The world’s population is growing considerably older and will continue doing so. Despite this demographic trend, in neo-liberal western cultures old age is often linked to notions of dependency, frailty and decline. This view is not surprising in societies in which the individuals’ value is predominantly determined by ones’ productivity and consumption power. However, understanding older age as something negative generates, regardless of age, fear of the physical and mental changes related to ageing. Consequently, latest from middle age much energy is spent on staying young and fit as long as possible. To match the standards of successful ageing albeit looking and acting youthfully, requires much of the individual and leads to the marginalisation of anyone who cannot or does not want to satisfy these standards.
My analysis of the action film trilogy The Expendables is aimed at exploring the cultural narratives revealed in the portrayals of older male characters in these films. Subsequently film scenes significant for the cultural narratives of ageing and masculinity identified will be used to facilitate semi-structured interviews with six retired German men who, when in employment, met the current hegemonic masculinity ideal of being white, affluent, middle- and upper-class managers. This will allow insights into the experience of specific retired German men with the cultural narratives of male ageing within a German cultural setting and answer the question if the masculinity scripts presented in The Expendables trilogy aid these men in construing acceptable identities for themselves.
A better understanding of the mechanisms involved in the way older men are portrayed in Hollywood action films and of how older men see themselves – topics unrepresented in the academic discussion of ageing - is hoped to contribute to changes in the fear-laden view of ageing. This could facilitate the construction of meaningful, positive and progressive life-course narratives across the entire life-span and lead to a more equal and fruitful participation of seniors in society.
DECLINING TO DECLINE
Lisa Nike Bühring