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“The Rookie” and Workplace Ageism

“The Rookie” and Workplace Ageism
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Photo Courtesy of ABC


“We got some new blood this morning, and some were born before disco died.”

The new ABC show “The Rookie” is the nightmare of every veteran worker. As a 50-plus person who still has many viable working years ahead of me, I winced each time LAPD Officer John Nolan (Nathan Fillion) was insulted apropos his age, and felt steam come out of my ears because none of his new colleagues had any respect for the life experience he could bring to the job, or the fact that he graduated from the same academy where they got their training.

Nolan’s sergeant, Wade Grey (Richard T Jones), aside from humiliating his subordinate in front of the squad with the “disco” comment, calls him a mid-life crisis in a one-on-one confrontation and threatens to keep tormenting him until the subordinate quits.

The newbie’s younger partner, Officer Talia Bishop (Afton Williams), looks like she’d rather take a bullet without her vest than ride with him. Of course, if Nolan rolled his eyes upon learning he was working with a woman or African-American, (Bishop is both) her union rep as well as IAD would come down on him faster than you could recite the Miranda Warning.

Then there’s the general judgment that he’s just a guy checking off his bucket list the dream of being a cop he’s had since he first wore the uniform on Halloween in third grade. No one even entertains that their co-worker just might have an empathy, compassion and understanding that can only come with maturity. They also don’t appreciate that his reckless, cowboy days are behind him, so he won’t be going rogue and will be going by the book.

I feel his pain.

When I was 16, I asked my mother what I was getting for my milestone birthday. She said working papers, and I have been employed in some capacity ever since. After college I worked on staff as an advertising writer. Fifteen years later, after my first child was born, I did the same job freelance and then added journalist to my CV. I thought I’d go back to working on premises once my children no longer needed a stay at home mother, but then my mother needed a stay at home daughter. Still I read—and even wrote—advice articles about aging in the workplace: how one needs to keep up with technology; that gaining experience a different field into which one is considering a career change can begin with volunteer work; and that later in life one might take a hobby (pottery anyone?) and turn it into a business. It’s all very encouraging until one shows up to a job, as I once did, and is treated as Officer Bishop called Nolan: “Old as hell.”

My millennial partner almost gasped at the sight of my silver hair, which I usually get compliments on. When I suggested something in the meeting, even though I had research to back up my point, a younger colleague disagreed with me, prompting the head of the company to say, “Forget it Lorraine, he’s young. He knows.” (FYI: the ideas of Mr. Know It All failed to garner the business the agency had been pitching.)

Nolan however encounters a different kind of superior in Precinct Captain Zoe Anderson (Mercedes Mason). “There’s value in having a rookie with his perspective,” she says and puts the word out to give the guy a chance. This of course is only after he’s taken off after a perp, talked down a crazed citizen convinced unicorns are laughing at him, and doesn’t back down when threatened with a knife.

Who would’ve thought he could actually do the job he was trained for and bring even more to the table?

Like many of us of a certain age going into new professional opportunities with anxiety, trepidations and rattled confidence, Nolan gets fed up with being underestimated and announces: “I thought I had to become someone else to do this job, that who I was before wasn’t good enough. I’ve earned my place here and I’m not leaving.”

Inspiring words indeed, and perhaps said to disco beat, could possibly be a new theme song for experienced workers.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels BACK TO WORK SHE GOES and FAT CHICK.



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