Advertisement

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
Article

Abstract

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 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. Alberts, M. S. (1994). Cognition and aging. In W. Hazzard et al.(Eds.), Principles of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology (pp. 1013–1020). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  2. Barthes, R. (1957/1988). Mythologies. A. Lavers (Trans.). New York: Hill and Wang.Google Scholar
  3. Barthes, R. (1970). Writing Degree Zero and Elements of Semiology. A. Lavers & C. Smith (Trans.) Boston: Beacon.Google Scholar
  4. Bowles, N. L. & Poon, L. W. (1985). Aging and Retrieval of Words in Semantic Memory. Journal of Gerontology, 40, 71–77.Google Scholar
  5. Bretschneider, J. G. & McCoy, N. L. (1988). Sexual Interest and Behavior in Healthy 80 to 102 Year Olds. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 17, 109–129.Google Scholar
  6. Burnum, J. F. (1993). Medical Diagnosis Through Semiotics: Giving Meaning to the Sign. Annals of Internal Medicine, vn119, 939–943.Google Scholar
  7. Cowgill, D. (1972). Aging and Modernization. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofits.Google Scholar
  8. Craik, F. I. M., Byrd, M., & Swanson, J. M. (1987). Patterns of Memory Loss in Three Elderly Samples. Psychology & Aging, 2, 79–86.Google Scholar
  9. Davis, J. & Gate, L. (Producers). (1994). Grumpy Old Men. (Video recording). Burbank: Warner Home Video.Google Scholar
  10. --. (1995). Grumpier Old Men. (Video recording). Burbank: Warner Brothers.Google Scholar
  11. Diokno, A. C., Brown, M. B., & Herzog, A. R. (1990). Sexual Function in the Elderly. Archives of Internal Medicine, 150, 197–200.Google Scholar
  12. Drachman, D. A. & Leavitt, J. (1972). Memory Impairment in the Aged: Storage Versus Retrieval Deficit. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 93, 302–308.Google Scholar
  13. Erber, J. T. (1974). Age Differences in Recognition Memory. Journal of Gerontology, 29, 177–181.Google Scholar
  14. Freire, P. (1990). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. M. B. Ramos (Trans.). New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  15. Frye, N. (1957). Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Geldmacher, D. S. & Whitehouse, P. J. (1996). Evaluation of Dementia. New England Journal of Medicine, 335, 330–336.Google Scholar
  17. George, L. K. & Weiler, S. J. (1981). Sexuality in Middle and Late Life. Archives of General Psychiatry, 38, 919–923.Google Scholar
  18. German, P. S., Shapiro, S., Skinner, E. A. et. al. (1987). Detection and Management of Mental Health Problems of Older Patients by Primary Care Providers. JAMA, 257, 489–493.Google Scholar
  19. Gilbert, J. G. & Levee, R. F. (1971). Patterns of Declining Memory. Journal of Gerontology, 26, 70–75.Google Scholar
  20. Goldstein, I. et. al. (1998). Oral Sildenafil in the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction. New England Journal of Medicine, 338(20), 1397–1404.Google Scholar
  21. Helgason, A. R., Adolfsson, J., Dickman, P. et. al. (1996). Sexual Desire, Erection, Orgasm and Ejaculatory Functions and Their Importance to Elderly Swedish Men: A Population-Based Study. Age and Ageing, 25, 285–291.Google Scholar
  22. Henderson, A. S. (1994). Dementia. In Epidemiology of Mental Disorders and Psychosocial Problems. Office of Publications. World Health Organization. Geneva, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  23. Howard, D. V., McAndrews, M. P., & Lasaga, M. I. (1981). Semantic Priming of Lexical Decisions in Young and Old Adults. Journal of Gerontology, 36, 707–714.Google Scholar
  24. Jacqmin-Gadda, H. et. al. (1997). A 5-year Longitudinal Study of the Mini-Mental State Examination in Normal Aging. American Journal of Epidemiology, 145(6), 498–506.Google Scholar
  25. Kaiser, F. E. (1991). Sexuality and Impotence in Aging Men. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 7, 63–72.Google Scholar
  26. Kass, M. J. (1978). Sexual Expression of the Elderly in Nursing Homes. Gerontologist, 18, 372–378.Google Scholar
  27. Katzman, R. (1986). Alzheimer's Disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 314, 964–973.Google Scholar
  28. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeray, W. B., & Martin, O. E. et. al. (1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.Google Scholar
  29. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeray, W. B., & Martin, O. E. (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.Google Scholar
  30. Levy, J. A. & Albrecht, G. A. (1989). Methodological Considerations in Research on Sexual Behavior and AIDS Among Older People. In M. Riley et. al. (Eds.), AIDS in an Aging Society (pp. 96–98). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  31. Levy, J. A. (1994). Sexuality and Aging. In W. Hazzard et. al. (Eds.), Principles of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology (pp. 115–124). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  32. Martin, C. E. (1981). Factors Affecting Sexual Functioning in 60 to 79-Year-Old Married Males. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 10, 399–420.Google Scholar
  33. Matthias, R. E., Lubben, J. E., Atchison, K. A., & Schweitzer, S. O. (1997). Sexual Activity and Satisfaction among Very Old Adults: Results from a Community-Dwelling Medicare Population Survey. Gerontologist, 37, 6–14.Google Scholar
