Thursday, January 05, 2006

Scrubs and ageism

Several posts ago, I said that I would write about issues of age as they are represented in popular culture (and someday, when I can create a link...I have been having trouble doing that lately using the blogger instructions, I will edit this and include links.) I saw an issue that came up the other night on one of my favorite sitcoms, Scrubs, but I wanted to process it for a few days before I wrote about it.

This is a batch of new episodes, and J.D., the main character, has now become an attending physician supervising a group of interns. Among those interns is an older woman (comic premise, I'm sure, being that it is not bloody likely, which is true.) My issue is that this woman is presented as being slow-moving and constantly falling asleep.

One of the fun things about this show is that it actually explores, in a comedic way, the way we stereotype people, shown in the ways J.D. relates to his African-American friend Turk, and Turk's Hispanic wife,Carla, and even the ditzy, WASPY blonde (female) doctor, Elliot. So, initially, I thought, this is among the things this show does. Everybody is fair game, and so age would certainly not be off-limits.

But then I got to thinking about a syndicated column I read a couple of days ago (and I can't find it.) It was written by a Hispanic woman who discussed people who write her with legitimate questions, and the letters often begin "I know you will think I'm a racist, but...". She then discusses how the fear of being branded racist prevents us from discussing legitimate issues. Then she usually is able to point out to people that the way we stereotype people obscures other issues, such as poverty. Her point is, that real racism is something that ultimately results in some kind of economic hardship for people.

This is where I take issue with the Scrubs episode. Hollywood is notorious for age discrimination, and there is a class action suit brought by several writers over 40 against studios in Hollywood. Age is an economic issue in show business (as ethnicity has been, but that situation is changing to some extent.) My point is that an industry which is known for hurting people economically in this way (not only in the past, but currently and blatantly) is being very offensive when it is stereotyping in this manner.

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