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Marketing the Middle-Aging of America

“Saturday Night Live,” that hot, hip, happening show of the Now Generation, recently added a new character: Middle-Aged Man. It is not another example of the show disrespecting its elders. It’s self-parody, another indication that the baby boom generation is finally facing facts.

American Demographics magazine defines a baby boomer as someone born between Jan. 1, 1946, and Dec. 31, 1964. Therefore the moment this year began, someone in America had the dubious honor of becoming the first boomer to hit 45. In its January issue, the magazine examines this phenomenon and tells businesses how to cash in on the aging of America’s most over-analyzed demographic bulge.

As they cross this threshold, boomers can expect, in growing numbers, to die of heart disease, acquire arthritis and diabetes, and lose their powers of sight and hearing. So why are “savvy businesses” calling this the “prime-lifing of America?” Because, the magazine explains, these flabby, pain-wracked, bifocaled folk are gonna have lots of money and they’re going to spend it like crazy on the medical, health, fitness and related industries.

After 45, people move a lot less, and even the “Easy Rider” gang is expected to settle in now. In a companion story, editor Brad Edmondson discusses the new longing many boomers have for a sense of rootedness and community, as reflected in magazines such as Countryside.

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Indeed, the winter issue of that quarterly celebrates “The New Settlers,” in this case three couples who migrate from various urban jungles to Jackson Hole, Wyo., California’s wine country, and Martinsburg, W. Va. None of these yuppie immigrants deluded themselves that they’d find a bucolic paradise on their new green acres. All, however, seem to feel they’ve found “home.”

But what does that mean? In the January/February Harrowsmith Country Life magazine, John Hildebrand ruminates on this. On a recent trip through Big Sur, he noticed with disappointment that one previously omnipresent part of the roadside scenery was gone: hitchhikers.

“The movement of hitchhikers along the Coast Highway had seemed to me a migration as fixed as that of monarch butterflies or gray whales,” he writes. But something changed. The open road, once Americans’ sacred pilgrimage to nowhere in particular, has been replaced in boomer mythology by the hearth and home.

“Instead of Kerouac, we have Garrison Keillor. The small-town life that threatened to drive a past generation of writers bonkers has been idealized by this one,” Hildebrand writes. But the idyllic images in Country Life or Countryside can be misleading, he adds. “We make a place home by our connections to other people--family and friends. Being rooted to a place may be just a euphemism for being stuck there--held down by mortgage payments, kids, aging parents . . . “

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“The fascination with identifying ourselves with a given place seems as much a measure of our transitory times as the popularity of ‘On the Road,’ was of the sedentary ‘50s,” he concludes. “We want hometown cafes and old people on the front porch, not interchangeable malls and fast food. We want a sense of home without the ties that bind. We want, in other words, what we’ve left behind.”

REQUIRED READING

* Speaking of boomers, baby, the January California goes back to a golden oldie story from the year 1978, when the magazine was still called New West, and still doing the occasional ground-breaking article. The story in question was Maureen Orth’s piece on “The Baby Moguls, Hollywood’s New Elite,” which profiled four young studio executives: Don Simpson, Paula Weinstein, Mark Rosenberg and Thom Mount.

The current California picks up these one-time wonder kids at mid career, and checks on how the ‘60s idealism they spouted 12 years ago is reflected in their films, which include, collectively, “Flashdance,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “A Dry White Season,” “Presumed Innocent,” “White Palace,” “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” “Animal House,” “Bull Durham” and “The Fabulous Baker Boys.”

* Between 1981 and 1988, Iraq earned itself a world record as the biggest Third World buyer of foreign weapons, purchasing $46.7 billion worth of planes, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other items. The Soviet Union and China supplied much of the merchandise. But Western Europeans were also in on the arming, and even the United States contributed military technology, Michael T. Klare writes in the January/February The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Now, with the growing possibility that Americans and Europeans will be killed by weapons their countries sold Saddam Hussein, Western arms merchants are busily selling to everyone else in the region--and throughout the Third World. Klare analyzes this Arms-Sale-O-Rama, argues against it, and suggests seven ways that this dangerous stockpiling of conventional weapons might be ended, including the creation of an international convergence on nuclear and chemical disarmament in the Middle East, and a reconvening of the U.S.-Soviet, Conventional Arms Transfer Talks (CATT).

* When it comes to environmental coverage, are the mainstream media mere running dogs of Corporate Greedheadism? That’s pretty much what Martin A. Lee and Norman Solomon say in the January/February issue of E Magazine.

In places, the authors, who are associated with the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, are condescending, as when they sniff: “Many editors and reporters strive to do their jobs with integrity.” Elsewhere, they seem to hold the naive belief of many environmentalists--that anyone who factors bottom-line economics into an environmental debate is slavishly pro-business.

But they are on target in nailing specific media for failing to look at the big and complex pollution picture and for averting their supposed watchdog eyes when their organizations’ own economics are linked to an environmental issue.

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R.I.P.?

Wigwag, a wondrously quirky and quietly adventurous monthly will suspend publication after the March issue unless or until new investors come along with some cash. Publisher Sam Schulman said in a press release that while the magazine has been successful in attracting readers and advertisers, it now needs an infusion of capital.

“I am determined,” he said, “to find the individual or company that wants to own the most audacious and admired new national magazine in America.” Sadly, each of the many magazines that have gone belly up recently have said they were merely taking a sabbatical to hunt for capital. None, so far, has been resurrected. Hope that Wigwag is the exception.


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