The mini-controversy surrounding the Taco Bell Super Bowl 47 ad has been a useful prod to my thinking. I am ordinarily quite sensitive to language and media depictions that serve to demean or demoralize older people. We swim in an ocean of such language and images and maintaining my outrage at peak levels is— kind of tiring.
Nonetheless my first take of the ad was similar to Brent Green’s. After all, that ad does play on ageist stereotypes in a seemingly desperate effort to sell more tacos. If it was remade with racial, gender or ethnic stereotypes at its core I doubt it would ever be allowed on the air. It is strange how many people casually endorse ageist stereotypes because they seem so “true.”
Kavan published a tweet that recounted how his five year old daughter saw the ad.
— Kavan Peterson (@kbilly21) February 5, 2013
Her innocent belief that old people were really exemplars of the living dead got me to thinking about subversion, and that got me to thinking about Jennie Sasser’s work and, in particular her geropunk manifesto.
To be a gero-punk is to possess the audacious belief that we are, all of us, legitimate makers of meaning, and so too are all other creatures. That our own precious lives provide the grounds from which understandings emerge. What this also means is that we acknowledge what we can’t possibly know prior to lived experience – For example, I may have been a gerontologist for more than half my life, but I’m yet to be an old gerontologist. I have no expertise on old age, so I best rely on the old experts themselves. But as a gero-punk, I can choose to try on different ways of moving through the world so as to develop empathy for and imagination about aging experiences I’ve yet to (or may never) experience.
That is just a taste, you really should read the whole thing HERE.
This led me to reconsider my feelings about the ad. Yes, The idea that elders should be eager to repeat the excesses and errors of their youth is both juvenile and cliche (It’s the SuperBowl!!!). It is also contrary to what research tells us about older people’s feelings about “being young again.” Beneath the surface of the commercial message, however, I can now see a fascinating and very jagged edge being created by and through the power of choice. Choosing to get a tat, choosing to challenge authority, choosing to be someone or something other than what society (represented here by the nurse, pool manager, cops) thinks they ought to be—these acts violate the tenets of ageism with uncaring glee. I like that.
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.
Adults need to learn how to live as if elderhood matters.
For this reason, I am launching a #geropunk hashtag for this blog and for twitter that can help us identify and spread good examples of #geropunk life, art, music, fashion and literature. Aleah Chapin comes to mind.
I would also like to encourage people to take some time to read the geropunkproject.org blog.