Sunday, August 24, 2008
The Java Jeremiad
Coffee shops have long represented a certain culture, a Bohemian, B-Type liberalism associated, more or less, with screenplays that never get finished and scrawled notes that never get formalized. The bean brewery is home to the diurnal diuretic and estival beret—shelter to a fueled, fledgling artisanship.
Starbucks is not the traditional coffee shop. Starbucks sells John Mellencamp records. Starbucks sells first-person narratives driven by canine protagonists. Starbucks attracts more corporate shills than it does dowdy writers. Starbucks charges Benjamins and does not give free refills.
Like a dance club, Starbucks charges for a tony aesthetic. The acerbic, inky coffee is a high-priced hand stamp, a token of inclusion in an odd, pretentious party. The in-speak and latte lingo are the native patois, the jargon of dispossessed coffee drinkers with more insecurities than taste receptors. It is with an ingratiating smile that the counter clerk takes your order, and it is with a dismissive wave that your drink is served. Tired minions huff through Starbucks every day, wanting to tread in the shallow fraternity of Mint Mocha Chips and Caffé Americanos.
The question, “Would you like a little foam on your macchiato?” is supposed to be pathetic. It’s supposed to be asked of a faux installation artist by a faux barista, both—male or female—with unclipped body hair and idealism that slightly exceeds their respective intellects. It is a question that should, by café noir standards, evoke a round of mordant anti-Frenchism. It should not be asked in a central business district and should not be posed against an exclusively licensed John Coltrane recording. Thanks to Starbucks, macchiato foam flipped from freak to chic, its hilarity dissipated like so much steamed milk…err, soy milk.
What does Starbucks want? Not your money—they got that long ago. Not your loyalty—they snared that, too. What they’re really after is approval, a collective affirmation of the way the chain has hijacked coffee culture. Starbucks abruptly maimed the organic coffee shop experience, a fact that has become a mammoth elephant in the room. Instead of resolving the elephant, Starbucks has marketed it past innocuousness and into fashion, and desperately needs its customer base to help prolong the fiction.
Instead of addressing high prices and low roast, Starbucks is prospering by having us all participate in a farce. The knock-off paintings on its walls reek of wannabe, but we ignore that. The music it plays is teenybopper swill, but we listen anyway. Its heinous lighting and assembly line embrace violate everything quirky and sacred about coffee houses, but we forgive. We relent, yield, and sip.
Stay Scandalizing, Starbucks
DJ De Leche