Posted on Monday, May 5th, 2008 at 5:44 am
Author: Joe Sapien
I’m fairly neutral on the subject of Starbucks, because I don’t care about coffee. Coffee generally reminds me of dirty, boiling water that has been poured through a rusty grating and into a cup by somebody who hates me.
I address the issue by adding a ton of cream or milk, and then enough sugar to create something that has been referred to as both a “diabetic Chernobyl” and “liquid renal failure.” But since I generally don’t care for coffee, I leave Starbucks alone for the most part, and Starbucks returns the courtesy.
That isn’t to say I haven’t given the whole enterprise some thought. Yes, Starbucks is a soulless, lumbering, obese corporate entity that sweats overpriced, fancy-named coffee into the mouths of the public. And yes, I’m unwaveringly annoyed by the way they try to sell me CD’s of music fresh from the rainforest when all I really want is to pay too much for an overly complex milkshake.
However, as a business distributing a product that isn’t definitively proven to harm us, they are legally protected in their pursuit of profit, no matter how aggravating it gets. Apparently, the upper-middle class can only drink coffee brewed by an ancient sect of Brazilian coffee monks in a remote bean-temple. And if this is the case – if there really is a population that needs the bland, heavy-handed illusion of worldliness and “alternatude” along with their income-accino – then so be it*.
I wouldn’t say that I choke on the atmosphere misdirected liberal guilt when I enter a Starbucks, but I do sometimes gag a little. Of course, this same atmosphere plays a large indirect part in Starbucks’ astronomical profit margins, so it’s not like they’re putting on the whole show just so that my gorge starts to rise.
Finally, we must remember that most dyed-in-the-tight-jeans hipsters tend to despise Starbucks for being mainstream, capitalist, and lame. And since the hipster view of just about everything is factually wrong, I can’t dislike Starbucks. Neutrality is about as hostile as I can get.
Now, I don’t know if many of you have heard, but Starbucks is selling the movie “Juno” on DVD. This is a case where two things that are blindingly alike have come together – it is both disorienting and inevitable.
I have had to sit, think, and truly analyze why this possibly unholy union bothers me. After all, no mainstream comics villain is holding a neutron-powered acid cannon to my head and demanding that I buy this movie from that store. So why should I care? Principle.
“Juno,” for those who somehow haven’t run across it, is a “quirky” and “charmingly cute” movie about a 16 year old girl that finds herself pregnant. To be fair, she isn’t particularly surprised that spontaneous, unprotected sex resulted in a uterine houseguest, and she generally avoids whining. She decides to bear the child and then offer it up for adoption to a worthy and loving family. The majority of the movie revolves around her stoic, candid, “laugh out loud” journey through teen pregnancy and childbirth.
We also get to see the kid from Arrested Development play a really awkward teen-child. It’s a chance to meditate on stilted, single-role career of a young man who may very well become the Screech of our times.
I have to tell you what bothered me about this movie. The titular main character is simply too much. She has a witty comment about everything – and I don’t mean casually witty, or even charmingly clever. This girl is some sort of esoteric, genetically-engineered super-pundit.
She sounds like the bastard offspring of Noam Chomsky and The Dude. You know, if one of them turned out to have girl parts. While the constant stream of bons mots is funny at first, it eventually becomes exhausting. Now, I don’t think that it is too much to assume that “Juno’s” voice is actually Diablo Cody’s voice, or, at least the sort of voice that Diablo Cody idealizes. And that voice, my friends, is farking smug.
It isn’t nearly as offensive coming from a scrawny 16 year old with big, adorable brown eyes, but a grown-up that tried to talk like that would eventually get punched in the crotch. It might not happen right away, or even for years, but eventually they’d grace exactly the wrong drunk person with some snarky, quasi-intellectual witticism referencing The Arcade Fire, and BAM! Their pelvic topography would never be the same.
But we’re supposed to be charmed by this surplus of cleverness. I mean, look at all the quirky stuff that she references! Look at how off-beat, unique, and utterly original she is! And since she’s tiny – but still, like, totally disaffected – it all translates into pure cut cuteness ready for direct injection.
I suppose it isn’t surprising at all that “Juno” and Starbucks have formed an alliance. Both are manifestations of a desperate need to be cool, after all. Of course, to be fair, Starbucks does it to fill a very lucrative, self-deluding niche – a sort of profitstitution, if you will. Diablo Cody just carries on for 120 minutes or so because she has the emotional maturity of a needy 6th grader.
The pursuit of this need to be cool has resulted in some of the more intellectually demeaning efforts in recent social and pop history. I simply don’t believe any of it. I don’t believe that Starbucks really cares about the indigenous tribesman of New Anywhere, or that intrepid Starbucks explorers really raft down the Amazon to bring me special beans grown in exotic dirt. And I certainly don’t believe that Diablo Cody didn’t plagiarize most of the internet, so that she could slather hilarity all over her indie masterpiece.
As an artist or a major corporation, it seems logically impossible to be “off-beat,” “zany,” or “alternative” if you push a mainstream product worldwide. And I don’t care how much depressing, single-chord acoustic music you play in the background to make me think otherwise. That trick’s been used already.
* – Of course, many of the MacBook-toting, blog-scanning faux-literati of this decade love to make the argument that Starbucks created that demand, and that nobody really needs overpriced cups of smoking bean juice. That’s a fair argument, to which I will not respond with anything sensible.
I could say that creating a need to fill is simply great business. I could point out that Starbucks merely expanded and modified a demand for coffee that already existed. But honestly, I don’t really care about all of that stuff.
Rather, consider this: none of us really needs to wear pants, and yet society/the pants corporations are forcing us to. Coffee is a widely enjoyed beverage that provides people with a pickup in the morning. Pants merely stifle us from the waist down all summer long, and keep us from frolicking as God intended.
I don’t want to hear any socially progressive garbage about condemning Starbucks until this completely unfair moratorium on pantlessness is lifted.
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