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Age Ain’t Nothin But a Number (Generational Stereotypes)

A man in his late 80’s is most likely reaching the end of his life, and a young teenage girl is most likely beginning hers. The amount of life experience and maturity can be assumed just by a person’s age number; That assumption, however, can be completely wrong. It’s possible that a young teenage girl has the same amount of understanding and awareness as a man in his late 80’s. It’s also possible for an old man to not have matured at all and to be very close-minded. The “static” personality and “mature” mindset are only stereotypes given to elderly people, as the naive and inexperienced mindset is given to younger people. One can identify the rejection of the age and maturity stereotype through people like Willow Smith, an eighteen year old musician, as well as Carl Fredericksen’s character in the movie Up. Ultimately, it is instinctual to judge someone’s character by their physical appearance and age, but it is not possible to fully analyze their metaphysical state by their physical state.

To further elaborate on the stereotype itself, older people tend to be at a more static stage in their lives. The conventional image is that they’ve ended their chapter of thrilling adventures and youthful memories, and are probably residing at a nursing home. Zhadnova efficiently explains this when he states, “The old age appears to us as an objective component, the material bases (changes in a body of an elderly person, increasing number of illnesses that are common to elderly people, etc.), and as a subjective perception of biological consequences of ageing at social, cultural and spiritual level by an elderly person himself and people surrounding him. In this connection, we can say that on the whole the concept of old age enters the structures of binary oppositions in which one of the contrasts always or nearly always has the negative meaning connected, first of all, with changes in the corporal build of a person” (Zhadnova 1). As humans, it’s normal to correlate elderly people with illness and weakening life stages. What one does not recognize, however, is that an old person can be at the liveliest point of his life, just as Carl Fredericksen is in the movie Up.

Carl, initially, had the stereotypical dull, tired personality one would expect from an elderly person. Throughout the plot, however, he is enlivened as he ventures out onto the top of a cliff, carrying his house with a number of balloons and meets his idol superhero, Charles F. Muntz, a famous explorer. Although Carl feels a heavy grief because he lost his wife, Ellie, his youthly self is gradually revealed through his actions. He becomes the illustration of a geriatric action hero, rather than a young superhero. His character is developed in order to reject the stereotype, just as Willow Smith does in her music.

Carl manages to venture out onto Paradise Falls, while other people his age are relaxing on their couches, reminiscing, or resting ill. By setting out on this adventure, Carl makes the statement that one is never too old to make more memories. Although he physically looks grouchy and old, he mentally has not outgrown his adventurous self. He first rejects the “old person” stereotype when he chooses not to go to a nursing home. When nurses show up at his front door to bring him to a nursing home, he cunningly escapes. “[a large shadow begins to loom up behind them. Many balloons emerge from beneath a tarp and lift Carl’s house off of the ground. Both scream. Carl’s house hits their van. Its alarm goes off]

Carl Fredricksen: ‘Ah, ha ha ha! So long, boys! I’ll send you a postcard from Paradise Falls!’” (imDb 1). Carl manages to find the most creative way possible to leave his small town and fulfill his dream of living on Paradise Falls. Rather than letting the nurses move him to a nursing home, where he can be with people his age, he chooses to explore and begin his wild adventure that he had planned with his wife. It is possible that he could not have been happy at the nursing home, considering the fact that he still has the ambition and desire to explore, unlike the stereotypical old man.

Additionally, Carl preserves his juvenescence by holding onto the smallest memories of his youngest life stages with his wife. Although his body ages, his mind and heart still hold onto his wife, who ultimately is a symbol of young adventure and exploration. Paul Asay writes in his review for the movie, “Carl preserves her memory in every way he can—even wearing a badge (a grape soda bottle cap with a pin stuck through it) that Ellie made for him when they were children” (Asay 1). By holding onto an object so simple and recyclable, Carl is enduring his youthful mindset and creativity, as well as the inspiration behind his whole adventure, his wife.

On the other side of the spectrum, while teenage girls write cheesy songs about love and boys, Willow Smith, an eighteen year old speaks about astral projection in her music. Astral projection, is the concept of an “out-of-body” experience, where the metaphysical state becomes physical. Now, where in the universe would one find an eighteen year old girl who willingly writes about a concept like astral projection over writing about her ex-boyfriends? She defies the stereotype given to young women her age. Her words are humbling, reminding her listeners that each of them is merely a grain of sand in the grand universe. In her song, “Waves of Nature”, she says, “Humans spend so much time trying to figure out life…You don’t feel your merkabah spin / Just try again and again”(Smith 1). “Merkabah”, the term she refers to, can be broken down into three different syllables: “Mer”, which means Light, “Ka”, which means Spirit, and “Ba”, which means Body. It is the idea that all three are connected together. The 18-year-old makes the point that humans are not present and one with themselves, but rather over complicate the world surrounding them.

One can also see Willow’s maturity in her lyrics to the song “Female Energy”. In this track, which she composed in a freestyle at the age of 14, she sings, “I bet you have questions like, ‘Where did I come from?’ / I know, I come from the planet that hit Tiamat” (Smith 1). She herself recognizes the depth of her thoughts at the young age of 14. People approach her asking how she has come to develop her mindset, because not many people would expect a pretty young girl to think these thoughts and ask these questions. Willow is the exact opposite of the stereotype given to her. She takes away any label given onto her by others, especially the exciting and youthful title she received from her 2012 single, “Whip My Hair”. Her development in maturity from 2012 to 2014 is clearly evident in her song lyrics and topic selections.

Furthermore, if a person does confirm their stereotype, it is not only because of their age, but factors such as their environment, affluence, and current home situation. A young boy might be naive to the socio political problems of the world, just because his parents don’t expose him to it; Therefore, he might have a softer perspective of the world. An old woman could be grumpy for the rest of her life because her loved ones have passed away. This isn’t a “generational label”, however. This is solely each person’s life situation, that happens to fit the stereotype.

It is mostly society’s fault that people have ingrained these stereotypes in their heads. Without the influence of social media and characters that fit common tropes, individuals would have more of a chance to prove that they are more than an addition to an existing societal group. Perls explains this well when he states, “The hucksters’ sensationalized images of older people as withering and frail individuals staring at nursing home walls reinforce our youth-oriented society’s inaccurate and bias-engendering perceptions of aging” (Perl 686). This is the conventional image media has burned into people’s brains, as well as the image of younger people being less mature and irresponsible. Therefore, it is more difficult for those of the younger generations to be trusted to take on certain tasks and responsibilities. They are less likely to be employed because they don’t fit the “age criteria”. It is true for the elderly as well; They are recommended to retire at the age of 65, and are not seen as a perfect fit for most occupations, solely due to their age. There is less trust within these workplaces all because of an age number. An age number, does not summarize a person’s whole life story and experience.

All in all, if the average human being didn’t instinctually judge a person by their age, there would be more opportunity and understanding between various generations. Relationships and bonds would strengthen between people with the widest age gaps. It would be possible for more people from the older generation to take young minds, like Willow Smith, seriously. It would be possible for the working generation to not discourage elderly people to push their limits and continue living youthfully, rather than labelling them as weak.


Works Cited

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