Home Book Collections Problematic Stories of Youth Saviorism Stigmatizing Older Adults

Problematic Stories of Youth Saviorism Stigmatizing Older Adults

via Ashia

Unpacking Youth Saviorism: Discussion Questions

As we go through this next series of books where older adults are depicted as incompetent buffoons, discuss with your kids:

  • Who is centered? Who has agency and control?
    • Who has problems? Who solves the problems?
  • Who is depicted as stubborn and cranky?
    • Who is depicted as smart and vibrant?
    • Does the story give external reasons for these dispositions, or are we to assume this is the character’s natural state?
  • Why does the older person need a young person to help them? Why couldn’t they have solved the problem on their own?
  • What does it teach us about older people that they couldn’t come up with this basic solution on their own?
  • Who is a burden, and who is a hero?
  • Why did the author make this book? Who did they make it for?
  • Who is hurt by this book?
  • Does this book make you look forward to getting older, or does it make getting older seem scary and sad?

There are books out there that celebrate interage relationships and interdependence with respect and mutual support – which we can talk about in a future article. The books below are not those.

Silly Tilly’s Thanksgiving Dinner

Tilly is completely incompetent.

The maker chose to depict her as a mole with huge glasses and a puffy white hat. Both of my kids confirmed – she codes as old and blind. Bigots like to use animal coding as a way to benefit from stereotypes because it’s not about an older disabled person. But it is. These stereotypes hurts older people and people with disabilities. You know it, I know it. The kids know it.

Tilly can’t hold a thoguht long enough to do any small task. Instead of accomodating her disabilities and offering support, everyone goes along with it, and things happen to work out serendipitously. I’m sure there’s a shortcut word for this trope already, but I don’t know it. So let’s just call it the Mr. Magoo trope.

This trope shows us that people with disabilities & older people are too stubborn and ignorant to seek help or work around their disabilities, and this makes them a liability for the rest of us. While things work out in the end – because this is kidlit and comedy – it’s just pure luck, but stresses the heck out of all the ‘regular’ people around them.

Story: Old and disabled people are a burden. At best, they can get lucky, and we can have a few laughs watching them bumble. But really, we should be managing them because they can’t manage themselves.

Oh right. Since this is a Thanksgiving book, there’s also the whitewashing.

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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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