“Putting her on an iceberg”

RORY: Are you sure the first thing you wanna do in office is to get a ninety-three year old woman sacked?

PARIS: Hey, at least I’m not putting her on an iceberg and shoving her off to sea …

Paris refers to a stereotype of Eskimo culture where the elderly were put on an ice floe to die when they became a burden. Although some Eskimos did practice senilicide (the killing of the elderly), it was rare, usually only practised during famines, and there is no record of anyone being put out on the ice to die – simple abandonment was probably the most common method. In many cases, it may have been what we might refer to as assisted suicide. It is no longer practised in Eskimo culture, and hasn’t been for a very long time.

The idea of elderly Eskimos being pushed out to sea on ice floes might have come from the 1960 adventure film, The Savage Innocents, directed and co-written by Nicholas Ray, and based on the 1950 novel Top of the World by Swiss author Hans Ruesch. The film stars Anthony Quinn as an Inuit hunter – which is believed to be the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s 1967 song, “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”, successfully recorded by British band Manfred Mann in 1968.

In the film, the hunter’s mother-in-law is put on the ice to die, but is rescued soon after. In another scene, the hunter’s wife walks across the ice to commit suicide; a piece of ice breaks off and she briefly floats on the ice floe before drowning herself. The two scenes together may have suggested the popular idea of the elderly being set adrift on the ice to die.

Although Paris is made to seem a monster by getting rid of the librarian, she is ninety-three years old, and is in intensive care during this episode! Surely it is time for her to retire, on health grounds? I don’t feel as if Paris is being that unreasonable here.

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