Specialist in Issues of Midlife & Older Adults

Monthly Archives: March 2013

“The baby-boom is over and the ageing shock awaits’’: populist media shapes this image

‘‘The baby-boom is over and the ageing shock
awaits’’: populist media imagery in news-press
representations of population ageing”


from the International Journal of Ageing and Later Life, 2011 6(2): 3971.




From the authors:


“We work from the supposition that media is one of the most important sources of information (cf. Curran 2002; McLuhan 1967; McQuail 2005; Schudson 2003), especially regarding phenomena that the audience does not have any direct personal experience of. On the basis of previous research we also presuppose that media content has an impact on people regarding approaches to other persons and on the way society’s resource allocation is legitimised.”


Conclusions of the Swedish Study


The studied newspapers showed some minor differences in the way they represented population ageing. Such differences have been described as inherent in different newspaper types tabloids and newspapers and the former should not be criticised because it is unlike the latter (Connell 1998). Our main point is, however, that all the studied representations, taken together or studied separately, supported some central and partly collective features.


They unambiguously displayed population ageing as a threat, they appointed politicians and academics as experts rather than ‘‘ordinary people’’, ‘‘wage-earners’’ or ‘‘older people’’, and they seldom defined the concept of population ageing explicitly.


These features were built up and legitimised by a range of recurring patterns: the creation of
seriousness; the use of dichotomisation; and the use of emotion. While discourse theory has otherwise been said to be a blunt and abstract tool for analysing how language is used in interaction, it proved helpful for the aim of this article: to tease out and visualise the concrete articulations that constituted the aforementioned features and patterns.


The theorisation of populism by writers influenced by discourse theory further showed valuable in providing an explanation of the potential
political implications of the kinds of equivalences found in the material. Looking at the material from a perspective of populism, there were some complexities concerning the chain of equivalence constituting the ones
threatened by population ageing.


It consisted of two main positions: wageearners and older people. However, while wage-earners were exclusively positioned as threatened, the news-press did not offer any such unambiguous positions of identification for older people. Older people were rather positioned as floating signifiers  sometimes conceptualised as the one most affected, even victimised, by the threat of population ageing, and at other times described as actually being guilty of population ageing.


This floating character made it somewhat more difficult to link the positions within the chain of equivalence together, and to raise general demands in its name (cf. Griggs & Howarth 2008: 125). If the logic of populism in the news-press representations were to be truly populist in the theoretical sense of the word  and thus able to attract broader coalitions of people outside the news-press discourse, urging them to identify as a united collective raising collective demands as to what needs to be done in order to deal with population ageing  it would need a more unequivocal scheme of the process and its involved identities: a more palatable fantasy. Such a uniting logic is inherent in many democratic struggles and is what constitutes the strength of populist reason.


However, and importantly, such a move towards an all-embracing populist logic would risk blinding us to the nuances of the political processes of population ageing (cf. Zˇ izˇek 2006). Analysing the Swedish news-press, such an absence of a multifaceted representation of population ageing is a discernible fact. With the help of populist discourse, including a sometimes powerful and hard-hitting visual imagery comprising illustrations as well as choices of words, the news-press representationsoffer dualistic rather than a plurality of positions. However, one of our key findings is that this was not accomplished solely by the articles that were ‘‘apocalyptic’’ in character.


Furthermore, articles that seemed quite different, and written from a seemingly ‘‘neutral’’ point of view, contributed to, rather than contradicted, the populist features. Taken together, the implicit choice posed to the audience (the ‘‘we’’, ‘‘us’’ or ‘‘society’’) stood between doing nothing and awaiting disaster, or following the suggested measures with the effect that a demographic situation is made to naturalise certain political ideas, making them appear administrative, rather than political in character. This is a choice that is not really a choice.


In this article, we have stayed within the frames of the news-press discourse, and we have argued that its visual imagery displays populist tendencies that work ideologically to de-politicise the issue of population ageing. These tendencies, although not devout of some ambiguity, offer certain positions for the audience. They do not say, however, how the audience will react. It has been noted that people’s responses to populist and post-political tendencies displaying ineligible choices are themselves often populist people will either protest or ignore them. One topic for further research would be to investigate how people respond to the images of population ageing that are presented by the news-press, among Media representations of population ageing others, and how such images are made comprehensible within the frames of everyday life.