In heart-breaking scenes filmed by a hidden camera, when a smart elderly couple walk into several major electronics stores looking for a new smartphone they’re ignored and scoffed at by young, male staff.
In a series of controlled experiments using actors earlier this year, it was a stark reminder showing how our elderly can often be treated, and ignored.
It could be your parents or grandparents, and it could be in any Australian city.
“We went into the shop and were waiting for quite some time,” the well-dressed elderly lady tells a camera crew afterwards.
“Other people came in and they were being served. We felt like the old fuddy, duddies who don’t really know and are not really worth coming to look after.
“If I show you how this one works, you’ll just forget it,” the salesman is recorded telling the couple.
“We do it all day with our own phones but we came out of there feeling particularly stupid,” the gentleman said sadly, telling viewers he had worked in the television repair business for 70 years.
In a ground-breaking new three-part SBS documentary series, What Does Australia Really Think About, groups of more than 2000 people were surveyed on disability, old people and obesity in separate university-based studies.
Stereotypes and misconceptions
The surveys helped paint a picture of stereotypes and misconceptions held by many, and then people’s opinions were “tested, hardened or challenged using a series of hidden camera experiments”.
The results are at first shocking and confronting, but just when we were in despair about humanity there were real moments of redemption where ordinary Australians stood up when they witnessed discrimination.
Asked to host the episode on ageism, beloved veteran actor and award-winning presenter Noni Hazlehurst, 68, told The New Daily she hopes the series – and her episode – will encourage people to be “less judgmental … and kinder”.
In anchoring the episode, Hazlehurst watches the hidden camera segments on her laptop at home. She has moments of shock, sadness and anger as she watches how old people are treated, whether it be in shops or applying for a job.
She would pause the video after each exchange, including one which involved the humiliation of a woman, 57, applying for a barista job at a trendy cafe.
The interviewer is played by an actor in his 20s. Within earshot of customers, the interview questions get increasingly “ageist”. Hazlehurst is shocked at the number of people who simply stood by and watched.
“I can imagine that happening,” she said. “Anyone over the age of 40 is going to find that attitude – ‘you’re too old, you’re too slow’.”
And a select group of 12 unsuspecting women, all asked a series of questions about their personal circumstances, candidly revealed their risks of homelessness and poverty due to part-time work, divorce, lack of superannuation and caring for others.
Shockingly, more than 400,000 women aged over 45 are at risk of homelessness, according to the episode’s findings.
Hazlehurst says the generational gap is nothing new, and she fears it’s getting worse.
“I think my profession only reflects the reality that is out there in the community, which is that women are under-represented, more marginalised, more quickly as they age … [and it’s not] exclusive to my profession,” she said.
Hazlehurst herself has felt the impact of ageism: “Absolutely … once you turn 40 or 50 you’re regarded as less interesting or less worthy of attention.
Standard, dismissive cliches
“The younger characters will have a full and complete character description and the older characters will be granny or mum. Typical!
“Why can’t we put as much thought into creating a three-dimensional character who’s over the age of 50?
“The cliche that often abounds, the way older people are often depicted [in roles], they’re either dying or a bit batty, a bit forgetful or a problem.
“There’s very few older characters [roles] written that are women who are interesting and living interesting lives who have interesting stories to tell,” she says of the disturbing reality for many in television and film industry.
The survey on ageism, with the findings reviewed by Queensland University’s clinical geropsychologist Professor Nancy A. Pachana, found 31 per cent of Australians over 55 said they sometimes felt invisible to society, while 72 per cent agreed that older people are often lonely.
And 51 per cent of people agreed that age-based discrimination is common in Australia, a frightening statistic given that by 2050, 22 per cent of Australians will be aged 65 or over.
“I think this divisiveness that we’re suffering under now, which seems to be getting magnified, this us and them, it really impacts older people very much, because we’re the easiest ones to dispense with, and that’s really sad,” Hazlehurst says.
“Everyone has a story. And the more you find out about them, the more interesting they become. But if you don’t ask the questions, they’re just a blank canvas to you.”
So how did the shopping trip end?
A young male staff member patiently explains and recommends that an iPad might be better for them, explaining its capabilities and technology.
“That young man, he earned gold stars. What was so lovely was that young man made one feel comfortable. I felt like I was on a high … I felt good about myself,” the lady said.
“How rejuvenated were the couple when they encountered a young man who was interested,” said Hazlehurst, who observed the lady had “really been seen”.
“Their whole demeanour changed. A little bit of empathy and human interaction can brighten everyone’s day.
“Its not rocket science,” she says.
The first episode on disability is hosted by Paralympian Kurt Fearnley, and the third in the series on obesity is hosted by 2004 Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan.
What Does Australia Really Think About … premieres 8.30pm Wednesday August 18 on SBS and SBS On Demand, and Old People with Noni Hazlehurst airs on August 25.