45: Zooming Toward Oblivion


Kaslo, B.C.   Thursday April 7, 2011

 There can be something rather noble and reassuring about an aged face, full of character, well wrinkled, and composed. Even in films, where typically we see celebrations of youth, vigor and power, sometimes the archetype of aged wisdom is also portrayed and celebrated, as for instance in the role of a revered Aboriginal chief or a wise European grandmother, a person rich in sun-burnished wrinkles. An aging female celebrity once observed “I don’t want any makeup artist or photographer altering so much as a single wrinkle or blemish on my body. I’ve paid dearly for every one.

But sadly, in Canada today, we have a burgeoning commercial enterprise that is primarily devoted to selling to retirees of rather comfortable means not wrinkles, not wisdom, but selling instead unrealistic hopes, hopes for enduring youthfulness, for enduring vigor (both physical and sexual), and for enduring power (both political and social). More particularly, retirees are being sold hopes for enduring happiness, happiness that is to be achieved by means of an increasing consumption of both goods and services.  One prominent mouthpiece for promoting such hopes is the Canadian publication named Zoomer magazine. This magazine is but one of many arms of a business empire called ZoomerMedia.

Another arm of ZoomerMedia is called CARP. CARP was once known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. Formerly CARP was an “Association,” but today it stands transformed into a different kind of marketing vehicle, news about which is primarily communicated through Zoomer magazine. Retirees in Canada are specifically being encouraged, though CARP, to become consumer-zoomers. In this newest incarnation of CARP, it now appears that consumer retirees may simply have become the consumed.

CARP is still portrayed as a non-profit political lobbying organization for seniors, and technically that might be true. But CARP does have expenses, and it appears from the pages in Zoomer magazine that many of CARP’s revenues go to pay to ZoomerMedia, and to its well-connected friends, comfortable fees for their varied commercial, political, and publication services. Perhaps that is part of the reason that CARP now exhibits an increased need to market itself as earnestly as Zoomer magazine works to market itself.

Another of the many arms of ZoomerMedia is one that is called ZoomerCard.ca. In early issues of Zoomer magazine this entity purchased full-page advertisements for its “Platinum Plus” ZOOMER MasterCard. One such advertisement featured a lovely coquette of uncertain seniority (perhaps age 50, perhaps not) comfortably seated cross-legged on a plush red couch while gazing directly at the viewer, sharing both her winning smile and her winning cleavage. Beside her, in a large font, were printed the words: “Now it’s all about / Me.”  And just below the super-sized word “me” appeared a large MasterCard with the massive word “ZOOMER” emblazoned from side to side. Ensnared inside the second letter “O” in “ZOOMER” could be seen the sketch of a carp. (The metaphor, sadly, was perfect.)

In this advertisement, in undisguised form, was revealed what the new Zoomer movement seems to concentrate most upon, namely on my “Me,” my proud status, my proud health, my proclaimed agelessness, my ability to command copious resources and comforts. Unreflective and unapologetic pride is exhibited and encouraged here. And thus, it seems to me, the Zoomer movement celebrates some socially troubling forms of egotism, ostentation, and denial.

About 30% of each Zoomer magazine is filled with distinctly high-end advertising directed to financially comfortable seniors. Another 30% of the magazine contains feature copy that praises selected destinations and products and lifestyles that suggest the promise of an increase in wealth or comfort to those retirees who already command large helpings of both. Another 20% of the magazine is generally devoted to polishing the brands of celebrities who usually seem to have some new book or record or product that you should buy to increase your sense of superior discrimination and worth as a senior sophistocrat. Much of the remainder of each Zoomer magazine is devoted to reminding readers of, and then reassuring them about, fearful subjects, such as one’s eventual death, or illness, or perhaps poverty. More frequently however, these articles are about means for avoiding those fearful events that portend terrible embarrassment or the loss of some prized Zoomer traits, particularly traits such as attractiveness and sexual prowess.

For those who admire or profit from this approach to life, Zoomerism may be seen as a fine thing. But for those who cannot admire this full-court marketing press it can be painful and worrying to observe. Is “enough” never enough for Zoomers? One might easily imagine it is not. Is more Shopping and more Travel and more Dining the road to happiness for each of us? One might easily conclude that it is. Are we never to become comfortable with wrinkles or quieted appetites or the other imagined “failings” of old age? Apparently not soon if we buy into the Zoomer philosophy of Me.

Zoomerism shows itself as a philosophy of excess: Excess in the service of increasing acquisitions, acquisitions in the service of continued “growth”. But yesterday’s livable world is fast disappearing in an excess of excesses: excessive population, excessive greenhouse gasses, excessive waste, even excessive financial inequality and privilege. Reflection suggests that the all-too-likely price tag for more of such excesses might well become oblivion.

Retirement offers us our last best time for reflection. It is also the last best time for gratitude, for giving back, and giving away. It is certainly a time for reading. But alas, reading Zoomer magazine and its self-proclaimed “Zoomer philosophy,” may have just the wrong effect on those members of CARP who might otherwise be helped to slow down.

Oblivion should not be rushed. Nothing should.

