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Bill is a visionary leader in the online Changing Aging movement and a world-renowned authority on geriatric medicine and eldercare. Bill is founder of two movements to reshape long-term care globally – The Eden Alternative and Green House Project.

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  1. Gero-Punk Analysis: #geropunkjenny | The Gero-Punk Project

    […] Here’s where I come into the story (I’m sure you are wondering!): Somehow he came across my Gero-Punk Manifesto (I don’t yet know how nor when), and something about it caused him to reflect upon and actually revise his initial reaction to the ad. In his post, he excerpted the Manifesto and wrote some awesome things about what he thinks it means to be a Gero-Punk, and, in homage to the Gero-Punk Project, established a new Twitter hash tag, #Geropunk, as a way to expand and keep the conversation going. Dr. Thomas also encouraged his readers to engage in their own critical thinking about the Taco Bell ad and to enter into the conversation, sharing how they felt about the ad when they saw it, about whether or not they considered the ad to be ageist. (Read the full article on ChangingAging.org). […]

  2. Robert Albert
    Robert Albert at | | Reply

    I’m learning how to reply apparently. When I clicked the ‘reply button,’ on Brent Green’s reply, I thought my reply would be attached to his. The quotes I refer to are from Brent’s Huffington Post entry. I’m glad my reply to my reply about Mr. Green’s reply is now above my own reply. I am replete with replies for rest of the day.

  3. Robert Albert
    Robert Albert at | | Reply

    Good commentary, as always I’m glad I came by to visit today.

    I quote your response to a Superbowl ad:
    “Disobedient older persons may consume alcoholic beverages, spicy tacos and get tattoos, but they do not gain a measure of respect, dignity or the veneration that most societies once afforded wise elders. Old people are rarely embraced in advertising today for their special gifts, wisdom or compassion. That would not be ironic or humorous, and certainly not award-worthy in ad-biz circles.”
    ALL “older persons,” may consume alcoholic beverages, spicy tacos and get tattoos at any given time. Whether or not they gain a measure of respect is on you sir. As our society (U.S.) ages, we will come around to appreciating elders for their enhanced value simply due their increase in the percentage of the population. Some of us are ahead of the curve on this one, advertisers will come around because they follow the $$$ and boomers have it.

    “In this Taco Bell ad, the powerful make certain that older people are safely tucked in bed as if children, their rambunctious rebellion angrily admonished. Finally, those defiant and weary seniors return to “where they belong,” sheltered from adult society in a safe home for elderly.”
    The powerful? Hey man, I don’t know where I’ll be living when I get old but where ever it is, I hope there is someone to tuck me in a night, it’s reassuring to most of the elders I’ve worked with. It’s not a power grab son. “Angry admonishment?” I my crew comes to your house and crashes your pool at night are you going to join us or admonish us… Don’t forget, even if you’re a lover, that there are safety issues pool owners have when it comes to guests of any sort. Finally, where would you have these elders return to after any night on the town. Again, we can come to your house (right?), but all of our gear is at OUR house. You may surf our couch anytime, but after the club we weary-heads be homebound son. Besides, we got a bitchin’ car to cruise where ever we want.

    As for your quote from Chuck Nyren: ““The takeaway from this spot: The customers who frequent Taco Bell are filthy degenerates who eat, slobber and spill food and wrappers all over the parking lot, and wouldn’t think twice about leaning on or spilling food on your car. It’s a dingy, dirty hangout. Police keep a watchful eye on the place.””
    Mr. Nyren, I recently dropped my hat, in the dining hall of the college I go to, and when I asked if it were in the lost-and-found the teenager that I asked wrinkled her nose and scowled saying, “It’s dirty. We don’t accept articles of clothing at our lost-and-found, they are dirty.” I retorted by saying “please tell your boss that some smartass stopped by and said there’s a new fangled thing called plastic bags to keep found clothes in, and that anything that could possibly be so dirty that even a plastic bag couldn’t contain it deserves a call to a HazMat Team. (Fortunately, she seemed to get the joke/gist.) I’m sorry, I grew up on a generation that was allowed to crawl on the ground as a baby and hand sanitizers were only found at the sink; it’s called soap. I’m not sure who you (think) you are speaking for, but I do not takeaway Taco Bell customers as being filthy degenerates, and at 2 AM downtown the four course supper establishments are usually closed anyway. Finally, you are wrong sir, I bought two tacos from Taco Bell since that commercial; those were the first I’ve had in over a year. That silly song was in my head, I was hungry and Taco Bell was within walking distance. I don’t plan to eat many more, because I do plan to live long enough to see many more years, but everything in moderation, eh.

  4. Judah Ronch, Dean, Erickson School at UMBC

    Liked your considered post, but wanted to point out that in my view commercials are becoming more and more full of stereotyped portrayals and messaging involving all groups. Maybe this is a case of too much inclusion.

