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Writers and TV Shows Reveal Pain of Aging

In 1975, a 63-year-old Elizabeth Bishop wrote to her long-time friend and fellow poet Robert Lowell, who was then 58 and just two years from his death. "I'm going to be very impertinent and aggressive," she wrote. "Please, please don't talk about old age so much, my dear old friend! You are giving me the creeps." In many ways, Bishop's admonition of Lowell is the perfect expression of a particular antagonism toward the changes and challenges brought on by aging. This discomfort isn't simply garden-variety fear, or even denial, but an insurgency-like resistance.

You see this attitude about growing older reflected in pop culture today. A recent USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism study looked at the 100 top-grossing films of 2015 and found that older characters were often discussed with ageist and "troubling" language, and that senior citizens are underrepresented in the medium. Popular music is, and has always been, dominated by the young, and TV rarely focuses on the lives of people older than 60 with the same nuance it reserves for the young. There are exceptions of course, but because of this broader cultural antipathy, the inner lives of late-middle age and elderly Americans remain the unexamined deep sea of the culture.

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