On being ... the undemographic

By Ingrid Sapona

I know – there’s no such word as undemographic. At least, not yet.

A couple Fridays ago I was mindlessly enjoying my morning routine, reading the paper and drinking my coffee with the Today Show on in the background. One of the news stories that morning was about a London bookstore that, like many others, was already packed with kids anxiously awaiting the midnight sale of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” -- the last in the Potter series.

No sooner did I hear that report than I came upon an article in the paper about the pre-release Potter party my favourite bookstore was throwing. It sounded like quite the event. Apparently the store had been magically transformed so that you felt like you were entering the Harry Potter world of games and magic. The store had even arranged for the street to be closed and the festivities were to include music, magic, and contests that were to last the whole day and well into the night.

I have to admit, the party sounded like great fun. For a fleeting moment, I considered dropping in on it that evening. But, given that Hogwarts doesn’t have an adult education division, and given that I’m a child-less fourty-something, I was pretty sure I wasn’t in the store’s target demographic for that particular event. And, though I sometimes manage to rope friends into going with me to things that I might otherwise not go to (for fear of feeling out of place), I doubt I could have convinced any friend to go with me … not even on a dare!

A few minutes later, Today Show viewers were treated to a musical performance from the cast of the movie Hairspray. I knew Hairspray was soon to be released because throughout the week they had been featuring interviews of various cast members and behind-the-scenes stories of the making (or should I say, re-making) of the movie. All week long, I pretty much ignored these stories because, quite honestly, I couldn’t have cared less. Well, apparently the “big day” (the film’s release) was “finally” here. You know what, I still didn’t care.

As luck would have it, just as the Today Show host was introducing the number from “the must-see movie of the summer” (PLEEEEASE!), the very next section of the newspaper I came across was the movie section. Emblazoned across the front page of the section was a rave review for Hairspray. (Four out of four stars, in case you’re wondering.)

Not being inherently interested in the movie myself, I started wondering who it was aimed at. Surely it’s not directed at me or my friends. We were still pretty much in diapers in 1962 -- the year the movie is set -- so we’re way too young to remember the American Bandstand-type shows (which, I think, is the premise for the movie). At the same time, we’re far too old to find Zak Efron (who plays “hunky Link Larkin”, the love interest in the movie) appealing. Indeed, so far, not one of my friends has asked if I want to go see it, nor have any of them mentioned they’ve seen it.

So just who “must see” this movie, I wonder. What demographic is it aimed at? (I suppose it could be aimed at some group that’s particularly interested in seeing men in drag -- but surely profit from that audience alone wouldn’t justify the advertising dollars spent.) I really don’t know who Hairspray’s target demographic is -- but I know I’m not part of that group!

So there it was -- the most anticipated “release” day of the summer. Two products on which millions of advertising dollars were spent, and not only did not a penny from my piggy bank go toward either, I think it’s safe to say the advertisers don’t even care because I’m not in one of the coveted demographic groups.

Of course, those two incidents aren’t the only times I’ve noticed my interests or tastes were being ignored, but with those two particularly big launches falling on the same day, I couldn’t help but feel somehow isolated from mainstream society. But I know I’m not alone – I’m sure many of my friends must feel the same. Through no fault of our own, we’re all out of that ever-desirable 18-35-year-old group, but not quite full-fledge members of the group that wields grey power. The way I see it, we’re in a vastly overlooked group – a group I propose labeling “the undemographics”.

So Webster’s and Oxford -- I know you recently announced words that you’ll be adding to your next editions and I’m not expecting you to hold the presses just to include undemographic -- but now that I’ve talked openly about being in this non-mainstream group, I suspect others will feel comfortable going public with admissions that they too fall foursquare into this category. Mark my words -- and listen up: that din you hear is people beginning to identify themselves as being in this newly-named group. And, I’m betting that before you know it, products will be developed especially for us and marketed directly at us… Unless, of course, we continue doing as we’re prone to do, which is ignore all the hype and spend only on things we decide we “must see”, or “must have”.

