Images of Aging, Cultural Representations of Later Life

  • Chappell N
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The central theme of the book, how images of aging reflect and effect the culture of their time, is evident in virtually all of the articles, starting with part 1 on historical and comparative perspectives. Achenbaum's re-visitation of his own co-authored pictorial of old age in America from 1790-1970 presents changes he would make now 20-some years later. In so doing, he demonstrates how the images of aging have changed, including a greater emphasis on gender and on ethnic diversity. [Mike Featherstone] and Hepworth's examination of Retirement Choice magazine, points out how the new positive image of aging depicts primarily the young old, seldom the old-old, presenting the body as a machine that can be serviced and repaired. This image of old age is consistent with both consumerism of the current century, and includes within it a denial of death and dying. Wada's article on Japan points out that while the occupation bureaucrats contributed towards a westernization of that country, it was so rapid and drastic that traditional notions remained embedded within the Japanese character structure. This explains the shift from patriarchy to paternalism as the origin of the image of the Japanese old as loved and respected. Katz's examination of the life-span from pre-modern to post-modern times reveals how views of longevity in enlightenment times resting upon personal discipline, moderation and diet, were replaced by 19th century medical perspectives of the body. The four chapters taken together portray vividly the cultural variation of images of aging both through time and from society to society The fifth part of the book focuses on the body, aging and technology. Featherstone's chapter examines the potential of virtual reality to extend disembodied interactions (currently taking place by telephone or computer network) to help meet the needs of the elderly faced with restricted mobility, impaired communication competence and other "bodily betrayals". Turner draws attention to the absence of a developed sociology of aging which he attributes to the absence of a sociology of the body. He argues that the crucial sociological issue in the aging process is the contradictory relationship between a subjective sense of inner usefulness and an exterior process of biological aging; a disjuncture that constitutes personal tragedy.

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  • Neena L Chappell

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