Age – Media

Lesson objectiveTo explore how age is represented
Lesson outcomes• Assess difference in representations of age
• Evaluate the impact
• Explain how age is represented

Approaches of portrayal in the media

Reflective approach:

Representations of people are simply mirrors of real life.

Intentional approach:

Producers shape reality and current reality exists showcasing these depictions.

Constructionist approach:

This consists of two stages. 1) The media shapes reality and depictions of individuals. 2) These depictions are either accepted or rejected by society.

Young Children

The website above demonstrates 7 key ways stereotypes are displayed about young children.

Children are displayed as :

Victims, Research by the Howard’s League,

Little devils, Article by the Telegraph

Brilliant, Are you smarter than a 10 year old?

Accessories, Madonna’s Children

Having more distractions, Today’s children and technology

Little angels. Cute Babies


There are generally two very broad ways in which young people have been targeted and portrayed by the media in Britain.

  • There is a whole media industry aimed at socially constructing youth in terms of lifestyle and identity. Media companies are trying to materialise and digitalise youth so as to make a profit. Think about digitalising software and the integration of networking sites with videos such as “Tick Tock”.
  • Youth are often portrayed by news media as a social problem, as immoral or anti-authority and consequently constructed as folk devils as part of a moral panic – see below.

Wayne et al. (2008) conducted a content analysis of TV during May 2006. They found that the media portrays teenagers in a one-dimensional picture showing teens as a threat to society excluding any positivity. This distracts society from real issues such as homelessness etc. This means that youth are never taken seriously.

The concept of folk devils was introduced to sociology by Stan Cohen when he published his influential study on mods and rockers, Folk Devils and Moral Panics. Cohen argued that when the media reports on deviant behaviour they construct a narrative which features a clear villain: the folk devil. In the case of his study, the folk devils were the violent youth subcultures. The creation of folk devils can kickstart a moral panic.

Elderly people

The elderly

Research focusing on media representations of the elderly suggests that age is not the only factor that impacts on the way the media portrays people aged 65 and over. Newman (2006) notes that upper class and middle-class elderly people are often portrayed in television and film dramas as occupying high-status roles as world leaders, judges, politicians, experts and business executives. Moreover, news programmes seem to work on the assumption that an older male with grey in his hair and lines on his face somehow exudes the necessary authority to impart the news.

However, female newscasters, such as Anna Ford, have long complained that these older men are often paired with attractive young females, while older women newsreaders are often exiled to radio. Leading female film and television stars are also often relegated to character parts once their looks and bodies are perceived to be on the wane, which seems to be after the age of 40.

Cuddy and Fiske (2004), showed that the United States of America portrayed just 1.5% of its characters as elderly, usually in minor roles.

Biggs (1993), built on this and showed that in the United Kingdom, most portrayals of elderly people were negative such as being a burden, being forgetful etc.

Gender also plays a part. We will be looking at this in a section by itself, but it does link with age as older men are usually portrayed as being successful whilst women are invisible.

White et al. (2012), found that older viewers thought they were stereotyped in the media. Agencies were accused of ‘crossing the line’ focusing on older people moaning and being a burden.

Szmigin and Carrigan (2000), highlighted that the UK has an ageing population and therefore adverts are and will have to adapt and market to this audience. Adverts such as the Dove one below show this.

Assess how different ages are represented below:

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