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Episode 120: 30 Under 30 Lists and the Problem with Our Youth-Obsessed 'Success' Narratives

Released Wednesday, 30th September 2020
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Every year, a series of highly anticipated listicles of "successful" and "influential" people hailed for their accomplishments surface in corporate media. Forbes reveals the most successful 30 people under the age of 30, and Fortune hails the most successful 40 Under 40. Meanwhile, other business outlets like TechCrunch, Fast Company and CNBC seek a taste of the hype with their own spinoffs.
Each time one of these lists is published, a flurry of meta-press ensues. CNN, BBC, and The Los Angeles Times run pieces fawning over these high-profile lists, cementing their status as career launchers within the worlds of tech, politics, finance, venture capital, and other pockets of industry prized in capitalist economies. To the extent left types are chosen, it’s almost always due to their ability to mimic capitalist brand-building or channel activist energy into billionaire-backed nonprofits. Thematically similar stories of “success” are just as ubiquitous: headlines such as Business Insider’s "What 31 highly successful people were doing at age 25" or Oprah's "20 Things Everyone Should Master by Age 40" all create a ticking time bomb notion of "achievement" and success operating under a very specific capitalist framework of human worth.
But why are these outlets entrusted with determining whose "success" or "influence" matters? How do these concepts punish – or at least – disappear the poor, disabled and people of color who don’t have the institutional resources to “achieve” capitalist success at such a young age? And above all, how does American media’s constant fetishization of "youth" and "accomplishment" create psychological wear and tear for the 99 percent of the population who cannot – or don’t want to – meet this definition of "success" by their 30s or 40s.
On this episode, we analyze the ways in which corporate media’s narratives of "success" peddle neoliberalism, undermine labor solidarity, reinforce unrealistic expectations that degrade collective mental health, and overwhelmingly center the interests of the white professional class.
We are joined by Edward Ongweso Jr. and Sarah Jaffe.
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