Chapter 57: Summing Up, Taking Stock
To everything there is a season. So what’s next?
This past September a young editor at Playboy magazine walked nervously into the dining room of the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles and told Hugh Hefner, 89 and still editor-in-chief, that he thought the time had come for Playboy to stop publishing pictures of naked women. Hefner agreed, and the unthinkable happened. As of this coming March, Playboy’s print edition will continue to include shots of women in “provocative poses” – but none will be completely nude.
For this chapter, No. 57, the Playboy bombshell is both appropriate and ironic. I initially modelled my Zoomer Philosophy on the monthly column Hefner himself, 36 at the time, wrote during the early ’60s. As I noted in the very first chapter of my effort, Hefner’s Playboy Philosophy (which ran for only 25 issues) was often pedantic and long-winded enough to make you wonder if the guy with the satin bathrobe and pipe had any sense of humour at all. But despite its flaws, it had a revolutionary mission: to create a powerful enough Zeitgeist to break what he considered the last taboo of his day – sex.
“Half a century later,” I wrote in Chapter 1, “a new philosophy is required because a new last taboo is on the horizon. The last taboo of our age, I firmly believe, is no longer sex – but age and aging. Aging is sex for the new millennium, the topic we don’t discuss openly, the thing that happens to other people behind closed doors. In deference to this last taboo, people of age have been denied their right, in the popular mindset, to sensuality, to adventure, to any unconventionality that can’t be smiled at fondly by a condescending universe. Older people today aren’t ‘allowed’ to be dangerously irreverent, relevantly wise, politically significant or, most scandalous of all, controlling agents in our own decline and death. Like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, we have become an invisible demographic. And like Rodney Dangerfield’s pop-eyed everyman, older people today ‘don’t get no respect.’”
So in the face of all that, I threw down my own gauntlet in the spirit of Hef’s Philosophy. Ergo, it’s fitting that at the same time that Playboy is shifting gears and entering a new phase to stay relevant, we at Zoomer magazine are planning something of the same: some redesign of the magazine in general and a “re-branding” of my space, this space, in particular.
Why now? Well, like Playboy, Zoomer has been instrumental in winning a major battle, too. Playboy’s “victory” is everywhere apparent: not only has sex in the age of the Internet become mainstream and readily available, in fact it’s become rampant and more explicit than anything Playboy ever imagined. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable, for free,” Playboy’s chief executive Scott Flanders recently said. “That battle has been fought and won.”
To a degree, we’re in the same position. At precisely the moment when doom and gloom about legacy media, radio and TV and, particularly, print is at its highest, we’re being vindicated at every turn – readership up, ratings up and, most dramatically, real influence and respect for our demographic in society and in politics, up! I’ve already pointed out in a previous chapter the unprecedented attention that was paid to our aging cohorts during the recent federal election. Swayed finally by the irrefutable truth that our gang, by dint of absolute numbers and actual voting behaviour, is the most consistent and powerful ballot-box demographic in the country, each party approached CARP, the national advocacy association that I head, with specific, substantial promises benefiting seniors. That concentrated courtship was a welcome first and more evidence that we’re well into winning our battle – but only time will tell. Playboy and Hefner had 60 years to fight their fight and assess the impact; the Zoomer/CARP partnership is only seven years into the fight. If we pause now to take stock (and maybe a bow), it’s only a temporary hiatus.
I also have another more personal reason for wanting to refresh and re-charge. I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself at Chapter 57 because I originally intended to write only 10. I had the sequence all lined up, first to last chapter. I planned to open on historical attitudes to aging and end with dying with dignity, which I thought would be our most controversial topic. Chapter 9 would be about marijuana, the second most controversial.1 But the first 10 chapters came and went, and I realized that I had more to say and that people wanted to hear it. (Our editorial department tells me that the Zoomer Philosophy is consistently one of the best-read, most-responded-to spaces in the magazine.) Still, as we proceeded to and passed Chapters 20 and 30 and 40, it started to become harder and harder to figure out what, as we say in this business, the “Next” was. Lately, the “tyranny” of filling those two pages has begun to chafe, so I’ve decided to take a bit of a break. This means that when I reappear in the New Year with new opinions in hand, I’ll most likely be joining the “Prophet of Zoom” on the magazine’s back page, blending philosophy with prophecy – and a good yuk now and then. But now I’ll get the last word (or the first, if you happen to read magazines back to front, which more than a few people do).
The question is, what will that last or first word be? An editorial, a sermon, a cartoon? One thing it will definitely be is a challenge – for those who have promised us things in this past election. Now that the dust has settled, an important part of our mission has to be to make sure the new government delivers, i.e., that the commitments they’ve made find their way into legislation and action. Advocacy that holds people to account may not seem quite as sexy as overtly confronting a villain, but as the people at Playboy realized, full frontal nudity isn’t always the best strategy. Something a bit more subtle might be called for now, in a less combative time.
Not that there’s a lack of battles to fight. On the political front, we need improvements to the CPP and a national home-care strategy among other desirables. Socially, it’s a different kind of struggle. For example, while the adversaries who have traditionally dismissed us as being obsolete may be on the run, there are plenty of pundits who will tell you that our cultural touchstones, things we’ve grown up with and identify with, are on their way to certain obsolescence. One of these is print journalism, notably actual paper and ink magazines like the one you’re reading now. As I’ve already noted, at Zoomer, this supposed irrelevance is decidedly not the case. All our readership metrics are rising, not falling. Why, then, is this “misconception” so important? Because there’s more than one way of rendering a group of people invisible; for example, to claim – prematurely as it turns out – that the things they love are disappearing. I’m a huge fan of novel technology as anyone who has attended my ideacity conference can attest: I have lots of electronic devices, and screens are everywhere in my life. But, like a lot of you I suspect, I still read best from a printed page and think best when I can write notes in the margins with a pen. Photographs as objects, something physical you put on a wall or in an album or in a magazine are part of our generation’s collective memory. All of this, it seems to me, is worth preserving.
That’s just one cause, a current favourite of mine. I’m sure many of you have your own. So I’m taking this opportunity to put out a call for suggestions for a new Mission Statement, challenges to our demographic that you think still need to be addressed, that might have been overlooked or obscured by the large and obvious issues that have occupied us up to now. I’m not looking so much for a last word about where we have come from but a first word on where we, as pioneers in aging, can go from here. So please, send me any ideas or activist concerns you might like to see me address in the future. Not only will you be helping me set our “Next” agenda, you’ll also be a partner in creating a new kind of magazine destination altogether: a last page that is also a first page.
It might even turn out better than a centrefold.
1. How coincidental is it that on the heels of the Supreme Court decision paving the way for assisted suicide, we now have a prime minister who appears to be in favour of legalizing cannabis?
Moses’ Zoomer Philosophy — which launched in ZOOMER Magazine in October 2009 — is a series of monthly essays on age and aging, and the secrets and the science to living better, longer, healthier and happier lives. The first volume of his collection is now available in e-book format on the Kobo Books website. Click here for more information.