  34. McCartney, J. R. & Palmateer, L. M. (1985). Assessment of Cognitive Deficit in Geriatric Patients: A Study of Physician Behavior. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 33, 467–471.Google Scholar
  35. Morely, J. E. & Kaiser, F. E. (1993). Impotence: The Internist's Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment. Advances in Internal Medicine, 38, 151–168.Google Scholar
  36. Mulligan, T. & Moss, C. R. (1991). Sexuality and Aging in Male Veterans: A Cross-Sectional Study of Interest, Ability and Activity. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 20, 17–25.Google Scholar
  37. Nebes, R. D. & Andrews-Kulis, M. S. (1976). The Effect of Age on the Speed of Sentence Formation and Incidental Learning. Experimental Aging Research, 2, 315–321.Google Scholar
  38. Nebes, R. D. & Madden, D. J. (1983). The Use of Focused Attention in Visual Search by Young and Old Adults. Experimental Aging Research, 9, 139–143.Google Scholar
  39. Nettleton, G. & Case, A. (Eds.). (1969). British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Nissen, M. J. & Corkin, S. (1985). Effectiveness of attentional cueing in older and younger adults. Journal of Gerontology, 40, 185–191.Google Scholar
  41. Obler, L. K., Nicholas, M., Albert, M. L., & Woodward, S. (1985). On Comprehension Across the Adult Life Span. Cortex, 21, 273–280.Google Scholar
  42. Palmore, E. B. (1990). Ageism: Negative and Positive. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  43. Persson & Svanborg, G. & Svanborg, A. (1992). Marital Coital Activity in Men at the Age of 75: Relation to Somatic, Psychiatric, and Social Factors at the Age of 70. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 40, 439–444.Google Scholar
  44. Persson, G. (1980). Sexuality in a 70 Year Old Urban Population. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 24, 335–342.Google Scholar
  45. Pfeiffer, E., Verwoerdt, A., & Wang, H-S. (1969). The Natural History of Sexual Behavior in a Biologically Advantaged Group of Aged Individuals. Journal of Gerontology, 24, 193–198.Google Scholar
  46. Pfeiffer, E., Verwoerdt, A., & Wang, H-S. (1968). Sexual Behavior in Aged Men and Women. Archives of General Psychiatry, 19, 753–758.Google Scholar
  47. Pfeiffer, E. & Davis, G. (1972). Determinants of Sexual Behavior in Middle and Old Age. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 20, 151–158.Google Scholar
  48. Ritchie, K. & Kildea, D. (1995). Is Senile Dementia “Age-Related” or “Aging Related”? Evidence from a Meta-Analysis of Dementia Prevalence in the Oldest-Old. Lancet, 346, 931–934.Google Scholar
  49. Roughan, P. A., Kaiser, F. E., & Morely, J. E. (1993). Sexuality and the Older Women. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 9, 87–106.Google Scholar
  50. Rowland, D. L., Greenleaf, W. J., Dorfman, L. J. et. al. (1993). Aging and sexual function in men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 22, 545–557.Google Scholar
  51. Saussure, F. de. (1913/1959). Course in General Linguistics. C. B. Bally & A. Sechehaye (Eds.). W. Baskin (Trans.). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  52. Schiavi, R. C., Schreiner-Engel, P., Mandeli, J. et. al. (1990). Healthy Aging and Male Sexual Function. American Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 766–771.Google Scholar
  53. Schiavi, R. C. (1992). Normal Aging and the Evaluation of Sexual Dysfunction. Psychiatric Medicine, 10, 217–225.Google Scholar
  54. Schonfield, D. (1982). Who is Stereotyping Whom and Why? Gerontologist, 22, 267–272.Google Scholar
  55. Slag, M. F., Morely, J. E., Elson, M. K. et. al. (1983). Impotence in Medical Clinic Outpatients. JAMA, 249, 1736–1740.Google Scholar
  56. Small, G. W., Rabins, P. V., Barry, P. P. et. al. (1997). Diagnosis and Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders. Consensus Statement of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, the Alzheimer's Association, and the American Geriatrics Society. JAMA, 278, 1363–1371.Google Scholar
  57. Smith, T. W. (1991). Adult Sexual Behavior in 1989: Number of Partners, Frequency of Intercourse and Risk of AIDS. Family Planning Perspectives, 23, 102–107.Google Scholar
  58. Starr, B. D. & Weiner, M. B. (1981). The Starr-Weiner Report on Sex and Sexuality in the Mature Years. New York: Stein and Day.Google Scholar
  59. Starr, J. M. et. al. (1997). Age-Associated Cognitive Decline in Healthy Old People. Age & Ageing, 26(4), 295–300.Google Scholar
  60. Talland, G. A. (1965). Three Estimates of the Word Span and their Stability Over the Adult Years. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 17, 301–307.Google Scholar
  61. Verwoerdt, A., Pfeiffer, E., & Wang, H-S. (1969). Sexual Behavior in Senescence. Geriatrics, 24, 137–154.Google Scholar
  62. Wechsler, D. (1958). The Assessment and Appraisal of Adult Intelligence. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.Google Scholar
  63. Wechsler, D. (1945). A Standardized Memory Scale for Clinical Use. Journal of Psychology, 19, 87–90.Google Scholar
  64. Wickens, C. D., Braune, R., & Stokes, A. (1987). Age Differences in the Speed and Capacity of Information Processing: A Dual-Task Approach. Psychology & Aging, 2, 70–78.Google Scholar
  65. Wiley, D. & Bortz, W. M. (1996). Sexuality and Aging--Usual and Successful. Journal of Gerontology, 51, 142–146.Google Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations