A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the insidious subtlety of ageist language. Now and then, however, something turns up that is so blatant and egregiously repellent that you need to go back for a second and even third read to be certain you understood it correctly.
Mary Jamison forwarded a story about the Kindle, Amazon's electronic book and magazine reader. It's easiest to just show you the headline:
This appeared on 1 May 2009 at a website named 24/7 Wall Street. The reporter, Douglas A. McIntyre, may not have written that headline – editors often do that – but according to the byline, he did write the story and it is pockmarked with equally ageist bigotry. Some examples:
“People who should have fixed habits including reading physical books using reading glasses are buying an electronic book reader instead.”
“An issue of The Reader’s Digest for Kindle costs only $1.25, but that is a publication for older people, as are most of the Kindle magazines which include old people favorites Forbes, The Atlantic, and US News.”
“...old people with money are the largest consumers of a number of things besides multivitamins and sweaters...”
“...a great many of the people driving dangerously fast cars are in their late fifties and their sixties.”
“The Kindle is being bought by mature and well-to-do consumers. Amazon will just have to live with that.”
Nearly every sentence of this short, 550-word story contains a disparaging shot at elders. (I wonder if Douglas A. McIntyre kicks his grandmother – if he ever bothers to visit her.)
According to the rare fact contained in this diatribe against elders, from a Gallup poll, 50 percent of people who use Kindles are older than 50. Twenty-seven percent are older than 60. And according to Mr. McIntyre in that final quotation above, Amazon may not want potential customers to know that. Or, it is equally possible that McIntyre might be unfairly projecting his own prejudices on Amazon's marketing department.
Noting that Oprah Winfrey was born in the pre-historic year of 1954, McIntyre says it is understandable that Kindle sales spiked after she touted the reader on her television program because “most of the people who watch her on TV or read her magazine are probably middle aged or older.” (He is correct about that.)
If not for Douglas A. McIntyre's general prejudice against old people, this could have been a positive story – for the Amazon Kindle and elders.
Since it was supposed to be a business marketing piece, what if the headline had read, “Elders Boost Kindle Sales.” And what if the reporter had done the work he is paid for instead of just quoting two Gallup metrics, and had interviewed some old people about why they like the Kindle and how, since conventional wisdom dictates that elders can't learn new technology, they came to adopt it.
Apparently Doulas A. McIntyre is so deeply embedded in his bigotry that he couldn't see the real story in the Gallup numbers – that it is elders who are making Kindle the success it is so far.
Or maybe he just doesn't like old people butting in on technology he believes should belong to young people.
As to that headline, beyond its offensiveness, McIntyre or his editor needs a dictionary; it is unlikely that anyone who is “feeble” is using a Kindle.