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... meaningful

By Ingrid Sapona

I know this is going to sound odd, but I’ve been debating about whether to title this: On being … meaningful, or: On being … meaningless. Stay tuned -- I think you’ll see why.

Awhile back a sailing friend was telling me about a letter to the editor he read in a magazine called GAM on Yachting. My friend asked if I was familiar with the magazine and whether I liked it. I was pretty sure I knew the magazine he was talking about (I think Dad used to get it and I know I’ve seen it around the sail club) and I think I told him that if it was the one I was thinking of, I thought it was kind of hokey.

Since we were talking about it, I mentioned that I’d always thought it was an odd name. I wondered whether GAM was a meaningless (or made up) word, or whether maybe it was an acronym. I postulated that maybe the G stands for Great Lakes and the M might be for marine... My friend looked at me quizzically and said, “Oh, I think it just refers to a conversation -- you know, gamming about this or that.”

I had no idea what he meant and frankly, I thought he was (pardon the pun) pulling my leg. I had only ever heard of gam as slang for leg – as in, “Tina Turner has great gams”. He agreed that yes, gam does have that meaning, but he insisted gam also has something to do with conversation. I’d never heard of that meaning (and said so), but we both let it go at that.

A few weeks later he brought me a copy of the magazine. I had a look at it and it was exactly as I remembered it -- very folksy -- more like a small town newsletter, full of gossip and news about everyday sailors. It clearly isn’t aimed at the America’s Cup-type. Indeed, I noticed a small item in that issue about a member of my sail club who had recently sold his boat cradle moving business.

At that point I remembered that I still I wondered what the magazine’s name meant, so I combed through the introductory pages and sure enough, just above the masthead it says, “To call upon, chat with, and otherwise communicate with, as the officers and crew of another vessel”. Naturally, I wondered if that was the magazine’s mission statement or could it be what gam means? I decided it was time to pull out the dictionary.

I don’t mind admitting I was quite surprised at what I found. My Webster’s Collegiate defines gam as, “a social visit or conversation between crews of ships, especially whaling ships at sea”. And according to Merriam-Webster on-line, gam is, “a visit or friendly conversation at sea or ashore especially between whalers”. Isn’t that neat! Except for the whaling part, the magazine’s down-to-earth writing and the stories covered really are meant to be just that -- conversations between sailors.

I immediately phoned my friend to admit my ignorance of the meaning of gam (to his credit, he kept his gloating largely to himself), and to share my delight at now being “in the know”. I couldn’t help wonder, however, how many others out there might be like me and not really appreciate the appropriateness of the title. I also thought about the fact that my attitude toward the magazine that I earlier saw as simply hokey had changed once I realize it’s not meant to compete with high-gloss sailing or yachting magazines.

This odd little incident started me thinking about how a word or phrase can be both meaningful and meaningless at the same time. To me, the title of the magazine was meaningless, but to the publisher (and to those who know more than just the slang meaning of gam) the title is incredibly meaningful.

I’m not sure I had ever realized quite so clearly that meaningfulness is an individual thing. Sure, I’ve always understood that’s the case with certain things and in certain contexts. For example, I know that the macaroni-encrusted pencil holder I made for my mother in kindergarten is meaningful to her but to no one else on the planet, and that certain sayings of my father have meaning to me and my sisters that no one else would understand. But when it comes to the meaning of words and phrases used in a wider social context, the fact that a specific meaning can go completely unrecognized (even by those in the intended audience or target market) is remarkable, if somewhat bothersome.

I guess what all this makes me wonder is how many times my readers or audience completely missed my meaning. I guess from now on I’m going to try to make sure I specify (or explain) the meaning I intend. After all, I’d hate for others to jump to the conclusion I did when I thought the title of the magazine was meaningless.

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona