The "Golden" Return

February 28, 2011
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The days of Rose Nylen telling excruciatingly boring stories of St. Olaf, Minnesota, are long gone. They’ve been gone since 1992 when Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty bid adieu to their long-running comedy The Golden Girls. Shoulder pads aside, The Golden Girls has remained a relatable pop-culture staple among old and young alike. Nearly twenty years have progressed since the “Girls” left network television. Their break from the spotlight continued until death did them part from the public eye. All--that is--but one, Betty White. From the shadows of relative obscurity, Betty White has reemerged, leading a fan base of millions. So sudden and strange, Betty White’s resurgence is rather a mystery. From local animal-rights advocate and ex-TV star to inspiration for Facebook page “Betty White for President,” where did this turnaround arise?

Perhaps she’s back because we just can’t get enough of old people; they are our respective royalty, our last glimpses of a bygone era. Estelle Getty’s memorable role of Sophia in The Golden Girls reminded us just how hilarious the elderly can be. Except, of course, Estelle Getty was twenty years younger than her iconic character. With a few exceptions, old people in media are generally pawns used as mockery or the cameo grandparent roles. If we love the elderly so dearly, where are they? Betty’s rise from has-been land couldn’t have resulted quite so spontaneously.
            One word: Death. In a world of seemingly daily terrorist attacks, three different varieties of CSI, Ghost Whisperer, and Six Feet Under, it’s no surprise if death is on the brain. Media coverage concerning the deceased is exploited to uncensored extremes. On the flip side, elderly in media are rarities. Coincidence? I think not. Old people are associated with death, and death is not something we assume can handle the hustle and bustle of show biz. Americans, overburdened with the concept of mortality, have subconsciously blocked out the elderly on the basis that old people, like death, are incapable. This being said, Hollywood today, more than ever, has become a youth-based industry thriving on the agile and un-arthritically impeded. The universal cutoff is 75. Competence at 80--or, gasp,88--is practically unheard of, which is why White’s return is so profound. Her resurgence in all aspects of pop-culture has captivated audiences nationwide. We find it amazing that she, like any of us in the pre-75, pre-death bracket, is still going on with not only her career, but life. Commercials, movies, TV shows, sketches etc, Miss White had shown no obvious indications of old age slowing her spirit--not one bit. Betty brings us hope and relation to the elderly sect. She’s figuratively combining the young and old, making her America ’s go-to gal in these times of generational separation.
            However, maybe Betty White is just the exception to the rule. Bob Newhart, Tim Conway, Mary Tyler Moore...where are their Sandra Bullock blockbusters and Snickers Ad campaigns? Besides VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and the abundance of Betty, the elderly has-been resurgence isn’t exactly in full swing. The new wave of White could be a coincidental fluke or perhaps the act of an extremely talented agent. Whatever the reason, the truth is simple: Betty is here to stay. Be it in our hearts or television screens, Miss White transcends time.

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