Caring Currents

Diaper Humor is Best Left to Those Who Know What They're Talking About

Last updated: Sep 29, 2008

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A recent discussion about adult diapers and humor caught my attention. In her blog, “The New Old Age,” New York Times writer Jane Gross reflects on a series of stories in Slate for what it calls its Geezer Issue or "Slate Goes Gray."

While appreciating some of the information in the series, Gross found a few articles offensive because they poke fun at aging. She was particularly bothered by a first-person review of adult diapers, written by a 27-year-old guy who admittedly had no experience with the products before being asked by Slate to do a test drive and write about it. 

I’ve written about adult diapers a few times in this space. For many seniors and caregivers diapers are simply a necessary part of daily life. This includes writing about  another diaper test drive, or in this case, a test drive threat. This was by the health minister of Ontario, Canada in a flap about the quality of care in state-run nursing homes. (He backed down after being ridiculed.) The media had a lot of fun with this brouhaha, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Daiper test drives. This is kind of a crack up. I do appreciate how humor can help us deal with tough times and unpleasantness, of which there’s no shortage of in aging, unfortunately. I’ve given myself the “lighten up” lecture a few times.

On the other hand, I totally get Jane Gross’s reaction to the Slate article. And it even made me giggle a bit, which it didn’t for her. The writer, Justin Peters, has an appealing low-key sense of humor.

But here’s the deal: “Outsider” humor about people different than you is risky business and often offensive. This is true whether it’s joking about race, religion, disability, illness, or age --- realities of personal experience. Mr. Peters is 27; he doesn’t need diapers. To all the good folks living the daily reality of adult incontinence, he’s way outside. He may never have to look at a diaper again.

Now if a nursing home of diaper-wearers decided to put on a comedy about their garb, I probably wouldn’t find it offensive. (Whether I’d find it funny would depend on their show.)

Another thing: Mr. Peter’s diaper review draws some potentially useful conclusions. He definitely found that some brands do a better job than others. But, consider the source. Most scientific research uses subjects who represent the target population. In other words, products for older people are tested on older people. I happen to know there’s a whole bunch of better qualified experts out there to offer advice on adult incontinence products. This would be the millions of people who use them, or their caregivers. No test drives needed. It’s called living.

Image by Flickr user Misocrazy under a Creative Commons Attribution License.