"From the Founder"
|updated October 12, 2011|
The Construction of a New Identity for Baby Boomers in Zoomer Magazine
In October, 2008, the Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP) relaunched its magazine. In doing so, it changed the name of the magazine from CARP Magazine to Zoomer. This change reflects an attempt to attract younger people to the organization and to the magazine. CARP used to limit its membership to those over 50, but the cover of the new magazine suggests its readers are now “men and women 45 and up.” This presentation focuses on “From the Founder,” a column written by Moses Znaimer, the media “visionary” who is the founder of the magazine. It identifies the characteristics of the Zoomer identity that Znaimer constructs through his column.
The short definition of a Zoomer is a (baby) boomer with zip. Zoomer Magazine encourages those on the cusp of middle or old age to acquire this new identity and emerging social meanings related to aging. The magazine encourages Zoomers to see themselves as forever middle aged and reinforces an anti-aging culture of beauty and youth.
This presentation identifies the “frames” through which Znaimer constructs the Zoomer identity in his column. Frames are “communication devices that focus and delimit what will be discussed about a topic” and how it will be discussed. The media usually talk about aging, for example, within a biomedical frame. Hence, most articles about older people deal with health issues or interpret aspects of aging, for example, the experience of older drivers, within the context of biomedical discussions. Within these frames, writers use particular discourses to construct reality. (Rozanova 2006: 113). As Rozanova (2006: 114) comments, “the media perform an agenda-setting function, selecting which issues are worthy of public attention.”
It is not often that we get the opportunity to observe a conscious effort in the media to invent and to shape a new identity as it occurs. Zoomer Magazine consciously and explicitly claims the authority to do just that. In the first anniversary of the “From the Founder” column, Znaimer affirms that the word Zoomer, which he claims to have invented1, has “entered the lexicon, joining more negatively charged ‘old,’ ‘senior,’ ‘elder,’ ‘frail’ as a descriptor of our new reality” (September, 2009). He is not wrong. Several “Zoomer” activities have been advertized in our local paper.
Znaimer uses two frames to put boundaries around the Zoomer identity, an attitude frame and a lifestyle frame. The column marginalizes those who disagree with the Zoomer approach and constructs the older population, i.e., those over 70, as important, but passive members, of CARP. The next section discusses the framing of the Zoomer identity in terms of attitude.
Zoomers as an Attitude
First and foremost, certain attitudes characterize Zoomers. Znaimer’s first column (October, 2008), introduces the identity of Zoomer and describes a Zoomer as:
Zoomers also have particular attitudes towards sex and romance. They “want romance” and “continue to enjoy sex” (October 2008).
The attitude frame involves distancing Zoomers from the stereotyped visions of old people and the way they think. Hence, the column also establishes the attitudes that do not fit into Zoomer identity. Accordingly a Zoomer is not, “retreating from life.” The column provides a gendered construction of aging, non-Zoomers, named Mr. And Mrs. Schlumpadinka. A non-Zoomer man is someone who would, “stuff himself into the same tux he bought 20, 30, even 40 years ago,” while a non-Zoomer woman as, “being careless about her appearance because she believes she can no longer be attractive.” Gendered constructions of Zoomers permeate the magazine.
Not surprisingly, some members of CARP did not like the new magazine. Znamier takes aim at this group in the second “From the Founder” column by invoking attitudes that reflect brazen ageist stereotypes. Therefore, a Zoomer is not:
In naming these attitudes, Znaimer suggests that older people should make the effort to adopt the proper attitude. He writes that, although it is time for people to stop using such ageist phrases as “senior moment” for temporary “memory lapses” that can affect anyone, it is up to:
seniors [to] try to govern their snap reactions, delay their rush to judgment, and not behave like crotchety, cranky, irritable, and impatient “old farts.”
In these early columns, Znaimer establishes an “us and them” frame around the Zoomer identity. Either you are with us in adopting our “new vision of aging,” or you fit the most egregious stereotypes that we associate with unapologetic ageism. The Zoomer identity also reflects a lifestyle frame which we now discuss.
Framing Zoomers in terms of Lifestyle
The lifestyle frame sits on a foundation of consumerism and individualism. We first look at how “From the Founder” highlights consumerism as a facet of this new identity. Zoomers “like to keep up to date on how to look and feel good.” They have a “lifelong interest in what is new.” These qualities give the magazine, a “new ability to attract profitable fashion and lifestyle advertising” (March, 2009) which is very much in evidence in the high fashion, expensive trips, and high-end housing advertising that graces the magazine.
