In 1984, screaming teenagers celebrated the launch of the irreverent MTV Video Music Awards, and the popular movie Footloose preached freedom for young people against the tyranny of stuffy, middle-aged fogies. To be young was to be free and cool.
And to be older? Think Murder She Wrote, which also premiered in 1984, starring Angela Lansbury as an amateur detective. Neat, huh? Yet Washington Post critic Tom Shales described Lansbury’s character as “a diminutive old auntie” and a “cute and cuddly…granny Mary Poppins.” Lansbury was 58.
If 58 was “old,” what was 78, 88…98? Just plain sad. People in later life were likely to be viewed in terms of the four D’s: dependency, disease, disability and depression, wrote Kansas State University professor Rick J. Scheidt and colleagues in a 1999 article in the Journal of Applied Gerontology. Aging meant declining, and there was little positive about it.
Before the next century rolled around, however, that view would change.