In a country where 80 is supposed to be the new 60, and 60 isn’t even middle-aged, American elders are constantly bombarded by messages telling us we should look, act, and think like younger people. Everywhere from AARP’s magazine to ads for retirement investments, old age is depicted as a glorious adventure lived by people with good teeth and plenty of money, rather than a time of aches and pains, doctor visits, financial worries, and peers’ funerals.
It was only a matter of time, then, before we got a reality show starring old people, who act just as stupid and crazy as young people on reality shows do. “Sunset Daze,” which premiered in April on the WE tv network, follows a group of oldsters living in a retirement community in Surprise, Arizona, near Phoenix. The surprise, for some viewers, will be how little these peoples’ lives have to do with the lives of most elders in America.
The stars of “Sunset Daze” are all white and well-off, and their community, called Sun City Grand, contains four golf courses and five swimming pools. Although the Mexican border is just a few hours away, these senior are insulated from current immigration controversies–and apparenly, from political and economic issues of any kind. The only Mexicans they are likely to see are the ones cutting the grass on the golf course. And instead of worrying about what the recession will do to their retirement savings or which of their medication won’t be covered by Medicare Part D, the denizens of Sun City Grand seem to think of nothing but which other oldster they can shag next.
The women of “Sunset Daze” are sassy, don’t wear underwear, and refer to themselves as “Hos.” The men spend most of their time chasing the women, apparently unconcerned about the potential side effects of Viagra. But hey–what’s the risk of heart failure or sudden blindness, compared with the chance to be a septugenarian stud-muffin? As the New York Times reported when the show premiered:
On most reality shows, producers manipulate activities to ratchet up the drama. There appears to be a bit of that on “Sunset Daze,” whether it is Ms. Liebowitz attending a gay rodeo with her son (and becoming fast friends with two drag queens) or Jack Zells, 72, riding in a stunt plane — something that resulted in projectile vomiting. “Maybe in the second season they can ask me to do something easy, like unscramble an egg,” he said.
But these folks, who might not look out of place at a church picnic until they open their mouths, didn’t need much prodding. Other participants include LaWanda Price, 74, a California retiree who moved to Surprise and took up dancing. She goes by the nickname Hot Legs. Mr. Zells, a member of a local singles club, goes by Mr. Romeo and has a dirty sense of humor. Another cast member is an ex-nun who now enjoys drinking and sky diving.
The first two episodes revolve heavily around a sassy blonde named Sandy Miracle-Jones. A 68-year-old widow who retired from Oregon, Ms. Miracle-Jones goes on dates…when she’s not busy drinking wine. (Her standby is a “double pinot grigio.”) She’s also the founding member of the Ho’s and goes by the nickname Hi Ho, not for her wine consumption but because she is so willing to chat up strangers. Other members of the golfing clique are Ida Ho (from the state) and Slow Ho (hip replacement).
The advent of “Sunset Daze” wouldn’t be so creepy if it was competing with other television shows about old people. As it is, I can’t think of a single TV show that depicts elders leading the more difficult, but also more dignified lives that most of us lead: working, caring for partners or grandchildren, struggling to keep body and soul together–all in a country that provides us with precious little support, financial or otherwise, and a society that shows us no respect. Instead, the only image of ourselves that we can see reflected back from the TV screen is of these shallow geezers, who have too much money and way too much time on their hands.