Okay, maybe I've lost my sense of humor in my late seventies but there's one Superbowl ad that I hated, and it's the one that is getting the most attention. It featured the elderly but ever game Betty White as a football player who gets tackled and trounced on in the field, only to be transformed into a youthful male player when given some magical energy by a Snickers candy bar. The joke ad has an additional payoff when the young player is tackled again and turns into the seriously old Abe Vigoda.
What's the ad saying? That's it's a young man's worst nightmare to get old, first -- God help him -- as an old woman, then as a decrepit old man, both lying in the mud, looking weak and ridiculous -- only to be rescued by the magic of chocolate covered candy -- one that is sure to rot his teeth and his mind. I can see the geniuses at the ad agency thinking that one up. Grampa and Grandma tackled, roughed up and lying face down in the mud -- the decrepit duo knocked down and messed up by young football players -- America's gonna love that one. Well, here's an American who didn't. Later, while channel surfing, I stayed for a moment on a Family Guy adult cartoon in which Mike Tyson is beating up the octogenarian Carol Channing in a boxing match -- the emaciated Channing comes complete with her Hello Dolly voice -- a battered face under her wig, a cruel cartoon of the great Broadway performer -- who finally wins by sheer endurance of the beating, which finishes off Tyson in exhaustion. It's a laugh about her long survival, something which the cartoon scorns rather than celebrates.
Now I am not asking the Mad Men of today to bow down in awe before the accomplished elderly -- but they might take a break from literally beating them up as a gag ad. Guys, gals, you find contempt for the old in the culture, use it to make a buck or get a cruel laugh, and then let it ferment and fester in the world beyond show-biz, a world in which real violence is often committed against the real elderly. No, I can't take a joke, not yours.
The joke, my friends, is on you. I live in the same neighborhood as Mr.Vigoda and when I see him walking down the street or emerging from a bus he appears to be a man of dignity and quiet ways. I am sorry that he chose to make this ad but opportunity in the entertainment business for older actors, like older writers, is virtually non-existent. Betty White is a vibrant personality and a terrific actress -- full of what they used to call piss and vinegar. Neither deserves mockery but I'm sure they liked their salary and could be convinced that it was all in good fun. Okay, say it -- "Can't you take a joke?" No, I can't, when it encourages a dangerous contempt for the elderly and suggests that acts of violence against them make great comedy. I promise you -- all you genius copywriters and cartoonists -- if you get lucky you get old. Sure, you'll face age discrimination -- maybe lose your jobs -- find work hard if not impossible to get -- and have to deal with the impatience of the young to get you off the scene -- but if you are real lucky you'll have some toddler grand-daughters as I do who don't see you as a joke -- but as a full human being who's smart enough to enjoy the wonder of their lives and still not eat that Snickers bar.