The racist grandma or the provocative grandpa is a common comic trope in pop culture. Like all stereotypes, they stem from something that is fundamentally true and familiar.
Almost all of us have been forewarned, at least on one occasion, about an older relative (perhaps our own) who isn’t exactly PC. These instances are mostly harmless and often humorous. We can laugh at anachronistic attitudes we wouldn’t find very funny from our contemporaries. After all, it was a different time back then… and thank God times have changed!
These statements are certainly surprising for a respected writer to make; for an 84-year-old man, on the other hand, not so much.
When it comes to the Gay Talese kerfuffle, I can’t help but recall this kind of scenario. At a Boston University writing conference, the legendary journalist blundered into some pretty damning comments about women, saying there are no female writers he admires. Probably worse in my mind (since it’s more difficult to amend his meaning here), he went on to say women want to deal with “educated people,” while men are more likely to confront the tougher topics. Cue the outrage.
These statements are certainly surprising for a respected writer to make; for an 84-year-old man, on the other hand, not so much. While I might expect a journalist to be a bit more in tune with the times, I can still cut Talese, an older guy, a little slack. I can even be patient with a man of a very different generation—and consequently a different experience and education—than my own.
I was fortunate enough to have many female (and male) writers to look up to. The fact that Talese may not have grown up with these same role models—nor maybe be conditioned to take heed of the ones there were—is only a testament to the progress our society has made since then.
Within this context, I’m really not so concerned with what Gay Talese said. While these statements were made in the public eye, I don’t mistake this old-time writer with a prominent public figure. As far as that goes, women may want to take stock of their outrage. Right now, we have bigger fish to fry.