Home Book Collections Problematic Stories of Youth Saviorism Stigmatizing Older Adults

Problematic Stories of Youth Saviorism Stigmatizing Older Adults

via Ashia

Mr. Tempkin Climbs a Tree

The young protagonist in this story is obsessed with his friend’s age.

It feels like one of those white people who talk about me being Chinese all the time. Yes. We get it. I am your token friend/co-worker/family. Talking to me while adeptly avoiding the use of most slurs makes you a better person. A Not-Racist Person. Ugh. (It doesn’t.)

This kid kicks off every conversation with “How old are you?” or some comment about his age. He relates every single thing this dude does to his advanced age.

The moral of the story is – hanging out with older adults is a gift that young people must bestow as a good deed. Young people are tasked with saving older people from a  miserable life of peace and quiet and not having young people constantly othering them.

The kid asks weird comments about how being old must be hard. Not because of like, the medical model of aging, hostile bigotry in public and business environments, or medical negligence. Just being old. The natural state of tragic oldness.

The author goes on to perpetuate stereotypes about the bland, inactive, and navel-gazing life of older adult. He spends his days smelling roses, walking, listening to birds, and hanging out with this child. These are “the things that keep me going,” which I guess he needs due to the tragedy of not being young.

There’s no deeper story about mindfulness or having had decades to learn what really matters. The reader is left to read bird-listening and flower-gazing as boring stuff left for older people who are boring.

Despite being active, optimistic, handsome, outgoing and vital gentleman who might want to talk about stuff other than his age, we’re supposed to see Mr. Tempkin as man past his prime, just puttering around, getting himself into things he can’t extract himself from, waiting to die.

The climax begins with the kid telling this grown-ass man that he is ‘too old‘ to climb a tree, as if Mr. Tempkin is too ignorant to know his limitations. This is all a set-up to prove the kid right. This foolish, benevolent old man! He falls out of the tree. Of course he does.

We had an opportunity here. When Mr. Tempkin decides to adjust a bird feeder, and the kid is  like “aren’t you too old to climb a tree?” and Mr. Tempkin is like “nonsense.” This could be a turning point where this kid, being so obsessed with this guy’s age, gets a TWIST. We could have learned how older people know their own bodies, strengths, and limitations.

But NOPE. The steaming hot and stinky moral of this story is that older adults need supervision, rescue, and “Climbing trees is not for old men, and I guess I’m just a foolish old man.”

The book goes downhill from here – he can’t push his own wheelchair and the kid offers to help, making the kid ‘a mensch’ as opposed to ‘a decent freaking human who does the very basics of assisting a friend who asks for help.

(I go into more detail on the problems of setting the bar for ‘goodness’ so low as letting an older woman get on the bus first over here.)

“Dad says that spending time with Mr. Templin is a mitzvah” I wonder why the makers tell us whether spending quality time with a good friend your own age could also be a mitzvah. (I don’t really wonder. We all know it’s because this author thinks hanging with older people is an act of heroism, not a mutually beneficial friendship of equals.)

Also see: Say Hello, Lily, which contains more of that ‘being around old people is favor’ plus a nice heap of gerontophobia and the message that all older people belong in nursing homes. Eventually Lily realizes that older people are people too! It’s a icky combo of terribly boring and terribly condescending, toward readers of all ages.

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3 observations

Adelaide Dupont February 6, 2020 - 1:21 PM

Intellectual humility – a great virtue I learnt late and I learnt hard.

It’s all about letting your self be vulnerable; trusting people know more than you do or at least different things that you do. And not blaming or shaming.

I didn’t really have a handle on humility until I was 28 and in the early 2010s on a site exploring feminism. I think intellectual humility recognizes that you’re in a community of equals that you had a hand in creating too.

And for a long time I thought it was only about appearing/sounding humble and not trying to make other people feel more stupid than they may have felt already.

As as the Eartquakes are realising it is also about experiencing pain and powerlessness and not covering for it.

And kids do start out intellectually humble. You can also just know a little more than them and fight knowledge poverty together and close gaps.

Yes, the ways we do this for and with kids are very often contrived and artificial.
sometimes there is a fear – or the kids experience the fear – what if I really am the smartest person in the room and I don’t know what to do? What if I can’t use this privilege well according to my values? What if my community is cutting me down.

Our elders experience these things too. Still!

And I liked the way you pointed out the ways in which post_truth is analogous to normal developmental experiences of five and seven year olds.

PAternalism/maternalism – and a lot of kids start to be parentified or take on parentified roles at this age. They see their parents’ capabilities decline/that the rents are less empowered in other spheres. And their empathy/sympathy develops.

We do need to find ways to be on the kids’ sides without encouraging paternalism or saviorism. Our seniors take on long and deep views.

Do the Eartquakes spend time with seniors in the neighbourhood?

Ashia February 6, 2020 - 1:55 PM

Lots of thoughts to noodle on! Thank you!

For us – the Earthquakes don’t spend time with _anyone_ in our neighborhood. Because of our disabilities, and our lack of local family or social support, we can’t even go to the grocery store. Their grandparents are too busy for us and don’t have time (or patience) to deal with the hyperactive earthquake. I gave up on leaving the house except for private meetings and picking kids up at the bus stop years ago – the cutting remarks and gasps and evil looks just wear me out. The social calculus is just too much, and I end up having meltdowns. These days, if we’re really in a good space, I can take _one_ kid to the library with me, or both kids to an outdoor event for kids, but only if we have both parents – also hard with both of us working overtime.

If it was more accessible, I’d start with attending intergenerational events at our local library – but those same events aren’t accessible for folks with social disabilities. It would be lovely if we had opportunities to interact with older adults who know and understand neuro disabilities, but alas – the median mortality for folks with our disability is 36. If they haven’t died yet, they’ve survived by becoming reclusive and hiding their disabilities.

Adelaide Dupont February 6, 2020 - 1:32 PM

And about being old and about being shitty – how being old is being used as code for being shitty.

One of the things I regret most int my writing is not promoting the circular economy – clothes and fast fashion are very easy to dismiss as being old.

Furniture is easier for me to represent as being emblatic of an era.

And the whole veteran and vintage circuit – for example, cars!

Then I think of J K Rowling and how she laughs at history. And all the historical fiction I have read/am reading.

And the 94-year-old Japanese woman whose children were captured in North Korea. WHy do I only pay attention to these awesome people when they are dead or dying?

It is ‘t about how we young and younger people can benefit from wisdom – it’s like a quarry if we think that way.

And all the 90+ year olds I have been privileged to live alongside. think too, how seniors are represented in rural and regional communities.


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