Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Group Identity and Stereotypes

Pensioner – Pensioners have a very negative image. ‘Pensioner’ conjures up a group of white-haired elderly people, probably having lost many of their faculties, perhaps living in retirement homes – all sat in chairs around a room. Social events portrayed are usually things like bingo or lunch clubs. Many of the problems that pensioners face – poverty, isolation, ill-health are real and contribute to this image. If older people are active and leading interesting lives they are often treated in a very patronizing manner, particularly by the media. There are numerous older people living rewarding and constructive lives, but as a group they are generally considered apart and not on the same wavelength as the rest of the population.

Pensioner Space.
In America there are ‘retirement communities’ where the whole population is over 55. Although at first sight these look a bit like ‘the Trueman Show’, there are many benefits for people living in these communities. You have to be quite comfortably off to afford to live in such a place, but the facilities are excellent, there are sports activities and social activities of all kinds and they are set in large acreages, often in areas with a good climate such as Florida. Here pensioners do not have to face the many difficulties of the wider world that older people often fear– random crime, aggression, isolation. However it is very false to live with such a limited range of similar people in a small community.

Southerner. I was born in Brighton and consider myself a southerner and feel more at home in the south. The general image of southerners, particularly those from the south east is probably slightly stand-offish and well-off as opposed to friendly, down-to-earth northerners with ever open doors. These are both a false stereotypes, but reinforced by advertising and television programmes.
I lived in Norfolk for 25 years, a county notorious for being unwelcome to non-Norfolk people and having a ‘drawbridge’ mentality. Geography is often cited as the reason for the closedness of Norfolk society – Norfolk is not on the way to anywhere else, it is the end of the road. I had a good life there and did have some good friends who were Norfolk-born, but most of my friends were incomers whose husbands job’s had taken them to Norfolk and who were more open to outsiders. The Norfolk accent is very particular. Regional (and class) accents are another way a group of people can recognise each other and join together or exclude others.

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