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The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Commodification of Growth: Why Pop Culture’s Standards Aren’t Realistic

Graphic: Joshua Repp

Popular culture is an industry designed to commercialize the human experience, and its outputs rightfully captivate us with their glamorous depictions of exclusive events and the allure of the lives of celebrities. But underneath the cover of media and attention, those who are famous ultimately face the same basic struggles each of us go through, though it might often seem different.

Social media and the pop industry mandate periods of growth that are distinct, attractive and — above all — marketable. But natural growth doesn’t happen in the appealing ways that popular culture might have you believing, and a facade of defining eras belies a more complicated form of identity that is often messy and imperfect. Ultimately, the commodification of growth is an imperfect example, and its practices of placing standards on natural growth are best not followed in everyday life.

In today’s online world, the true mark of social impact seems to be online relevance. Social media has developed the practice of short-lived trends, an ever-revolving cycle of ideas that gain popularity, become ubiquitous and are subsequently dropped once they gain an impression of being overused. The perfect trend is one that has the promise of being fresh and exciting, something perfectly relatable for online media to grab onto. It puts incentives on appearing genuine, ironically driving the production of rebrands and eras that captivate public attention, if only for a brief moment. 

Taylor Swift’s ongoing “Eras Tour,” stretching well over a year in length, features her first ten studio albums in distinct eras. A promotional poster features ten images, nine of which are divided into boxes with respective colors and poses. Swift is her own advertisement, and her discography is a complete map of her life, each “era” with its own mood, soundscape and personal history. Swift released her eleventh studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, on Friday, April 19, as an “anthology of new works that reflect events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time — one that was both sensational and sorrowful in equal measure,” according to Swifts Instagram post. The album’s promotional materials are a monochromatic scheme of beige, an attempt to be a thoughtful reflection back to the album’s name. It implies that there is more to be revealed about Swift, and it’s effective marketing. The complementary effects of personal branding leaves Swift’s fans feeling content, yet it seems almost odd compared to everyday life. After all, human life can be messy and unable to be categorized. It can be difficult to define where one “era” of existence begins and ends, or if there are any to begin with at all.

The need to reinvent oneself, to enter a different era, is especially apparent when it comes to childhood stars. Their youth is a valuable commodity for producers. The turn into adulthood seems to require a new identity, lest child stars fade into a nostalgic reminder of the past at best or, at worst, something that should be forgotten.

For Olivia Rodrigo, who acted in various Disney television shows, music seemed to be a decision to change her appearance in popular culture. As Vogue put it, prior to 2021, “you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone above the age of 16 who had heard of Olivia Rodrigo,” but now, her first album, “Sour,” debuted in 2021 at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and gave her instant popularity. Other celebrities, like JoJo Siwa, similarly achieved childhood popularity, such as through Siwa’s appearance on the television show “Dance Moms.” Siwa’s music single “Karma,” released earlier this month in an attempt to redefine herself as grown and changed, has received overwhelmingly negative reviews.

Nonetheless, child stars’ need for reinvention is apparent: to establish themselves to a new audience as something distinctly non-childlike. Their youth is valuable until it’s not, in which case relevance can be found in adulthood. But while this method may generate popularity, which is often deserved, it’s wrong to think that growth and changes in expression may happen as suddenly as it does for celebrities or as perfectly aesthetic as popular art presents to us.

Celebrities and popular culture present media in which change is compartmentalized and beautified, and it’s human to take comfort in this version of reality. But beyond the digital relevance it’s marketed for, it’s useless to expect the same for yourself, as the true mark of human life is a quality of being ever-changing and complex. 

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About the Contributor
Joshua Repp
Joshua Repp, Assistant Arts & Features Editor
Joshua Repp is a first-year from Toledo, OH with a potential concentration in political science and a potential minor in Chinese. He has previously served as a staff writer for the News, Arts & Features and Baker's Dozen sections. On campus, Joshua is a marketing coordinator for Colgate Portfolio, intern for the division of arts and humanities, and participates in intramural table tennis.

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    EMApr 26, 2024 at 12:52 pm

    Truly insightful thoughts Joshua Repp!