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Birthday cards about aging: the joke lands with some, not others

A collection of birthday cards with "over the hill" themes. There has been a growing backlash against such cards and their messages.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

This persistent ageism is no laughing matter

Re “To them, the punchline is just plain old mean” by Robert Weisman (Page A1, Sept. 27): When older adults, men and women alike, find themselves the butt of jokes as the recipients of harsh birthday cards, many don’t like them. A 2008 survey found that almost 250 people over 60, asked about the form of ageism that most bothers them, complained in the greatest numbers about jokes.

All the victims of the body-based biases are caricaturable to somebody privileged to laugh. But other caricatures — of, for example, Jews, Blacks, Polish people — have become unacceptable. Racist comedy can get you called out or fired. Sexism can, too. Ageism? The punchlines keep coming.


So-called humor epitomizes deficits of older people: their adult children dislike them, their bodies are ugly, they drive although nearly blind. “Humor” dehumanizes. It primes us to accept that older adults live in “God’s waiting room,” as the governor of Florida said about the residents of his state early in the COVID-19 pandemic, repeating a longtime disparaging joke about Florida’s large retiree population.

On a birthday, somebody who supposedly loves you says you are one of the obstinate or desexed (any baby boomer card). Inappropriate birthday cards appear on a day that is supposed to highlight appreciation of your continuing presence on earth. The campaign against this meanness? I’d call it “No Longer Laughing.”

Margaret Morganroth Gullette


The writer is the author of “Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People.”

For this couple, it’s gentle ribbing — rib-tickling, too

Robert Weisman’s article on birthday cards and ageism resonated with me since my husband and I just recently celebrated his birthday. We’ve been married for 23 years. He is a bit older than I am, which has provided great fodder and gentle ribbing over the years.


Did I give him what I thought was a funny “oh boy, you’re getting older” card? Guilty as charged. Did he laugh? Absolutely. Not only that, but he wanted to send the identical card to his childhood friend who is turning his same age this month. Will he be offended? Not a bit.

In our case, the card is not ageist at all. It is playful and, dare I say, loving. As is the case with most things in life, intention makes all the difference.

Brenda Scott