Terence Blacker: When the old are there to be laughed at

Those who refuse to play the jokey part required of them tend to get punished

Share

It's looking increasingly likely that the grizzled seer of the baby-boomer generation, Martin Amis, was on to something when he predicted a coming civil war between the old and the young. The problem, he said, moving into metaphor overdrive, was a "silver tsunami" of old people, "like an invasion of terrible immigrants stinking out restaurants and shops".

Today it is not just shops and restaurants that are being stunk out by the old. They are invading prime-time television. Reality TV shows, something of a window into the national soul, have discovered a new appetite among viewers for watching well-known senior citizens making an ass of themselves in front of the cameras.

These things can, admittedly, be very funny. The craving of a minor celebrity for publicity, however demeaning, makes for great TV; when that celebrity is on the slippery slope that leads to old age, with a creaky body, fading looks and a career in intensive care, only the truly virtuous or humourless will be able to look away.

The silver tsunami is about to hit the ITV show I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. The forthcoming series, whose cast has just been announced, has something of the look of a an old lags' outing. Stefanie Powers (actress, 69), Willie Carson (ex-jockey, 68) and Freddie Starr (stand-up comedian, 68) will lead the line-up that will be tottering across the famous rope bridge. These contestants will provide "charisma, jokes and life experience", ITV have said, but viewers know the truth. We shall not be laughing with them, but at them.

It's Strictly Come Dancing that has revealed how touching and amusing it can be to watch game old things refusing to act their age. When a brave, carefully preserved actress in her sixties simpers to the camera and is then thrown around the dance floor by a muscular young partner, it makes viewers feel younger themselves. When the buffer of the moment, John Sergeant or Russell Grant or Ann Widdecombe, is cheered, with only a touch of irony, by the studio audience, it is a warning of what lies ahead.

At best, the old generation emerge from these programmes as game losers. Those who refuse to play the jokey part required of them tend to get punished. When a young and smooth-faced judge – Alesha Dixon – told Nancy Dell'Olio recently that her legs were too far apart ("and that's not very feminine"), the laughter that followed, and the stories in the press, were all about age.

Perhaps the new national pastime – watching ageing celebrities dance in tight costumes or eat kangaroo's balls in a "jungle" – marks the start of Martin Amis's generational civil war, but fought out on our TV screens.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Unbiased': Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
Crofter's cottages on Lewis. The island's low population density makes it a good candidate for a spaceport (Alamy)  

My Scottish awakening, helped by horizontal sleet

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police