Betty White on Saturday Night Live (May 9, 2010)
Listen up. The self-effacing funny woman who wowed a record 12 million viewers on "Saturday Night Live" is less a throwback to the past than a portent of the future.
As the saying goes, if you're not aging, you're no longer living. And if current demographic trends hold, it won't be long before older Americans outnumber youngsters. From that perspective, the fascination with White isn't as puzzling as it is telling.
Yet she'd barely finished her monologue when all sorts folks began weighing in, trying to decipher her 88-year-old aura. Was her popularity simply due to people "giving the old lady a pass"? Did she rack up the highest ratings in years for "SNL" because of her bawdy sexual quips?
Advertising honchos ascribed White's popularity to her retro feel, her ability to be a bankable soother in times of economic uncertainty. Meanwhile, another reviewer detected an "archtypal example of old/new new media partnership." That is a reference to the fact that half a million fans joined a
And, of course, the curmudgeon crowd is now barking "enough already." But I disagree. We shouldn't let White disappear back to obscurity. We should be asking, How do we cultivate more
In seven years, the number of people in the world under the age of 5 years old and those above the age of 65 will criss-cross -- meaning, there will be more elderly people around than the toddlers. Extrapolate 30 years forward and the number of elderly may be double that of the very young.
The global ramifications can't be understated. This will be a first. Throughout history, the number of people under the age of 5 has always been higher than those at the other end of life. Not so in the future.
So if you are prone to making blue-haired old lady jokes -- as White is herself -- you're going to have a lot of material to work with. Within the next 20 years, 44 states will have age distributions similar to those now found in
Seems to me the put-them-out-to-pasture attitude so many have toward the elderly needs an adjustment, and fast. No society can function well if a large proportion of its population is deemed obsolete.
And maybe, subconsciously, what White's renewed popularity represents is a shift in the public mindset. Maybe we are slowly grasping the reality that a large chunk of the population is not getting the chance it deserves to contribute to society and the economy.
White's age cohort, people over 85, wasn't much studied as a demographic in prior generations. Soon they will increasingly be seen as a force to be reckoned with. Virtually every aspect of life will be affected by seniors -- transportation, housing, labor markets, healthcare, to name an obvious few. And more families will find themselves comprised of four living generations -- think of how that could change family dynamics.
- Why News Is Aimed At Your Emotions
- Betty White - What We Can Learn From the Golden Girl
- Police Work and Reality TV: Not a Good Fit
- Media Overreaches As 'Lost' and Other TV Series Finish Up
- Television - Can TV News Be Saved?
- Television - Network News Doing Less with Less
- Television - Chattin' It up With iCarly's Miranda Cosgrove
- Television - Recurring Reality's Faux Sheen
- America Through the Reality Lens
- Television - TV Vets Assess Sitcoms
- Decade of Rapid Change
- TV's Best for 2009: Can't Pick Just 10
- Behind the Scenes at the Food Network
(c) 2010 Variety. Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.