The "Cantankerous Old People" Next Door: How Old Age Is Represented in Serbian Television Commercials


  • Ljubica Milosavljević Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade



old age, commercials, popular culture, stereotype, dominant attitudes in society


This paper is the result of a three-month monitoring of Serbian television commercials which aimed to study the way elderly people are represented in the media. Elderly people appear in only six commercials, more often as a functional part of a series than as protagonists. Yet in spite of the small number of commercials in which they appear, it is easy to identify the stereotypes which are translated from a social paradigm into the sphere of the media. The stereotypes on which commercials are based belong for the most part to the corpus of negative stereotypes of elderly people as hopelessly behind the times, feeble, lonely, irritating, cantankerous, etc. Some positive stereotypes are also evident, but they are mostly limited to a perception of elderly people as kindly givers of useful advice. It is interesting to note that the "cantankerous people next door" are as a rule anonymous elderly people, as are those "lost in time and space", who are mostly elderly women. In contrast, those who let their careers and images be associated with a certain product, in order to pass on their great experience and knowledge, are as a rule famous persons.

Just as it is possible to make a distinction between commercials depending on whether or not the products advertised are targeted at the elderly – which they rarely are – and whether elderly people appear in leading or supporting roles, in order to make viewers laugh or annoy them, so it is possible to distinguish between the "real-life principle", which involves the translation of the society’s dominant attitudes into commercials, and "commercial reality", which either makes old age invisible or "masks" it so that it is pleasant to the eye. The reason that old people are absent from television commercials or are mostly represented in a negative light is to be found in the low purchasing power of this age group, but also in the fact that advertising in Serbia developed practically overnight, and therefore has not always been able to follow foreign advertising trends, which treat the elderly as a worthy target audience for commercials.


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How to Cite

Milosavljević, Ljubica. 2010. “The ‘Cantankerous Old People’ Next Door: How Old Age Is Represented in Serbian Television Commercials”. Etnoantropološki Problemi / Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 5 (3):75-97.

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