Znaimer explains in his column that he has attracted advertisers by “rejuvenating the look and feel of the magazine” and thereby making it “more palatable to younger Zoomers” (March, 2009). He notes that there are 14 million Zoomers (almost half the population of Canada!) who control the “bulk of the wealth” in the country (September, 2009).
The columns contend that it is this consumerism that translates into an ability to attract advertisers and gives Zoomers the potential to influence social policy. CARP has therefore, bought two Toronto-based radio stations as well as Vision TV. Moses Znaimer’s argument (which he articulated in a speech in Moncton, NB, September 21, 2009) is that Zoomer Magazine and the other media outlets give CARP a “platform for advocating on aging issues.”
From the Founder claims:
Our advocacy has created more buzz and awareness for your Association and your Interests than ever. (Emphasis in original) (Summer, 2009)
“From The Founder’s” active images of Zoomers reinforce the lifestyle frame. It describes Zoomers as, “a new generation on the march” (October, 2008). Members “seek out challenging experiences” (March, 2009), have “always deserved clout and a voice” (April, 2009), and are “healthy and vigorous” (May, 2009).
Part of this invocation of the lifestyle frame is naming people who personify what it means to be a Zoomer. The pictures on covers of Zoomer Magazine are always of a famous person accompanied by the phrase, “he’s one” or “she’s one.” The first issue, for example, sported a picture of Wayne Gretzky. “From the Founder” refers to celebrities as role models for Zoomers: “Athletes and models, pop and movie stars, and growing legions of less famous but ‘real’ people in all walks of life” who are “breaking new ground and inspiring us all” (October 2008). The first column includes Ian Millar who was 61 when he won a silver medal at the Olympics for show jumping and Darra Torres who, at 41, was on the United States Olympic swim team who advises, “Never put an age limit on your dreams.” Implicit in this frame is the belief that aging well, or being a Zoomer, is an individual responsibility.
Marginalizing the Older Members of CARP
The lifestyle and attitude frames are very prominent in “From the Founder.” With multiple readings, it becomes clear that the definition of Zoomers, ‘boomers with zip,’ marginalizes CARP’s traditional constituency, those over 65, in two ways. First, the column suggests that any resistance to the changes reflects, “an initial period of resistance from our older members” (September, 2009) who “fear abandonment and [are] suspicious of our commercial success” (March, 2009). It is these members whose “‘nays’ came in advance of the new magazine, whereas the ‘yeas’ have come after” (November 2008). In contrast, the new format is “more palatable to those younger Zoomers, aged 45 to 65, who had been staying away from an organization they identified as practically obsolete” (March 2009).
In addition to ad hominem arguments which rely on traditional ageist stereotypes, the column reassures older members that they will not be “abandoned” and uses a discourse that depicts them as having a passive role in the organization:
Our pledge to those of you in your 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond is that we will continue to use our new-found strength in your defence and in pursuit of your interests. . . So I say again, We will not forget the needs of our older members. . . . Far from abandoning you, we are in fact expanding the circle of our friends. (Emphasis in original) (March 2009)
Expanding the circle of friends includes opening up membership to younger and younger people. In May, 2009, Znaimer announced that CARP is removing the age limit which used to restrict membership to those over 50. Now,
Because 40-year-olds have 65-year-old parents and 30-year-olds have 85-year-old grandparents, you’ll be part of an organization that supports the people you care about. If you’re caring for an aging parent or grandparent, you probably share an interest in these issues and can benefit from the information and encouragement that advocacy provides. (May 2009)
One consequence of trying to attract younger and younger members is the marginalization of the older population in CARP and Zoomer Magazine.
Zoomer Magazine contrasts Zoomers and non-Zoomers to construct a frame around the Zoomer identity. Significantly, “From the Founder” invokes traditional ageist stereotypes to attract supporters for the new identity. As Roznova has observed in her study of newspaper portrayals of health and illness of older Canadians:
A more subtle although not less harmful form of ageism is contrasting some groups of senior with other groups, for example, emphasizing the perceived inferiority of ‘the really old people’ in comparison to the still youthful, active and productive young retirees. (2006: 116)
This approach characterizes the mechanisms of framing the Zoomer identity we have seen in “From the Founder.”
A final word about Moses Znaimer’s first anniversary column in which he sums up the first year of Zoomer Magazine in triumphal terms, particularly in terms of establishing the term Zoomer as way for baby boomers to refer to themselves, their new identity. He announces that “From the Founder” will go on indefinite hiatus while he writes a new one entitled, “Zoomer Philosophy.” Znaimer compares the new column with Hugh Hefner’s “monthly series of essays known as the “Playboy Philosophy.” According to Znaimer, the taboo of “aging is sex for the new millennium.” In the new series, he intends to “boldly go . . . where no Zoomer has gone before” (September 2009).
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