The Old People on Strike and the Old People with Selfie Sticks: Two Figures of the Senior Citizen*


What is the image of our Lolas and Lolos at a time when most of the raves of society center on the youth: the confident and rose-colored youth chasing their dreams, the youth maximizing their potential while they are still at their prime, the youth making the most out of their time, partying “like it’s the end of the world?” How do the old look like beside the image of the youth as adventurous, enthusiastic and brimming with potential and capabilities? Not only with their physical condition but also with their role in society that one can speak of diminishment when it comes to the old.  Signifying a phase past peak of bodily powers and past the productive years, the state of being old and doting is not highly preferred. This valuation can partly explain the slightly different terms that are made to apply to them –from the senior citizen discounts to how we usually behave around them.

However, this picture is not something solid or fixed; it is not something that completely blocks twisting maneuvers or actual alternative representations. Two diametrically opposite ways can show how this common limning of the old as senile, unproductive or taciturn are skirted. One, there is the recent outbursts of defiance from the old, from our senior citizens in light of events that had directly concerned or directly concerns them: the prevalence of comfort women during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines and the Presidential veto of the SSS Pension Hike. Then on the other side, there is the framing of old people in TV advertisements which follows the logic of profiteering. Here, they are shown as nimble, quick-footed and active but with a catch: they are situated on the world of commerce and hence become instrumental in the promotion of certain products. The perverse meaning is looming: it is as if the old can only be spry and active when they have commercial products in hand. In terms of media’s representation, the old can only be salvaged from their state of senility or boredom if they can be used to advance the interests of capital. This is not the same in the first case where it can be argued that behind the display of defiance is a more personal stake.

The Old: Indignant on the Streets

Two events last January were particularly momentous for the senior citizens of the country. The first one was President Noynoy Aquino’s veto of the SSS pension hike bill last January 12 and the second one was the visit of Japanese Emperor Akihito to the Philippines on the last week of the month. In both events, the aged have come out not just to defy the common depictions of them but more vitally, to vent out their anger with a President’s indifference to their situation and his tacit defense of the corporatized nature of the SSS and with the horrid memories activated by an Emperor’s visit.

In both cases, the old took out their indignation into the streets. In the Facebook page of BAYAN (New Patriotic Alliance), we can see the throng of old people raising posters which states “2000 Ibigay Na!” What is notable is that it is not just old people who constituted the protest activity. They were joined by other people from various age brackets. The issue of the SSS Pension Hike does not just concern the old, the current pensioners of the program. It is an issue that affects all Filipino workers and their families.

SSS Mula sa Bayan FB Page
Call for Increase in SSS Pension Hike (Mula sa Facebook page ng BAYAN (New Patriotic Alliance))

When Akihito visited the country, the old were again present in the outcry. In this picture again taken from BAYAN’s Facebook page, we can see old women acting as vanguards in the protest. Embodying the iconic gesture of protest – the clenched fist – the old women were again joined here by people of different ages and genders. While their one hand is clenched, the other is holding a front-running banner which declares “Never Again to Another Generation of Comfort Women!”

Women 3
The Old: In Protest

Right at the first month of the year, the old show neither sign of holiday tipsiness nor the common ascription of lack of productivity. Their visibly militant involvement in protests as shown above squarely mocks the limiting attributions of domesticity or retreat. Here they are –festive in one image, fierce in the other – but single-minded in both, raising their hands and voices for a common purpose.

The Old: Consuming the Latest Trends

At the other end of the divide, there is the old, framed in commercials following the logic of selling and consuming. There was Lolo Gusting in a commercial for a fast food chain, amazing his fellow Lolos who happened to be talking about their marathon, with his selfie stick. With this trendy, if not youthful device, Lolo Gusting was able to capture himself and the two other Lolos who earlier taunted him as “may rayuma.” Eventually, we will see that the joke is on the two other Lolos as evinced not just by their addled looks in the picture Lolo Gusting has taken of them, but also of how they altered their description of Lolo Gusting (may “gayuma” not “rayuma”). What brought them to this conclusion? It was Lolo Gusting winning the attention of a Lola who said “Ang cute” upon seeing Gusting’s selfie stick. As the commercial ends, we can see Lolo Gusting and the Lola sharing sundaes at the background while also taking selfies.

The ad does not just poke the common image of the old; it inverts this image. The old are pictured as up-to-the-trends of the (youthful) times. The same can be seen in Lola Techie who briefly got famous via her commercial for an Internet service provider. “Like” has become her quick expression, something she exclaims while pruning the plants, baking cupcakes and even up to her sleep. These ads seem to be saying that in order for them to be presentable again, the old must aspire to be youthful, to get back to their prime, active online or flirting in some fastfood chain. Further, their regaining of ‘presentability’ is not really done for them: it is done for the peddling of products or services; it is done for the interests of capital.

Diverging Approaches, Different Ends

When seen via these two modes – the first one, associated with the militant Left and the second linked with unabashed capitalism – another significant question is how the old is represented in relation to  other people, how are they positioned in the society at large?

To those invested primarily in profiteering, the logic of the niche market entails it to isolate the sector of old people as another set of potential purchasers to target. That is why in most advertisements where the old figure; their presence is highly emphasized, even usually totally erasing their relations with people from other sectors or age bracket. Ironically, this does not mean that the product is being peddled to old people alone. Niche marketing is not the only operating strategy in business. As in the case of the ads for the fastfood chain and the Internet service provider, the featuring of old characters can be seen as the businesses’ gesture to show how diverse their potential market is or can be.

On the contrary, the way the old people figure in the protests organized by the militant Left does not treat them in isolation. Instead, they are shown as working in concert with other sectors of society – people from various backgrounds, ages or genders – sharing a sentiment and call to action. Solidarity is in place instead of sequestration. Here, as they exhibit their spryness, their strongly motivated mobility and their activity, they do it not to sell some product. In these protests, the show of spryness and strength – bodily or otherwise – of the old are motivated by their personal interests or stances – decent pension wages, condemnation of injustices in the past – which are also interests and stances of large portions of society.

Here, what they share with the younger people is not a superficial possession of a gadget or an expression that sprang from the “youthful” digital media. What they share with the young is that enthusiastic showing of potential and capability to call out the State in the face of oppressive memories and systematic disregard of their welfare.

*This piece was published in Northern Dispatch Weekly’s February 7 issue (available online too) but they were not able to include the images.

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