Seniors Standing Strong by Staying Put

I’m teaching a narrative and management course this semester and use a variety of short videos to illustrate Aristotle’s three types of persuasion: logos, or logical argument; ethos, or appeal to authority; and pathos, or emotional appeal. Commercials for reverse mortgages by Canada’s Home Equity Bank (HEB) neatly illustrate the distinction.

The most frequently aired commercials (for example last night on CBC Newsworld) rely on logos and ethos. The concept of a reverse mortgage is explained by means of graphics and an extra-diegetic narrator (logos). The retired Canadian figure skater Kurt Browning has become HEB’s spokesman, which lends him a kind of authority, though it is based on his athletic achievements rather than financial expertise (ethos). An additional appeal to authority is a graphic showing endorsements by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) and the Canadian Legion. The explanation of the concept is incomplete because the commercial doesn’t say that the borrower will repay the loan after selling the house, nor does it mention interest on the loan. The would-be borrower will discover these aspects when reading HEB’s brochure or calling their information line, both of which are mentioned in the commercial.

Occasionally, HEB runs commercials in which the appeal to seniors is emotional, with the message that a reverse mortgage will enable them to stay in their beloved homes. This message, as my title suggests, is that by staying at home they are resisting the inevitable deterioration of their health that is part of aging. And the commercials depict seniors as resolutely ignoring their children’s pressure, overt or subtle, to downsize. The commercials appeal to seniors’ pride in their vitality and their resentment towards a younger generation that refuses to recognize it (pathos). Here’s one such commercial.

A second commercial is more hard-hitting, with the parents responding to their adult daughter’s suggestion to move into a condo by threatening, tongue in cheek of course, to move in with their daughter and her husband. The parents are implicitly saying, “if you try to infantilize us, we can infantilize you.” Have a look.

A third commercial borders on sketchy. A mother and her adult daughter are having tea; when the daughter sees her father walking awkwardly, she asks her mother if he threw his back out on the stairs, drawing the conclusion that her parents should downsize. When the mother coyly replies that “it wasn’t the stairs,” the daughter, catching her mother’s drift, looks disgusted. The commercial channels the notion, embodied in the psychoanalytic term “primal scene,” that one’s parents’ sexuality is intrinsically cringe-worthy. The mother is boasting of her vitality because she remains sexually desirable and sexually active. This commercial is logically flawed, because whether the parents live in their current home or something smaller should have no impact on their sexuality. But sexuality is used as an indicator of the parents’ youthfulness.

I find these pathos-evoking commercials valuable, because in a humorous way, they raise several fraught issues between aging parents and adult children: parental independence, eventual dependence of parents on their children, and the intergenerational transfer of wealth.

These commercials came to mind just now because our young adult children, who normally live with us as a response to Toronto’s expensive housing market, are away this week. The house feels very large. But, unlike the commercials, they’re in no hurry for us to leave. In fact, next week we’re having the house painted. So here we stand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe by email

If you are interested in my weekly blog posts about politics and political narrative, as well as updates about my research and teaching, please enter your email address below to receive a free subscription.


Previous Posts