BUENOS AIRES — Although senior citizens watch more television than any other demographic, we rarely see them on screen. If they do appear, they tend to be portrayed as stereotypes that belittle and limit the age group's true ability and potential.
In Argentina, the older characters almost always have secondary roles or a minor presence, as the actual story plots revolve around young people. Can senior citizens fully participate in society when media, especially television, only use youngsters to represent the dreams and aspirations of people of all ages?
Why do we find it difficult to imagine a television series with 70-year-old actors?
Certainly, prejudiced visions of old age are not just the product of television. They already exist, and determine how senior citizens are depicted on screen. Yet, at a time when the number of old people is increasing, and the lifestyles this age group holds is changing, a discrepancy between television portrayals and reality begins to emerge.
One recent study shows that older adults who watch a lot of television find it difficult to identify themselves with characters in fictional programs, even when, and especially, these programs address issues related to them. These inadequate and incorrect representations reduce the elderly to stereotypes. This in turn means this segment of society finds it hard to see itself as a social asset.
Why do we find it difficult to imagine a television series with 70-year-old actors? Is it impossible for them to play out the same stories of love, passion and adventure?
Brazil offers some interesting examples, even on prestigious channels like Rede Globo. In recent years, it has been producing soap operas where old age and the elderly are given an important role. One of the more notorious examples is Mulheres Apaixonadas (Passionate Women), which depicted an elderly person being physically attacked, and achieved what many campaigns have not — public mobilization for a law to protect the rights of the elderly.
In another program, Amor a Vida (Love of Life), people aged between 70 and 90 confess about their love lives and lovers, prompting parallel chat shows on the lives of the participants. More recently, Babilonia broadcast — during a prime time slot — a couple of elderly women deciding to marry when the country legalizes it. Their onscreen kiss caused more of a stir than one might imagine.
These programs sought out the advice of experts and allowed people to see that television stories could promote, teach and affirm new ways of being an elderly person without a fall in ratings.
Could this happen in Argentina? Our country has produced Acua Mayor, a public channel where elderly people are the protagonists. Programs on it present scenes, actors and scripts that reflect the reality of a diverse population.
Acua Mayor was conceived as a transformative space to break cultural prejudices and include a group of people who have so far been left out. Their programming includes the active participation of elderly characters. As its creators say, this is "TV that invites you to watch but also adopt a more positive life model."
People who watched the channel later said they were surprised but pleased to see the manner their lives were depicted onscreen. Let us hope this idea takes better hold in our country.
*Ricardo Iacub is a psychologist. He teaches at the University of Buenos Aires.
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