Age and Ageing Bodies in the Media

Seminar organised by the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication. Admission is open to all.

What skin products are good for is hiding the traces of age chiselled onto the body by time’s passing and living our life. 'Flawless' means without wrinkles, 'ageless' means an appearance, which has managed to hide age, and so on. Extensive use of digital image manipulation techniques contributes to the construction of the idea of the youthful face and retouched photographs of flawless faces and trained bodies abound in print media and on the Internet. The female television host seemingly has to be young and slender and lead parts for actresses become fewer the older they get. On one hand, the many anti-ageing discourses in the media are manifestations of the taboo of the ageing body. On the other hand, and within the last thirty years, notions of ageing and old age have changed so that media also represent older people enjoying life and leading an active life on the conditions of physical ageing. This seminar will contribute to the discussion of this dual tendency or seeming paradoxical media image of ageing and old age.

The seminar focuses on representations of older people in television, in fashion magazines, in photography, in documentary film, and on websites for elderly people’s interest groups. In particular, we are interested in the interplay between the body and ageing, looking at how representations of processes of ageing are constructed visually. Moreover, we are interested in analyses of economic and cultural aspects of media production that may help uncover the media's 'rationale' for various representational strategies concerning ageing bodies. Thus, the aim of the seminar is to discuss how various 'media logics' both in terms of production and reception frame ageing and older people in the media.

The seminar is organized by the research project: Ageing and old age in the media and elderly people's media use. It is financed by The Velux Foundation and Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Copenhagen University.


10:00-10:15  Welcome

Christa Lykke Christensen, Associate Professor, Dept. of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen

10:15-11:15  Aging, sexuality and 'post-ageist ageism'

Barbara Marshall, Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Trent University in Peterborough, Canada

This paper explores recent media representations of aging bodies that suggest particular forms of sexual agency as central to positive aging. While space is created for sex-positive and aspirational ageing identities where conventional (and traditionally stigmatized) signifiers of old age might be resignified, in its commercialized versions this resignification is still largely premised on a fear of ageing. Building on critiques of post-feminism in the media, the concept of ‘post-ageist ageism’ is suggested to capture contradictory narratives of embodied aging in media-saturated consumer cultures.

11:15-11:30  Coffee

11:30-12:30  Fashion, the Body and Later Life: How women's magazines portray fashion and age

Julia Twigg, Professor, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, UK

Women’s magazines traditionally allocate considerable space to fashion, which is seen as central to the visual treat of the magazine.  But as women become older this aspect can become problematic, both for them and for the commercial forces that seek to catch and shape their interests. Women’s magazines for older women are deeply ambivalent cultural phenomena that attempt both to celebrate and efface age. In this they both endorse the wider culture of ageism, at the same time as they offer forms of escape from, and resistance to, them.

12:30-13:30  Lunch

13:30-14:30  Healthy old age? An analysis of Ældre Sagen's member's magazine ”Ældre Sagen”

Christa Lykke Christensen, Associate Professor, Dept. of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen

Notions of old age and aging are changing. Elderly people are expected to live an active life and pursue a healthy lifestyle in order to enhance their quality of life. In this presentation we consider the Danish association for senior citizens, Ældre Sagen (established in 1986, representing approx. 700,000 members) to examine how this organization represents elderly people and aging bodies in the member magazine “Ældre Sagen”. The analysis will have a specific focus on how the magazine represents elderly people in relation to ideas of an ageing healthy body and lifestyle.

14:30-15:00  Monty Python Live (mostly): the ageing body in satire and comedy

Line Nybro Petersen, Assistant Professor, Dept. for the Study of Culture. Media. University of Southern Denmark I will analyze representations of ageing bodies in Monty Python’s reunion show Monty Python Live (mostly) (2014) aired on television and in cinemas all over the world in the summer of 2014. The reunion of the famous comedy group, now in their seventies, brought back a lot of well-known classical sketches and some new sketches. This presentation will focus on both the aspect of media logic and how it may be said to structure the comedy of the ageing body in a process of mediatization of ageing. Furthermore the cultural role of comedy and satire in relation to representations of ageing will be discussed. 

15:00-15:15  Coffee

15:15-15:45  "I am old and ugly". A discussion of representations of the elderly face

Anne Jerslev, Professor, Dept. of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen

"I am old and ugly". This is what 90 years old Marie says of herself after having returned from the hairdresser in Danish documentary filmmaker Eva Mulvad's The Last Dance from 2005. Truly, Marie is not embodying French professor of photography, Ance Cristofovici’s ideal of images of elderly women, wherein she sees how an aesthetics of expressivity beautifully represents ageing as transformation. In my presentation I will try to portray the elderly women's faces in The Last Dance by simply asking what we see in this documentary and, moreover, which terms could help us describe the ageing face.

15:45-16  Closing