Prophet of Zoom: Extra! Extra! Young Love Old!

Closing the circle of age.

This past February, I was invited to appear at the Meet the Media Guru Conference 2016, which was being held at the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan. Actually, I was the Media Guru in question, there to speak about my career and philosophy, particularly as it was informed by my Citytv/MuchMusic youth-centric television of yore; and my not-so-youth-centric ZoomerMedia of today.

Now I must admit that for most of the past decade, I’ve acted as if the word “old” had been irretrievably stigmatized as “bad” (one reason I came up with the substitute “Zoomer”). But, suddenly, in Milan, looking at the blindingly white baroque magnificence of the Duomo di Milano, the largest cathedral in Italy and fifth largest in the world, which had been sandblasted to astonishing newness for the 2015 Expo, the old didn’t seem bad but classic; not decrepit but enduring; not irrelevant but eternally creative. The cathedral had taken nearly six centuries to build but, at age 600, it didn’t feel old at all. In other words, old seemed young.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. While I was off guru-ing in Italy, Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old Democratic presidential nominee candidate, was busy winning the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries over Hillary Clinton, victories in which he received an astonishing 83 per cent of votes from people under 30. In his subsequent Michigan primary victory, that percentage was 81 per cent, and in the Ohio and Florida primaries, which he lost, his under-30 bulge over Clinton nevertheless stayed huge. According to Reuters tracking polls, Sanders was leading Clinton nationally by 35 per cent among millennials.

How had this happened? How had the magic of the Duomo rubbed off on Bernie Sanders? Quotes from his millennial supporters (according to surveys, the least political young generation in history) make it pretty clear. They like Bernie because he strikes them as untainted and honest in his core beliefs, proof that you can live a life of idealism and still be a powerful presence in politics. His idealism is the key, as it had been for our own cohort in the ’60s. We were coming out of the conformist ’50s and yearning for something different. Today’s young Americans are coming out of the cynical, ironic 1990s and 2000s and are also yearning for something different.

Then again, Italians today have their own version of Bernie Sanders: the most famous Zoomer on the planet, Pope Francis. The 79-year-old Francis, a new kind of pontiff who drives a used Ford Focus, has an appeal to millennials worldwide that’s a mirror image of Bernie’s in the U.S. Canadian millennials are included: “He’s authentic, approachable and relatable,” says Oriana Bertucci, director of Toronto’s Ryerson University’s Campus Catholic Ministry. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy about him, and we’re just excited to be around that.”

If you take a horizontal lifeline and bend it into a circle, the young and the old aren’t the ages farthest from each other but the closest. At this moment in history, two old guys, Bernie and Francis, have managed to close the circle and create the kind of young-old affinity that I’ve always been convinced we need to make our own agenda relevant. Maybe a third old guy, moi, can contribute a bit to that connection.

What’s important is that the connection has been made, the conversation started. Our challenge now is to keep it going.