a crucial first step will be taken toward understanding the source and the scope of the myths themselves. Perhaps only then will we be, as a society, in a position to countermand these usually harmful and often destructive misconceptions about our elderly population.

aging modern comedy myth barthes sexual dysfunction cognitive impairment 


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kirk Combe
    • 1
  • Kenneth Schmader
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of EnglishDenison UniversityGranville
  2. 2.Center for the Study of Aging and Human DevelopmentDuke University Medical SchoolDurham
  3. 3.Department of EnglishDenison UniversityGranville

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