Ageism in the Media

One of the most blatant and highly forgotten diversity issues in the media is its depictions of the elderly as helpless and useless to society. This has prevailed movies, TV, and advertising making senior citizens be seen as incapable to thrive in modern society.

In movies, this isn’t something that is only shown in movies like Bad Grandpa. Here is a clip from the oscar-nominated movie Nebraska, where Bruce Dern plays a old man who thinks that he won a million dollars.

In TV, the elderly are usually only shown in supporting parts, like Jerry in Parks and Rec. Jerry is the comic relief in the show, always messing things up. While the show is great and has a decently diverse cast, the depiction of Jerry is a disappointing use of elderly stereotypes.

When they let the elderly take the center stage, you usually get something like Betty White’s Off Their Rocker, which uses old people as a joke to prank younger people.

But, like any time you are generalising, some depictions of the elderly are shown as more than the stereotype. Movies have explored complex senior characters like Judi Dench in Philomina and the recent James Bond films and almost every character played by Morgan Freeman.

One of the most beautiful depictions of old age in recent film is the Pixar film, Up, which begins with this.

Another great portrayal is that of Magneto and Professor X in the X-Men franchise. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart play the central relationship of the entire series. They are the leaders of their opposing groups and are shown as the two most powerful men in the world. (Side note: Professor X is also a great depiction of a disabled person.) Here is the trailer to the first movie, where besides focusing on Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine or Halle Berry’s Storm, they focus on these two ‘old dudes.’

On TV, one of the best depictions of the elderly is on NBC’s Parenthood. In that show, the patriarch and matriarch of the family, Zeek and Camille, are shown as two people who are not done living their life, and have just as many stories as their grown children.

But don’t let these clips fool you. There is still a huge problem with the way the elderly are shown in the media, where they are almost never shown in advertising as an actual person, but just as a joke. And if you are still unconvinced, watch what we are showing to the children.

I have never met a senior citizen who was gullible enough to rub chocolate all over their body, but that might just be me.

We Can Do Better – Representation of LGBT in Media

The LGBT community has been aggressively lobbied for representation in the media and there has been progress in the past few years. Some of the biggest hits on television have gay characters that are intricule to the show including Modern Family, Scandal, and Glee. Yet the problem is far from fixed. While some shows and networks are embracing the LGBT community others are ignoring them or are only portraying them stereotypically.

While it is good to be represented, what is usually shown is a small percentage of what the actual LGBT community is like. Like any other group, LGBT people have diverse characteristics. Kurt and Santana from Glee, Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family, and Damian from Mean Girls do a bad job of reinforcing these stereotypes. Some select shows and movies have done this, making gay characters that are far more interesting than just being a stereotype. Take Cyrus from ABC’s Scandal. He is the Chief of Staff for the President of the United States, and will do anything to get his job done. In this clip, he decides to have a baby with his husband, so that his journalist husband does not uncover a story that would harm the white house.

It is not that these two characters are gay that defines them, and therefore they are much more interesting characters to watch that feel like real people. There have been other great and interesting LGBT characters including Omar in The Wire, Ennis and Jack in Brokeback Mountain, and Max from Happy Endings.    

When we get into major motion pictures, the representation is worse. According to GLAAD, the nation’s leading LGBT media advocacy organization, only 14 out of the 101 films released by the major studios in 2012 even had a gay, lesbian, or bisexual character. There was also no films that had transgender characters.


The study also introduced the “Vito Russo Test,” which was named after GLAAD co-founder and film historian Vito Russo. Similar to the Bechdel Test (which measures the use of women in film) the Vito Russo Test has three rules to analyze how LGBT character are represented in film.

Vito Russo Test

1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.

2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters)

3. The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.

Using this test, only 6 of the 14 passed, meaning that usually when gay characters are even included in studio films they are not well developed or integral to the film.

Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do to create a diverse media landscape full of interesting and unique characters. The good news is that we have seen some representations now that we can use as proof that audiences are ready to embrace these non-stereotypical LGBT characters who are as human and flawed as you and me.