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How ‘Yellowjackets’ Confronted Ageism Head-On

Contrary to Hollywood’s opinion, aging is a privilege… and a victory.

Still from Season 1 of "Yellowjackets".
Still from Season 1 of 'Yellowjackets'. Credit: Showtime

Showtime’s hit series actively combats Hollywood’s stance on aging, particularly as it pertains to women. Let’s examine how this is done and further discuss the impacts such a show can have for Gen Z. Spoilers ahead.

What happens in ‘Yellowjackets’?

For those who don’t know, Yellowjackets tells the story of a high school girls’ soccer team that resorts to cannibalism following a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. The show is split into two timelines. The past, when the girls are stranded, and the present, which follows the survivors as grown women in their forties. Haunted by the atrocities committed in their youth, the women struggle to determine whether their actions were the result of the human will to live or were spurred onward by some supernatural entity dubbed “The Wilderness”.

Yellowjackets plays heavily into ambiguity. It’s two seasons in, but it’s still unclear whether The Wilderness was real or was nothing more than a rationale for a kind of mass hysteria. The characters themselves give life to The Wilderness often. For example, Van claims Javi’s drowning was The Wilderness, providing them with food. In another instance, Lottie insists that Natalie became their leader because The Wilderness favored her. In the earlier timeline, the team believes Shauna survived a horrific childbirth because The Wilderness mercifully allowed her to.

As a fan of this show, I am definitely Team Tree-God-Never-Existed. Nonetheless, for the sake of this article, I think it is important to look at the implications of such a storyline as a pushback against ageism in media. To do this, however, we must first discuss the Yellowjackets casting.

Still from Season 1 of "Yellowjackets".
Still from Season 1 of ‘Yellowjackets’. Credit: Showtime

The Cast

The adult cast of Yellowjackets includes actresses Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, Tawny Cypress, Lauren Ambrose, and Simone Kessell. The beautiful thing about this cast is that all of the actresses above are in their forties, an age in Hollywood that has often been deemed as good as dead. Women, in particular, generally face a sort of demotion regarding the roles they are offered in film and television. They are seen as less significant as they age, and it is well-documented that their characters reflect this.

In Yellowjackets, however, this is not the case. Yes, the girls become women and age with every passing decade. Their value as human beings, however, does not decrease merely because they are “old” in the present timeline. These women are portrayed to be just as complex at 42 as they are at 17. They are still desired and pursued, and still incredibly important. This brings us back to…

Still from Season 1 of "Yellowjackets".
Still from Season 1 of ‘Yellowjackets’. Credit: Showtime

The Plot

How does a show about cannibalism assert the value of women? To begin with, let’s think about this as if The Wilderness really is a tangible entity. Even with the main characters having lived decades following their rescue, it is clear that they are no less impacted by what they were forced to do in the name of survival. The Wilderness has never truly left them alone. It has seeped into every inch of their lives, always attempting to drive them back together and back towards themselves. The Wilderness wants these women, no matter their age and no matter what age has made them lose (in Hollywood’s eyes, anyway).

To say that some mystical force has been after a group of women for 25 years is to say that women aren’t actually bound by ageist timelines. These survivors have no “expiration date” in The Wilderness’ eyes, and real women don’t have “expiration dates” either. Although the point of Yellowjackets is probably not to battle against poor opinions, plot and casting decisions have made it an inevitable rebellion against the entertainment industry.

And even when all is said and done, if The Wilderness turns out not to exist and these women are just traumatized and mentally ill, this will still be a show that advocates for the value of women at any and all ages. If Yellowjackets wasn’t fighting against ageism, why would the present storyline even exist? Why not just show the girls when they are young and thus “hot”? Arguably, both storylines aren’t necessary. Showing these characters at different ages, whether the supernatural is real or not, shows that women’s stories matter in all stages of life.

Still from Season 2 of "Yellowjackets".
Still from Season 2 of ‘Yellowjackets’. Credit: Showtime

Where Gen Z Is Concerned

Why should this matter to Gen Z? I’ll be the first to admit that I take media too seriously. I know I do this. I also know that you may not. But within Gen Z, there is an ingrained fear of aging, and where it came from, no one can be sure. I believe that, at least here in the U.S., the fear of aging might come from school shootings. Because of the possibility of a life cut short, aging is a foreign matter to many of us in Gen Z.

I also believe that being bombarded by Hollywood’s ideas of aging is not helpful. Much of the media we consume has turned age from an unknown to an undesirable. Even a Zoomer’s mid-twenties have become an online horror. This is why I think shows like Yellowjackets have a purpose beyond mere entertainment. Where Hollywood continues to whisper about the detriments of aging, shows like Yellowjackets scream. Growing older is not just a blessing or a privilege. It’s a triumph against all that life throws at you.

So, yes, a show about cannibalistic teenagers might not be the end-all, be-all solution to ageism in our society. But the media we take in does matter. For those of us in Gen Z who struggle to deal with the reality of something like aging, media really matters. After living through an era in Hollywood where older age is treated like the plague, Yellowjackets shows us a promising future. And maybe, just maybe, it will help create a positive attitude on age, one that will stick for television and Gen Z alike.

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