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“Memory Loss, Gender and Age Panic: Challenging Alzheimer’s Discourses in Film and the Media.”
E. Ann Kaplan, Stony Brook University
In this paper, I first briefly outline some socio-cultural facts about Alzheimer’s disease, including issues regarding diagnoses and medical terms, and comparative contexts for care between Europe and the US. I then distinguish three discourses about Alzheimer’s pervasive in the US media in the last five years: the neuroscience discourse highlighting the Alzheimer’s brain; the “absent self” discourse in journalism and film (e.g. New York Times ;Iris); and, more hopeful, film and literature images (such as those in Away from Her or the Chilean Old Cats; the Spanish Amanecer de un Sueno; or Michael Ignatieff’s novel Scar Tissue) that suggest the Alzheimer subject betrays a self that is less defensive about social norms. While the socio-political, medical and cultural context is rapidly changing, these three discourses still prevail. In each case, I consider limitations of the discourses and images, including a negative impact on treatment and care in long-term facilities. I pay particular attention to marked gender differences, especially in the case of normative unconscious gender stereotypes in the third set of images. In concluding, I question what underlies the socio-cultural attachment to these discourses and discuss alternative portrayals of people living with Alzheimer’s. I attend to activist arts practices that are already having a beneficial impact on how the Alzheimer’s subject is viewed, and on treatment in long-term care facilities.