[sixties-l] Talkin Bout Their Generation

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri Feb 02 2001 - 22:06:13 EST

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    February 1, 2001

    Talkin' 'Bout Their Generation


    The mighty AARP has rolled out My Generation, a focus group grab bag of a
    bimonthly for baby boomers

    by William Powers

    My Generation, the humongous new magazine for baby boomers, arrived this
    week. The launch event for newsies featured a blue-neon peace sign, a lava
    lamp, cutouts of Captain Kirk and JFK, "All You Need Is Love" cranking from
    speakers, and a lot of talk about ... plastic surgery. Even if you weren't
    in the mag's target demographic, Americans around age 50, or the leading
    edge of the generation that "refuses to grow up," as the press release put
    it, the launch was a mesmerizing little moment in media evolution.
    And after rifling through the bag of period party favors they gave out (a
    purple tie-dyed bandanna, a pair of red-tinted granny glasses, a tiny disco
    mirror ball), it was easy to spot the event's more salient
    We now know where the children of the '60s, the Dionysian
    anti-establishmentarians who gamboled naked at Woodstock, finally wound up:
    in the embrace of one of the Establishment's biggest and wealthiest
    lobbying outfits, AARP, the magazine's publisher. The hardball interest
    group that makes elected officials quake will send the bimonthly to members
    between ages 50 and 55, meaning an instant circulation of more than 3
    million. Unlike its sister publication Modern Maturity, which will still go
    to the 55-plus crowd (poor wretched souls, they never rocked nude to
    Country Joe and the Fish), My Gen will also be sold on newsstands.
    Then there's the way the magazine was designed, which was by focus group.
    Editor Betsy Carter told The New York Times' Alex Kuczynski that the name
    of the magazine, which most people under
    50 would associate with a song by the Who, didn't come from pop
    music at all (understandable, when you recall that the lyrics included the
    prayer, "I hope I die before I get old"). It came from the way boomers
    referred to themselves in focus groups.
    There's nothing new about focus-grouped magazines, and good reason to
    expect that this latest product of that revered process might succeed. A
    little of this, a bit of that, a touch of the other, and pretty soon you're
    pleasing practically everyone. Those boomers will be reading it hungrily,
    renewing their annual memberships, and helping AARP sell the ads that pay
    the bills.
    Or will they? The people behind My Generation are pros, and they came up
    with some impressive stuff. There's a nicely written piece by Judith Levine
    on having a father with Alzheimer's; a well-reported story by Annie Cheney
    about a judge who tried, at age 50, to start a second career as a New York
    City public schoolteacher; and an amusing Bruce McCall illustration of the
    ideal doctor's waiting room, complete with bar and strolling violinist.
    But the mag is jammed with much other stuff, too, celeb profiles, personal
    finance, fashion, memoirs, advice columns, gadgets, travel, so jammed that
    you can almost hear the grabby focus groupers demanding it all. A piece
    about cosmetic surgery, based on a survey of popular attitudes toward
    face-lifts, eye jobs, and other enhancements, is overtly framed to respond
    to the boomers' fears about their drooping looks. (This must have come up a
    lot in the demo research, because AARP devoted most of the launch event to
    the subject. The coming plastic surgery boom will be way bigger than love
    beads and bell-bottoms ever were.)
    When a magazine strives this hard to please everyone, it's easy for the
    reader to feel a little lost. What's remarkable, and a little puzzling, is
    that My Generation chose not to imitate the most successful magazines of
    our time, which use a simple device to make their content hang together: a
    famous person. First there was Martha Stewart's magazine, a phenomenal
    success. Then Oprah's magazine, more phenomenal. Rosie O'Donnell has one in
    the works, and there's talk of a Tiger Woods magazine that would draw male
    The success of such magazines is based on the cardinal principle of boomer
    culture, celebrity sells. It's especially good at selling magazines,
    because a beloved person is a terrific organizing principle. When you open
    O magazine, it's like entering the mind of Oprah herself, and for her many
    readers, that's a very good place to be.
    Oprah, Martha, and Tiger are not just names and faces. Each is a movement,
    a secular religion, and an extremely powerful way of getting people to buy
    a magazine.
    So while wishing My Generation all the best, I'd suggest that if things
    don't work out with this version, if the readers don't come running, a
    solution is near at hand. There's a gigantic boomer celebrity who would
    make a fabulous magazine. He's more beloved than Oprah, and his fan club
    dwarfs Martha Stewart's. He's the chief fascination of our time,
    inspiration for countless biographies, novels, movies and TV shows. He's a
    historical drama, a crime show, a tearjerker, and a porn flick in one. Best
    of all, he's not simply the right age, he's the epitome of the boomer
    personality in all its beauty and horror. And now he's facing the same
    challenge as his generational cohorts: a sudden sense of self-doubt and
    purposelessness, a fear that the world is leaving you behind.
    Forget the focus groups. Bill Clinton, the magazine, is aching to be born.
    You might not even need his permission, the man's a public figure. But
    somehow, one imagines he'd be up for it.

    William Powers is media columnist for National Journal. He recently spent 
    three months in Japan as a Japan Society Fellow, studying the role of 
    reading in Japanese life. This column appears every week in National 
    Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in 
    Washington, D.C. 

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