I Agree That Starbucks is Evil–Just Remind Me Why

Remind me again why I’m supposed to hate Starbucks.  Because I think the reason has changed over time.  There’s a scene in Christopher Guest’s comedy Best In Show (2000) where a status-obsessed overachieving yuppie married couple played by Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey tell the story of how they met: he was sitting in the window of a Starbucks working on his Mac when he saw her sitting working on her Mac in the window of the Starbucks across the street.  (Maybe they were on the corner of Robson and Thurlow in Vancouver, B.C., which really does have Starbucks franchises catty-corner from one another.)  Okay: Starbucks is a purveyor of shallow elitist luxuries.  (So, apparently, is Apple.) Also, my wife’s friend calls Starbucks “Fourbucks”, which I think is pretty hilarious. I get it.

But just a few years later, in the aftermath of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election there was a briefly viral YouTube clip of then-still-governor Sarah Palin giving an interview to a local television crew outside a turkey farm. The gag is that she has just returned from the ritual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey but is oblivious to the guy behind her decapitating another one. For my money this clip is a non-event that’s only funny if you really have it in for Palin, but what I want to call attention to here is the paper Starbucks cup visible in her hand. I contend that its logo was part of what made this video a brief sensation. Now Starbucks signifies crass populism (or a politician cynically aligning herself with crass populism), which is the exact opposite of yuppie elitism, right?

(Or am I the last guy in the United States to still use the word “yuppie”?)

So which is it? Is Starbucks bad because it’s highfalutin or because it’s the favored coffee spot of the proles? I’m totally willing to play along, but you have to tell me which one.

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3 Responses to I Agree That Starbucks is Evil–Just Remind Me Why

  1. Shawn says:

    Unfortunately, it’s talking, or worse, writing, or nested inside that superlative, worse still, writing concerning social status, about SB that’s evil.
    Talking about SB is déclassé since it’s been done so much by all, but writing about it is like trying to revive that flogged-dead talk, and writing about any social status surrounding it is bitterly ironic, because it’s nigh impossible to interpret such writing as anything but a form of name-dropping for the sake of gaining attributes of its social status—Is that redundant?
    This may be a horrible analysis that would shut up all the best writing, however; and perhaps important things, important to many people, deserve dialog. Maybe what’s missing from the article is a statement, rather than such an open question, accompanied by an apology for name-dropping, however well-intentioned, several phrases to catch the search-engine wave—Palin, Apple, Starbucks, presidential election, Mac, Vancouver.

    • W.P. McNeill says:

      Merely dropping the words “Apple”, “Starbucks”, and “Palin” into a post does nothing to increase your hit count. In order to make a shameless bid for search engine traffic, you must write a meandering, linguistics-themed post about video recorder terminology and title it “Kim Kardashian’s Sex Tape”.

      I was hoping a snarky open question could take the place of an academically sound thesis statement because I think the latter might end up dull and flatfooted, but here goes: like many other consumer institutions, Starbucks has a certain cultural baggage associated with it. With most instituions an essential part of this baggage is a clear consensus on the stereotype of what their customer base is like. Prius owners are this kind of person. Walmart shoppers are that kind of person. The consensus is weaker with Starbucks, because the stereotype is self-contradictory and changes over time, but the baggage is still there. This makes Starbucks a culturally interesting institution. I don’t know why this would be the case, though I suspect it arises from Starbucks’ ubiquity. Not only do its outlets provide convenient coffee for everyone, but they also provide an endlessly malleable focus of disdain.

  2. Shawn says:

    Yay. How do we get out of this funk? Is there a zero-sum game of hate? I think we’re surprised in how few decades a company, like a hairstyle, can cement a sculpture in the pantheon of cultural jokes.
    Thinking about this is making writing about this grow on me. How far am I willing to go from the “how dare you wallow in crassness” attitude of my first comment?
    I’m reminded of Steerforth, that Starbucks, heh, Palin herself, are our misfit darlings. Darn, what’s the word for things we love to hate? Oh well, I’m going with misfit darlings. But Steerforth was more than loved by hating. He had done something grand in his earliest dealings with Copperfield, so later sins were forgiven in an exceptional way. Likewise, Starbucks has done something grande, so we chuckle at the later motley associations. But was that grande-osity in our youth or theirs? In my youth, I used to tread off the bus in NYC, pacing straight to any urban cafe, “hey I’m in town!” I’m not sure I can unweave those threads. “I only like older coffee companies.”
    Wow, getting all that off my chest brings me back to a clearer sense, maybe to platitudinize to a venti degree—Different people with cultural power have different axes to grind, so they’ll come up with different, even opposing reasons to hate Starbucks. Not saying much.

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