If you are one of the 43 million people who watched the Academy Awards last night, you probably agree that Ellen Degeneres did a great job hosting the show. I thought she was funny and engaging. She did say one thing though that caused me to flinch, but I am guessing that it went by many others without notice. In fact, when she said it – I protested out loud to my friends and family – and none of them even responded.
Can you guess what it was? In her opening monologue, Ellen was mentioning some of the nominees and she noted that June Squibb, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Nebraska, would be the oldest person to win in her category at age 84. She then leaned toward June as though she were hard of hearing and mentally slow and said "I AM TELLING THEM HOW GOOD YOU WERE IN NEBRASKA, THAT YOU ARE 84." She got laughs with that comment, but in my opinion she should not have.
What would have happened if Ellen had stereotyped other groups that way? I believe the outrage would have shut down Twitter the way her celebrity "selfie" did. But, as far as I can tell, there has been no mention of it in the media. And that bothers me. The comment was ageist. But unfortunately, ageism is accepted in our culture. So, to be clear, it is the culture and not Ellen herself that I take issue with.
I have the great fortune of being "called" to care for older adults. I don't know why I have this passion for them, I just do. If I am in a public place and near an older person who is feeling vulnerable in some way, they find me like a bee finds nectar. I believe they have so much worth, and possibilities, and potential, and wisdom. So when I hear a comment like the one Ellen made, it's personal for me.
To Ellen's credit, she did joke about youth being the highest value in Hollywood. And Hollywood has the power to change the perception of aging by speaking out and by giving more roles to older people, which they are beginning to do, as evidenced by June and Judy Dench and Bruce Dern all being nominees.
We all have the power to change the perception of aging. Think about it and be honest with yourself about how you see older people. Don't make "old" jokes, even about yourself. And call other people on it when they do. When you encounter an older person, respond with awe and reverence and respect. If fate smiles on you, you will be there some day. I wonder how you will want to be treated?
Be Well on Purpose