The Oberlin Review

Corporate Appropriation Delegitimizes Youth Culture, Slang

Kiley Petersen, Opinions Editor

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There’s a hilarious scene in the first season of Portlandia where one of Fred Armisen’s characters, a bearded, hipster biker with gauges, cycles past a grocery store. He yells from his bike, “Whole Foods is corporate!” and rides away, shouting random “radical” phrases like “Go vegan!” and “Bike lanes!” until he finally rides his bike into his house, getting his door chain caught in his earring. The whole show is a hysterical parody of white, middle-class, urban-hipster progressivism, and I highly suggest spending some quality time during finals binge-watching it on Netflix.

So, Whole Foods Market is corporate. Surprise, surprise. Basically everything we consume, whether it’s food, clothes or media, comes from a corporation. In light of its recent meager second-quarter earnings, a whopping $3.6 billion, but still below investors’ expectations, Whole Foods has decided to up its game and compete with the mainstream grocery stores that are jumping on the organic and local food bandwagon. Its solution? A Whole Foods geared toward Millennials — no exorbitant prices, more technology, organic produce. I’m going to skip the whole section on why Whole Foods is hypocritical in its green-washed, local-sustainable imagery because that could take up a whole column by itself. Look up Field Maloney’s article in Slate for an in-depth look at how organic doesn’t always mean environmentally friendly (“Is Whole Foods Wholesome?,” Slate, March 17, 2006).

My particular bone to pick with Whole Foods and other corporations is this new trend of branding everything for the Millennial generation. It makes sense to target this particular new consumer group: Millennials are growing up, graduating college and ready to spend what little money they have. Whole Foods honestly thinks that if it rebrands its stores as inexpensive and full of exciting gadgets, Millennials will flock to their organic produce and “ancient harvest” quinoa. The sad thing is, it’s probably right. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are the new Walmart — obvious signs of green gentrification in neighborhoods that steal client bases from local grocery stores and farms. Imagine if the Trader Joe’s in Crocker Park magically appeared next to Slow Train. Gibson’s would be abandoned within a matter of weeks; depending on how you feel about this particular store, that could be a good or a bad thing. But all of the local businesses in town would suffer from the arrival of a giant supermarket corporation since most of the profits from a big store wouldn’t be invested back in the community.

Denny’s is another example of a corporation that has capitalized on Millennial culture and interests. Its Tumblr is a huge source of entertainment and simultaneously the laughingstock of the internet. Denny’s has taken a slightly different route in appealing to younger consumers: Instead of changing its whole structure, Denny’s has discovered weird gifs, meme culture and internet slang to add to the appeal of pancakes, burgers and All-American breakfasts. It’s truly devastating, but also kind of beautiful, to see the outrageous lengths its social media team goes to attract young people. As an English major, I particularly like the series of classic novels rewritten to include the diner’s name: “A Tale of Two Denny’s” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Four Bros Eating at Denny’s” were the best.

Is it so wrong of me to want my shitty meme culture and weird internet slang untouched by corporations and the “real world”? Youth culture has historically been a place for rebellion and a split from the mainstream. The addition of the internet has made this tradition global, more inclusive and ever-evolving — we’ve created new linguistic styles of communication with emojis and even been engaged in social movements via Twitter like #BlackLivesMatter. It’s a gross but predictable move that corporations would want to cash in on this culture. I’m just hoping for the day when I can buy food without the influence of grocery stores or restaurants telling me what I can and cannot consume. In the meantime, I’ll be watching Portlandia and eating Trader Joe’s cookie butter, because it’s unfortunately delicious, and I am a hypocrite.

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