Dec. 7, 2012
A Canadian media visionary
Moses Znaimer is founder of ZoomerMedia and CARP president.
During an interview with Adrienne Clarkson and Paul Soles on the CBC talk show Take 30, a young Moses Znaimer explained the basis for his extraordinary productivity. “I get bored very, very quickly,’’ he told Clarkson during the 1967 interview that would eventually lead to his role as the show’s co-host.
For any other Canadian icon, it could have become the defining statement of his career. For Znaimer, however, who launched his start in broadcasting at CBC in his early 20s, it was a peek at how he would grow into the media mogul he would become. Some 40 years later, at the age of 70, Znaimer is still expressing that pioneering potential. As the creator of cutting-edge programming, such as Bravo!, MuchMusic and Citytv, Znaimer’s influence has extended into virtually every facet of Canada’s multimedia revolution.
As the brainchild behind ZoomerMedia, today, Znaimer continues to keep pace with Canadian social trendsetters. His attempt to capture the image of Canadians as they – gracefully and not so gracefully – age is succinctly expressed in his combining of “boomer” with “zip”: the zoomer.
In 2009, as an additional mark of his dedication to exploring the realities of aging well, Znaimer was named president of CARP and has been at the helm of the organization’s subsequent facelift.
CARP, explained Znaimer in an interview with the Independent, “used to be known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. When I was growing up, the image of paradise at the end of a long, miserable life of industrial slavery was that you got to retire and that you had a couple of years in your basement building model airplanes, and then you died.
“Today, it is entirely possible that people will have more [time] in so-called retirement than they actually had working life,” he said of the demographic shifts taking place in Canada. This contemporary reality has led many people to understand that “the best way to keep going is to keep going,” he added. “That is why we are now known as the Canadian Association of Refreshed and Recharged and Revitalized and otherwise Relaxed Persons!”
In reenergizing CARP, the seminal question determining the organization’s own longevity, therefore, was how to portray “the new vision of aging in such a way that people [would] wish to identify,” Znaimer explained. The answer to that question, he continued, lay in how the organization defined membership, and what aging represents to Canadians.
“We have done this by getting across the idea that, first of all, there is nothing wrong with aging,” he said. “It is unavoidable, we all do it. And, if we’re lucky, we get a lot of it.”
Second, Znaimer said, CARP repealed the age restriction for membership, a move that he felt matched the core values of the organization. “Because it is not just about yourself,” he said of the change. “Forty-year-old people have 65-year-old parents. And 30- [year-olds] have 80-year-old grandparents. And so, it’s also about the people you care for, and the people you may have to take care of.”
On Nov. 14, Znaimer presented his perspectives on aging before the CARP Vancouver membership. Approximately 350 people from Vancouver’s five CARP chapters, as well as a contingent of not-yet members attended the free presentation, which was held at the Norman Rothstein Theatre at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
According to Leanne Wright, vice-president of communications for ZoomerMedia, more than half of those attending from across the Lower Mainland were below the age of 65; approximately 20 percent were younger than age 50. As well, many who were not CARP members before the presentation signed up before leaving the event, she said.
As president of CARP, it seems that Znaimer’s vision of aging is reaching a broader spectrum of Canadians. Jeffrey Sefton, chair of CARP’s Vancouver Central chapter, said that the connection the media mogul has with Canadians is important. “People are getting our message that with a larger member base we have a larger voice,” he said, noting that the organization’s goals are to reach a million members. “A larger voice provides the clout that we need to protect our aging population.”
But Znaimer’s vision isn’t limited to how Canadians relate to CARP. It is evident in just about every challenge he has successfully tackled since leaving CBC in the late 1960s. His “radical” view of a multicultural media in the 1970s eventually led to his purchase of Vision TV in 2010, a multi-faith network that relates in a poignant way to the question of aging.
The “reason I [purchased] Vision was that as people age, their minds naturally turn to spiritual concerns,” Znaimer said. The network offers a link for individuals who wish to stay connected with their spiritual and cultural identity, but who may be limited by mobility or health issues. “This channel was mandated with that task,” he stressed, “and, I think, properly so.”
Multiculturalism, said Znaimer also helped to shape his outlook as a young child growing up in a Jewish household. Originally from Tajikistan, his family immigrated to Canada at the end of the Second World War, ultimately settling in Montreal.
“We were displaced persons,” Znaimer said of his family’s Canadian arrival. “We came here as immigrants, and on the run, really. We were the only survivors. I never really met anybody else in my family because there was no one left in that family. It was just my mom and dad.”
Those early years in Montreal deeply affected how Znaimer saw the world. “I grew up on a legendary, but fairly rough, street in Montreal called St. Urbain,” he said, “and what I found in life is that it was a multiplicity of cultures and individuals that made life interesting, aside from the fact that it was the right thing and the honorable thing. So, when I got my hands on some television, it seemed to me it was not only, as I say, the right thing, but was also the smart thing to do.
“Up to that point in time, television was generally a kind of national instrument and, when it is that kind of thing, it has to be more homogenized. The country was still in that sense more, you know, blond hair and blue eyed, and I knew, on the immigrant’s street, that is not what it looked like. So, all of these ideas, which eventually were ‘forced’ on people, came naturally to me, and I was able to express them.”
Jan Lee’s articles on Jewish culture and traditions have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism, and on Suite101.com. She is also a contributing writer for TheDailyRabbi.com. Her blog is multiculturaljew.blogspot.ca.