If you subscribe to HBO, you may be familiar with The White Lotus, a satirical series set in an
idyllic luxury resort chain. The first season, based in Hawaii, provided an entertaining escape
featuring the exploits and antics of well-heeled guests. After completing the inaugural season, I
looked forward to the first episode of second two, which moved to an even more beautiful setting
with sweeping Mediterranean vistas. Each scene could have been imprinted on a postcard and
sold in the lobby gift shop (now I’m dating myself).
After the credits rolled, I felt uneasy. Something about the episode was troubling me. I fell
asleep with the unresolved feeling, but as my alarm aroused me the next morning, it hit me. It
was the portrayal of the octogenarian’s character played by the inimitable F. Murray Abraham.
Now I’m not faulting Mr. Abraham, as he was not the scriptwriter. But the lines and acting were
unmistakably ageist and stereotypical. In the episode, Mr. Abraham’s character has embarked on
an Ancestry.com type of trip accompanied by his philandering Hollywood producer son and
Stanford educated grandson. Before starting their search through Sicily to locate unknown
relatives, the affable Abraham flirts with young female resort employees, falls and hits his head
poolside, and suffers from uncontrollable flatulence.
And at dinner, Abraham’s grandson questions his virility and capability of achieving erection at
such an advanced age. When Abraham responds to both in the affirmative, the grandson reacts
with a mix of incredulity and surprise. One would expect a Los Angeles bred and Ivy League
educated young man to be a bit more astute and worldly.
Please do not mistake this as my stab at television criticism. I recognize that great roles for
aging actors are not abounding. But I watched The Kominsky Method and Grace and Frankie,
two series which tastefully and appropriately portrayed multiple issues faced by older men and
women. Both well-written and acted series tackled myriad issues with appropriate humor and
authenticity. While The White Lotus is an entertaining comedy series, the writers could have
borrowed pages from the playbooks of the other series and done a better job at not enforcing
societal perceptions and stereotypes.
I query whether that is Hollywood’s responsibility or duty. I am the first to admit that we cannot
take entertainment or ourselves so seriously.
But as an attorney concentrating in aging and longevity law – do you see what I just did there – I
cannot ignore the pervading ageism which is spreading throughout the country. Ageism is
defined by the Gerontological Society of America as “discrimination or unjust treatment of older
people based on stereotypes.” The dangerous effects of ageism are being highlighted by several
organizations, universities, and states – including New York – which are launching initiatives to
combat ageism and educate individuals of all generations.
Indeed, the issues of aging currently affect, or hopefully will affect, all of us. I am not
suggesting or wishing that anyone suffers as they age. It would be my fervent prayer for all of us
to live long healthful lives unscathed by physical or cognitive impairment. While we have little
to no control over the onset of either, there are minor changes we can incorporate into our daily lives to combat ageist attitudes. Just removing the words “senior” and “elderly” when referring
to older people is a start. It simply requires a change in mindset. I have blogged previously
about the need for, and benefits of, intergenerational interaction. All age cohorts can live, learn,
love, and thrive together. We do not need to reside in age silos. More communities should be
planned where we can support each other and see, hear, and be surrounded by a chorus of all
Let’s spread the seeds so that current and future generations can harvest the benefits, values, and contributions of older Americans.