Senior Power :“T’ain’t Funny, McGee.”

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Sunday October 10, 2010 - 10:19:00 AM

Candidates running for election in the November election are invited to email to Senior Power ( ) a statement of your “platform” regarding senior citizens, -- e.g. housing, health, transportation. If you are running for re-election, please describe the h ighlights of your record on issues important to seniors.  

Deadline Oct. 13. xxxx 

Every Tuesday evening at 79 Wistful Vista, Molly McGee piped up “T’ain’t funny, McGee.” Fibber McGee and Molly were funny. But, a re dirty old men and raging grannies funny? Laugh, old boy/old girl. Or you’ll be accused of lacking a sense of humor.  

“Harry and Tonto,” the well known 1974 comedy cum drama, is about an old man (Art Carney) who has been evicted from his apartment. He decides to take Tonto, his cat, and head cross country to live with one of his grandchildren. (Never a great idea.) Harry has numerous encounters with assorted people along the way. This familiar scenario supposedly portrays old men’s experiences. (“Old” is 70 and over, “Old Old” is over 85 years, per Chaparral House Administrator KJ Page.) 

Humor can be verbal, visual or physical. Though ultimately decided by personal taste, the extent to which an individual will find something humorous depends upon variables that include geographical location, culture, maturity, education level, intelligence and context. Humor supposedly plays a safety valve role, providing institutionalized outlets for hostilities and for discontent ordinarily suppressed by the group. Like ageism, racism, sexism... 

Research suggests that the Victor Meldrews of this world enjoy complaining about the young because it boosts their self-esteem. Victor Meldrew is the male lead in the PBS comedy series “One Foot in the Grave.”  

Far from feeling down about the younger generation's lifestyle and behavior, the elderly reportedly revel in their misfortune. According to one study, when given a choice, older people prefer to read negative views, rather than positive news, about young adults. ["The Victor Meldrew effect: a good moan makes elderly feel better," by Richard lleyne, Daily Telegraph [London], August 31, 2010.] 

Nein, respond German researchers: the archetypal grumpy old man portrayed by Victor Meldrew is a myth. They studied elderly people and found them to be happier than the young. “Older people and younger people have different goals when they use the media, and it shows in what they choose to read.” Living in a youth-centered culture, they may appreciate a boost in self-esteem. That’s why they prefer the negative stories about younger people, who are seen as having a higher status in our society. [The results of Professor Knobloch-Westerwick’s study appear in the September 2010 Journal of Communication.] 

English researchers report having discovered that people in general are mentally healthier in their later years despite problems associated with old age and impending death. Far from dwelling on a halcyon view of the past or a bleak future, pensioners (English senior citizens and elders are often referred to as “pensioners”) have learned to live in the moment and adopt a "life is too short" attitude to negative feelings. Their problems may be greater—due to ill health and age-related decline—but researchers claim they are better able to deal with them because of experience.  


Filmmaker Bent Hamer’s (1956- ) “ Kitchen Stories ” ( Salmer fra kjøkkenet, 2004 ) was the Norwegian Academy Award submission for Best Foreign Language Film. Like his “O’Horten,” “Kitchen Stories” is a heartwarming blend of amusing and clever circumstances. In particular, it is about two men -- one old and one middle-aged. 

The opening scenes at the Home Research Institute testing center are droll. It has been discovered that the average Swedish housewife while preparing her family’s meals annually walks the equivalent distance from Stockholm to the Congo. So observers are sent to a rural Norwegian district to map out the kitchen routines of single men…  

Folke Nilsson (Tomas Nordstrom) is assigned to study the kitchen habits of not-young farmer Isak Bjørvik (Joachim Calmeyer, 1931- ), who lives alone. The rules require Folke to sit on a tennis umpire's chair in Isak's kitchen and observe, but never to speak. At night he retires to a small Airstream-like camper parked next to the house. 

Isak stops using his kitchen, and observes Folke through a hole in the ceiling. The two lonely men slowly overcome their initial post-World War II Norwegian-Swedish distrust and become friends. I disagree with the media description of Isak as cantankerous. I so liked Isak and Folke.  

The ending is unclear. Is it intentionally ambiguous or simply open-ended, requiring us to think about these people? Isak’s beloved horse’s sickness has made him sad. We see the horse taken away. Not to the glue factory, we hope… perhaps for veterinary care. And is that an ambulance or a mortician’s limousine waiting in the dusk in front of Isak’s house? Segue from the cold snowy winter night scene to Scandinavian summer. Folke is living in Isak’s house and making tea in the kitchen.  

“O’Horten” is a later (2007) Bent Hamer film, also with English subtitles. Advertising and most reviewers don’t seem to “get the picture” at all! Entertainment Weekly is “grateful for every unexpected, sideways moment of deadpan charm;” another reviewer considers it “a picaresque tale.” Odd Horton is definitely not impassive or expressionless. Even the DVD cover- photograph of a goofy-looking, old feller lugging a calf-life dog does a disservice to the delightful, self-sufficient and resourceful old man portrayed with dignity by Baard Owe (1936- ) . Odd Horton aka “O’Horten” is a likeable guy, a self-sufficient (OK, he’s Nordic), reliable train engineer who lives alone. Now he is retiring after 40 years of service. We get to view and ponder several experiences that occur on the evening of his retirement dinner. The film’s ending is perfect. I’ll say no more. 


Older men may be at risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, earlier in life than older women, according to information from the National Institute on Aging. A Mayo Clinic NIH-supported study suggests gender differences in cognition problems. MCI development and progression is more common in older men than older women, and it is consistently higher in men than women across all age ranges. Why is this important information? "Because evidence indicates that Alzheimer's disease may cause changes in the brain one or two decades before the first symptoms appear, there is intense interest in investigating MCI and the earliest stages of cognitive decline," according to NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. "While more research is needed, these findings indicate that we may want to investigate differences in the way men and women develop MCI, similar to the way stroke and cardiovascular disease risk factors and outcomes vary between the sexes." 

Researchers conducted in-person evaluations of 1,969 randomly selected 70-to 89-year-olds living in Olmsted County, Minn. The group was evenly split between men and women, who were predominantly white. These findings may not apply to other ethnic groups, but results of the study indicated that: 

  • A greater number of years spent in school was significantly associated with decreased MCI prevalence, from 30 percent among participants with less than nine years of education to just 11 percent in those with more than 16 years of education.
  • MCI prevalence was higher in participants who never married, as opposed to those currently or previously married.

Elders in the News 

Pat Cody, longtime Berkeley resident, feminist, bookstore owner and health activist, died on September 30, age 87. Her obituary appears elsewhere in the Planet. The Berkeley Public Library’s collection has: “Cody's Books: the life and times of a Berkeley bookstore, 1956-1977” by Pat and Fred Cody, published in 1992, and “ Pat Cody, Her Contributions In Health, Peace And Politics: An Interview” by Alice Hamburg in 1986. DES Action was one of the first issue-specific groups that arose from the women's health movement. It was founded in 1977 by mother-daughter team Pat and Nora Cody, responding to a crisis caused by the finding that DES (which had been given to millions of pregnant women between 1938-1971 to prevent miscarriage) caused cancer and serious reproductive tract abnormalities in these women's daughters. 

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