© J. Barnard Gilmore

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This “retirement chapter” is a continuation of my published book. It makes reference to some topics and people introduced in that book, including my wife Lorraine and the small town of Kaslo, British Columbia, on Kootenay Lake. 

Chapter 44:  FIRST AID

Kaslo, B.C.   Wednesday July 16, 2008 

Early last Saturday morning, Lorraine and I reported to the Kaslo Golf Club, there to attend a Red Cross CPR/AED course, one that was designed to teach us how best to attempt the provision of oxygen and heartbeats to people discovered to be lacking either. Yet what this course actually taught us turned out to be something more. It taught us more than we had bargained for about our readiness (or lack thereof) to accept death as a guest in our homes. And, it taught us how many good Samaritans there are out there who we have yet to meet. Today I understand better why I had not been looking forward to taking this course. But I’m also beginning to see more clearly why I feel very lucky indeed that I did arrange to take it.

In this age of knowing acronyms, CPR is shorthand for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. And AED is shorthand for Automated External Defibrillation. The former is the modern variation of that exciting and nearly taboo activity that as teenagers we once called “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” the stuff of television heroics and fantasy thrills. The latter is the layman’s variation of an answer to the frantic call “is there a doctor in the house?” It refers to the little black box that can sometimes restore a heart to its senses when that heart has forgotten how to beat properly. It amounts to an expert electronic cardiologist, sitting on her shelf, just waiting to advise you, to take charge, and to administer life-giving charges at the flick of a switch.

However, much of what Lorraine and I learned while kneeling on the Golf Course porch last Saturday morning was somewhat incidental to the skills we were practicing there. We were asked for instance, “What percentage of people whose hearts have suddenly stopped can be saved with timely CPR?” I guessed the answer was 50%. The best empirical estimate happens to be closer to 8%. And if we have a defibrillator at hand, what percentage can be saved then with timely AED? The best empirical estimates for AED are more like 30%. This means that even when we have the best help at hand, and have it quickly, much more often than not our attempts to revive a comatose victim are going to leave us saddened and troubled. And particularly so if our patient happens to have been a baby.

After the heart stops, the body in which it resides is dead. If the heart can be restarted, then recently that body had been dead. At our course on Saturday we were asked “In the absence of oxygen, how long will the brain survive with almost all its functions recoverable?” I guessed that it depends on the temperature of the body at the time and I guessed 3 minutes. The best current estimate happens to be closer to 5 minutes, plus or minus, but yes, certainly longer in the very unlikely event that the brain was markedly cooled prior to the heart stopping. We were also told that the last sensory function to stop working in the oxygen-deprived brain is usually hearing. A suddenly dead patient cannot respond, but for a very brief time they can probably still hear. That is why this weekend we were taught to talk to the patient and to explain what we are doing as we move or touch them, however unresponsive they appear to be.

We were also taught a surprising new rule: the best test for confirming a heart that is still working is no longer to search for an elusive and weak pulse. Instead, it is either to hear or see two breaths. If we cannot see or hear any breathing taking place in at least 10 seconds of close listening to any sounds from the nose & mouth, while simultaneously watching the patient’s diaphragm very closely, then we can safely assume the heart is not working effectively.  Our instructor told us about a trial held in a hospital to detect a pulse in patients having a weak pulse. Each one of a class of fourth-year medical students was told to take the pulse of every patient in a large hospital during the day, and to report on their results at the end of the day. Every one of the busy young doctors reported a pulse for every patient and swore they had visited every room. Did they check in room #582? “Yes,” they said, “every room.” But the two patients in room #582 were dead. The doctors managed to find a pulse (likely their own) even in these patients. A hurried test for a pulse rate, without a stethoscope, is too unreliable to be used safely, particularly by laymen at a scene with an unresponsive patient

As it turns out, much of what a Red Cross course like ours has to offer you occurs in the days immediately following that course, particularly for the older retiree of uncertain years. There are enough things to remember, enough things needing practice, that during at least the following few days Lorraine and I found ourselves reviewing most of what we had learned. Our rehearsals triggered some serious reflection on just how much healthy time we might have left together, left for ourselves, and left with our remaining older relatives, particularly with Lorraine’s mother Audrey and with my stepmother Helga. These are the sorts of reflections that signing a will can bring home for a time, but to my surprise such reflections proved to be far stronger following this course on attempted life-giving.

All of us have hearts that will stop one day. At this moment, the oxygen being circulated throughout our bodies permits me to write just as it is permitting you to read. But life transmutes. Living things decay as new living things emerge. Our familiar environment decays as new environments emerge. Societies and cultures transmute as well, and with all such changes our comfort levels frequently wane. Everything is in flux and is impermanent, and thus it may become a potential source for anxiety.

If you happen to have been putting off taking CPR/AED training, there may be some quite understandable reasons for your delay. Don’t feel guilty about procrastinating. But as soon as you can feel ready, especially if you are a retiree, you may discover, as I did, that this course can be another good way to deal with some of one’s feelings about being “useless,” about aging, and one’s natural reluctance to face the truth of one’s mortality. Sooner or later, the “work” of retirement is going to require no less. But there is comfort to be found in a community of supportive students practicing the art of helping hearts back to work before those hearts are themselves truly ready to retire.

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