    As you pointed out to our Master’s class last week, there are stereotypes that carry a positive valence and those that carry a negative one. Both types are burdensome and generate stereotype threat where the person has the cloud of the stereotype hanging over their head and wonders if a stereotype applied to a group they are perceived to be a member of will be applied to them by an observer. This stimulates multitasking where the person has to contend with the situation, problem presented while being vigilant as to whether a stereotype is the filter through which the observer sees them. This is eloquently described in Claude Steele’s book, Whistling Vivaldi; the title describes what a young African American man would do so when he walked down the street in Chicago white people walking toward him wouldn’t cross the street

    Just a thought.

  5. Brent Green (@BoomerMarketing)
    Brent Green (@BoomerMarketing) at | | Reply

    My HuffPost article about the Taco Bell spot has inspired an interesting range of reactions. Two noteworthy responses come from advertising and media industry experts who see the Taco Bell ad from thought-worthy perspectives:

    From Marc Sotkin, former executive producer and head writer for both “The Golden Girls” and “Laverne & Shirley”:

    “As a writer of Golden Girls, (I believe) this ad is offensive, not because of the ageism — it’s just not funny enough. Good comedy just isn’t that easy and the mark is often missed by those in the advertising community. This thing just wouldn’t get past the pitch stage (in Hollywood).”

    From Chuck Nyren, author of “Advertising to Baby Boomers” and veteran creative director and copywriter:

    “Forget the older folks acting silly and stupid, and look at it this way:

    “Taco Bell is a chain of inexpensive drive-thru and sit-down restaurants. Its four selling points beyond the price: fast, reliable, family-friendly, clean. Fifty years ago few people thought a Mexican restaurant chain could be positioned as clean, reliable, or with any sort of publicly perceived quality control – outside of Southern California. They were wrong.

    “The takeaway from this spot: The customers who frequent Taco Bell are filthy degenerates who eat, slobber and spill food and wrappers all over the parking lot, and wouldn’t think twice about leaning on or spilling food on your car. It’s a dingy, dirty hangout. Police keep a watchful eye on the place.”

    “The biggest advertising sin: This spot will not sell even one taco.”

  6. Chip Allen
    Chip Allen at | | Reply

    Maybe because I’m under 30 but I didn’t take the commercial as a portrayal of some errors of their youth. I actually saw it as a portrayal of people living life to the fullest. Which all of us should be doing. But great post – it’s my first time at your blog, Dr. Thomas. I love your passion.
    Chip Allen

  7. Michelle Seitzer
    Michelle Seitzer at | | Reply

    Olga, I think that’s why I liked it, just for the simple fact that it made me laugh. And I agree, we can’t really have a conversation about changing language or challenging ageism without humor. And whether people liked the commercial or not, it has certainly started a conversation…

  8. Olga
    Olga at | | Reply

    I was taken aback when I first saw that commercial, but here’s the thing–policing language and tut-tutting about images isn’t going to change things nearly as fast if not done with a sense of humor. It wouldn’t be my way of having fun, but it wasn’t when I was younger either. We are better off just laughing.

  9. jennysasser
    jennysasser at | | Reply

    Hey, Dr. Thomas,

    Thank you so much for including part of my Gero-Punk Manifesto in your thoughtful (and edgy!) post today. I especially appreciate this passage from your post: “I am beginning to see that elderhood needs and is very likely to benefit from a bolus of transgression, of searching, probing, of not knowing. I’m pretty sure that Jennie Sasser (the original geropounk) would also agree with me that the cultivation of a searching but confident unknowingness should be injected into the lives of adults as well.” Indeed! In my experience, as I travel through the life course, what has become crucial for my ongoing deep development — my wellness — is a commitment to critical thinking (about the world, others, as well as my self), contemplation, and collaboration with others (and a playful attitude toward complexity, confusion and chaos).

    Again, thank you for honoring me by including my notions on your blog!

    Jenny Sasser

  10. Madeleine Kolb
    Madeleine Kolb at | | Reply

    I remember that ad, Brent. As you say, it was heartwarning and not the least condescending.

  11. theresa
    theresa at | | Reply

    I did not see the commercial. Was not watching tv. But as soon as other healthcare people and family saw it they started tagging me on facebook, saying if this is what culture change is, sign me up, I want my residents to enjoy life again. I want to continue to feel alive as I age! At least they did not have the women putting on anti-aging makeup!

