A few years ago I took a dramatic monologue class to sharpen my speaking skills. The teacher was brilliant and a surprising number of the participants were talented too, including three who recently presented six moving and original pieces at the Producer’s Club. I laughed, I cried, and I stumbled over some language. One piece referred to a “creepy old priest” and I punted that to Yo, Is That Ageist? Another piece prompted this note:
Because my thing is raising awareness of ageism, I wanted to call your attention to a bit of language in the wonderful piece about your uncle. The part where you’re in line at WalMart and smell “old farts that smell like … old farts.” It gets a laugh, I know. But old fart is a nasty thing to call someone. (Like “nigga” and “faggot,” it’s different if someone calls himself that.) It’s also pretty offensive to identify a group by an odor. Can you imagine saying you knew were surrounded by a bunch of Asians because you smelled fish sauce, or by a bunch of lesbians because you smelled, um, fish sauce?
I bet you’ve never thought about this because few people have; ageism hasn’t bleeped onto our cultural radar. (Just wait till my book takes the country by storm.) I hope you know that I’m writing this because I’m trying to shift consciousness and because you’re my friend, not for a minute because I want to make you feel bad or need an apology. But I do hope you’ll consider changing that wording. And man, was your uncle lucky to have you.
“Wow. Light bulb moment. I totally agree—and I thank you. I will change this,” he responded generously. Phew.
Bit by bit, monologue by monologue…