Age is only a number? The actress “Jane Doe” thinks not.
Jane Doe – a nom d’suit – is going after Amazon, seeking $1 million in punitive damages, because her age was revealed on IMDb, the movie database which Amazon owns. Worse than revealing the terrible truth – Lordy, Lordy, Jane Doe’s turning 40 – IMDb refused to remove the year-of-birth when asked to do so. (Info source: Boston.com.)
Being sensitive about your age is an interesting thing, and I’m not going to get up on my high horse and say that everyone should be completely open about their age. That age is only a number. It doesn’t really matter. And all that other Life Begins at 40, 60 is the new 30, etc. blather that we’re being fed.
For one thing, at my advanced age, I am just barely capable of mounting a high horse, even if it’s a non-piston, static one on a merry-go-round.
For another, age discrimination has moved beyond the realm of ‘dirty little secret’ to pretty much a way of life, especially in some professions and industries. And I would have to say that high-tech marketing is probably one of them.
That said, I’m still working regularly, and have a good number of clients I can count on to call on me when they have product marketing writing needs. So, lucky me.
But I don’t think things would be quite as cheery if I were looking for a full-time job (other than, conceivably, as a staff writer/editor, if there were any such position). I’m about 100% certain that if I were seeking a position as a VP of Marketing – a job I have held – my résumé would be laughed out of its PDF. And not just because I’ve been on my own for the past seven years.
Even though I’ve kept up with what’s current in marketing – I’ve authored an ebook on product marketing, I blog (for myself and clients), I’ve co-authored an article on social media, I’ve consulted on social media strategy, I’ve written tweets for a couple of clients, etc. (About that tweeting: Exceptional fun to work in such a short form. I have avoiding Twitter for personal reasons because I figure I’d become an addict.)
Anyway, at a certain point, in certain careers, someone’s going to look at the “best if used by” date stamped on the lid of the can and take a pass on you.
In my own case, with my clients, I don’t advertise how old I am. Let people think whatever they want, and let me keep kidding myself that, thanks to having inherited my mother’s skin, I don’t look my age. But I don’t hide how old I am either. A couple of my clients, who are also friends, came to my 60th birthday party, which is now coming up on 2 years in the rear view mirror. I talk openly about things I did/read/watched on TV/experienced 40 or even 50 years ago or even 50+ years ago.
But when, back at my BIG 6-0 birthday time, someone at one of my clients mentioned that my friend had told her that I had a major milestone birthday coming up, it made me nervous. I didn’t mind my friend knowing, and I didn’t mind this woman knowing, either. But I just didn’t want it getting around. (“OMG. She’s 60 and still working! OMG”)
After all, I’d been to a marketing off-site there a year prior, and, by my estimate, there were two – count ‘em – two other people over the age of 40 in attendance. Both women. And both let go since the off-site. One was the CMO, the other was a marketing staff writer. (So much for my assumption that I can get work as a staff writer…)
Still, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how old someone is, plus or minus: you mention where you went to school or grew up, someone asks you if you knew so and so, there’s only so much age-veiling you can do on your résumé to begin with, etc.
Let alone if you have some type of public persona, like an actress might have.
I have true sympathy for the Jane Doe suing Amazon. If ageism is rampant in high tech marketing, I can only imagine what it’s like in the acting biz if you haven’t achieved Meryl Streep-ness by the time you’re 30. Which Jane Doe clearly hasn’t.
"If one is perceived to be `over-the-hill,' i.e., approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress, such as the plaintiff, to get work as she is thought to have less of an `upside,' therefore, casting directors, producers, directors, agents-manager, etc. do not give her the same opportunities, regardless of her appearance or talent," the lawsuit states.
No doubt in my mind that there are some movie types who will reject her outright because of her age. But, given the Hollywood love affair with the young (especially when it comes to the female of the species), it’s hard to see that someone “approaching 40” is an “up-and-coming actress” to begin with. I’m assuming here that this actress does not have a huge list of film credits to her name, which places the probability of her “making it” really big on the low side.
I laud someone for still trying at this point, but there is some point at which “all the stars, that never were, are parking cars and pumping gas.” (As is clear from that “pumping gas”, this line was penned in pre-self serve way back. Which it was – 1968 – when it was sung by Dionne Warwick in the catchy shower tune, Do You Know the Way to San Jose?)
There are some professions where you can be up-and-coming in your 40’s – politician, for one – but acting isn’t one of them, unless you’re the character actor type. (In which case, you’ve probably been at it for years, trying to be a non-character actor type, until you finally give up and get discovered.)
Jane Doe apparently has a double-whammy going for her:
While she loses opportunities because of her age, she's also missing work because of her youthful appearance, the lawsuit says.
"Plaintiff has experience rejection in the industry for each "40-year-old" role for which she has interviewed because she does not and cannot physically portray the role of a 40-year-old woman," the lawsuit says.
Methinks that, just as I’m no doubt kidding myself that I look a lot younger than 61.10, Jane Doe may be kidding herself a bit here, too. Despite fitness and assistive surgery, she’s probably a tad too knowing-eyed and long-in-the-tooth to do ingénue. But given how ageist/sexist Hollywood is, she may look way too young for the current idea of what 40 looks like, which is probably a quasi-crone.
I read elsewhere (ABC blog) that Jane Doe thinks IMDb somehow got her date of birth from a credit card transaction she made that had something to do with upgrading to the professional version of IMDb. (I’m happy with the amateur one that lets me see who besides Kirk Douglas said “I’m Spartacus.”)
The suit alleges that IMDbPro “intercepts credit card information obtained during the subscription process for the purposes of gathering information about its subscribers” and further “both defendants are fully aware of the information-gathering, storing and usage process and have done nothing to stop the unlawful and wrong practices.”
Calling the practice “unfair, immoral and unscrupulous”, Jane Doe’s Seattle-based lawyers are asking for a jury trial and $1 million in punitive damages. Amazon.com owns IMDb and both companies are named in the lawsuit.
I have no idea how IMDb operates, but in this day and age, in probably wouldn’t take a super-sleuth to spend a few minutes twiddling around on Google to find out the age of someone who was at all a public figure. Maybe someone boasted on Facebook that they’d gone to high school with her, but hadn’t seen her at last year’s 20th reunion.
When it comes to your YOB you may want things to be MYOB, but that’s probably not going to be the case.
Meanwhile, with all the publicity around this law suit – and all the hints – Jane Doe is from Texas, Jane Doe is of Asian heritage, Jane Doe has an Americanized name (e.g., Jane Doe), Jane Doe is almost 40 – it’s only a matter of time before she gets outed.
Surely, it would have been nice of IMDb to remove Jane’s birthdate when she asked. But if this information can at all be gotten publically – and I expect that when the discovery phase sets in, Amazon discover-ers in India will be googling madly – well, what are you going to do?
Yes, we should all be careful about age-ism (which can and does, of course, go both ways), and all the other isms that hold both the ism-ers and the ism-ees back.
But, sorry, Jane Doe, we’re living in the all-information-all-the-time world.
Privacy? What’s that?