  12. Brent Green (@BoomerMarketing)
    Brent Green (@BoomerMarketing) at | | Reply

    If I could find a vintage TV ad and post it here, I would: from McDonald’s, circa 1982. The ad features a 70+ man who is semiretired and nervous about starting his first day on the job as a counter person at McDonald’s. His wife attempts to ease his anxiety to no avail, but, to his delight he finds true acceptance and encouragement from a 20-something store manager and then his young coworkers. He is respected and appreciated for his wisdom and easygoing nature. This ad won numerous awards and plaudits from the advertising industry. If you saw this ad 30+ years ago, you’ll probably remember it today. It was heartwarming and captivating for customers of all ages. It told a story that was multigenerational and based on shared-values, much in line with David Wolfe’s tenants for ageless marketing.

    This vintage McDonald’s commercial is my benchmark for how older people can be successfully portrayed in advertising for fast-service restaurants. Now compare this concept to Taco Bell’s 2013 Super Bowl commercial. Both ads portray senior engagement; both have a touch of reality; both are aspirational. The McDonald’s ad gets my vote.

    1. Kavan Peterson, Editor, ChangingAging.org
      Kavan Peterson, Editor, ChangingAging.org at | | Reply

      That sounds like an outstanding ad. Surely some McDonalds social networking monitoring webmonkey will see this and share the original video with us!!!???

  13. Kavan Peterson, Editor, ChangingAging.org
    Kavan Peterson, Editor, ChangingAging.org at | | Reply

    I knew this ad was a zinger when friends started texting and Tweeting me as soon as they saw it (I don’t have a TV so was watching the game streamed online, where apparently only SamSung bought an internet ad which looped ad naseum). During the power outage I pulled it up online and we all watched — that’s when my daughter made her infamous zombie comment. It was such a shocking but illuminating moment! Her observation really made me look at this from outside my kneejerk reaction of whether or not it was ageist or demeaning. The ad shows old people in a way that a child couldn’t recognize them, because she never sees old people portrayed that way. I can’t help but think that’s a good thing. Sure, it was silly and played to all kinds of stereotypes, but it was also subversive in a fun way.

    It reminded of the recent SNL Digital Short BOOM BOX that at first glance is horribly offensive to older adults: http://www.hulu.com/watch/134727

    Until you stop and remind yourself that this is satire, and the point of the video is to mock societal stereotypes (Old people having sex? OMG what could be more disgusting!). Definitely #Geropunk.

    1. Marcia Barhydt
      Marcia Barhydt at | | Reply

      We all like to be validated Kavan, so thanks for this and thanks to Janet too!
      When I first read Bill’s article, I questioned myself and my own interpretation of the ad and I was hesitant to comment, thinking perhaps that I’d just missed something.

      Now I’m glad I did comment; maybe it’s a lesson in seeing both sides.
      Marcia

  14. Harry (Rick) Moody
    Harry (Rick) Moody at | | Reply

    I rhink your comments, Bill, are right on target. First, full disclosure: I used to work for Bob Butler, I’m a friend of Brent Green, and Jennie Sasser is a close colleague and co-author with me of a textbook on gerontology, so clearly I’m biased (but hopefully not agei-ist: I’ll be 68 years old in two weeks!) . I also spent some years on the advisory board of the Advertising Council and spent many hours watching ads intended to promote good causes. So my response to the Superbowl ad is complex. First, Brent is always hyper-vigilant about stereotypes and I can understand why he wrote as he did: sensitivity is always a good thing. But the opposite is also true, and that’s the essence of humor: contradiction. What Jennie is doing with “gero-punk” is alerting us to a subversive strategy about aging, which is important whenever we’re inclined to be overly serious, even preachy. The fact that you, Bill, began to change your mind is a also good sign: it reflects ambivalence and it brings us closer to the true reality of advanced age, which is bitter-sweet and part of the contradictoriness of life. May the dialectic live on!

    Harry (Rick) Moody, AARP

  15. Marcia Barhydt
    Marcia Barhydt at | | Reply

    I am as committed to wiping out agism as both you and Kavan are, but I thought this ad was delightful in an ‘in your face’ kind of way. The ad is saying “don’t think that elders are the same as they used to be. Elders today will not be stereotyped as inactive, uninterested people.”

    I think I’m very aware of stereotypes Bill, but I just don’t see it here. More likely to be a stereotype would show an older man or woman sitting on a porch in a rocking chair IMAGINING this sort of breakout, fun behaviour.

    In this ad, none of these people are imagining, they’re doing.

    1. Janet
      Janet at | | Reply

      I agree with Marcia. I hope I’m fortunate enough to connect with folks who share my interests and enthusiasm for life and would be ready for such an adventure. I am a gerontologist gero punk also. I think people are offended because these gero punks do not fit our society ideas of physical beauty, oh they should act their age. Rubbish. One awesome gift of maturity: when people are truly alive, they are too busy living to give a darn about what other people think.

Is this post changing aging? Please comment!