Contemporary Cultural Representations of Ageing: Deconstructing Ageism

In her work Declining to Decline (1997), Gullette argues that cultural and social conventions significantly shape the perception of the ageing body. Capitalist neoliberal hegemonic discourses play a role in constructing a negative view of ageing, associating visible signs of decay and decline with a sense of negativity that society seeks to conceal and eliminate. This societal context fosters the rise of various industries and practices like gyms, Viagra for sexual activity, tourism, leisure activities, cosmetics, and plastic surgery. These elements collectively support and promote both healthy ageing and the perception of old age as a space for consumerism.

By presenting older people through narratives that emphasise deterioration and by neglecting to represent their experiences in a positive light, culture has strengthened ageism. Ageism refers to a form of discrimination, prejudice, or stereotyping based on a person’s age, typically directed towards older individuals. It involves holding negative attitudes, beliefs, or assumptions about older people solely because of their age. Thus, a third approach to ageing, that of Linn Sandberg (2013), proposes the concept of “affirmative ageing” as a theoretical space to challenge ageism as the binary perspective of ageing as either decline or success. This approach acknowledges and embraces the material realities and unique characteristics of the older body. By embracing affirmative ageing, one can move beyond simplistic categorisations and explore a more nuanced and positive understanding of the ageing process.

This panel focuses on non-hegemonic contemporary cultural representations of ageing that deconstruct ageism from an intersectional approach and through different media. With the intention of contributing to critical discussions of representations of old age and gender on the stage, while at the same time filling in the considerable gap between studies of (demo)dystopia and ageing from a theatrical angle, Inesa Shevchenko focuses on two contemporary plays that feature the topic of ageing at the heart of their chaotic, catastrophic worlds. Raquel Medina discusses female desire and sexuality in old age within and against patriarchal discourses that socially and culturally construct old age in its intersection with sexuality and gender. The films La vida era eso (David Martín de los Santos 2020) and Destino bravío (Ainhoa Rodríguez 2021) show how older women and sexuality or desire are not mutually exclusive terms and can be experienced through the haptic aspects of sexuality. Katerina Valentova´s contribution focuses on representations of ageing in graphic novels which may all successfully contribute to avoiding cultural stereotypes related with ageing. These narratives have a high emotional impact on their readers, enhancing more positive representations of intergenerational relationships.

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