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June 10, 2008

Affected nonsense

Ace considers the affectations of Liberal Urban Professionals. His critique of Starbucks coffee - and Starbucks coffee drinkers - is exactly right; its consumption is purely symbolic. The people who claim to enjoy it prove they do not know what a real cup of coffee tastes like, thereby beclowning themselves.

Many liberals are much concerned with setting themselves apart as members of the socio-cogno-cultural elite, and yet don't have any particularly strong claims on such status, to wit, either aristocratic lineage, high accomplishment in one's field, or (as ever) a big stinking heap of money.

And thus these idiotic cultural/tribal signifiers -- an otherwise inexplicable romance with rather overpriced and often-burned coffee sold in strip-malls and walking-malls by a vendor with some light European pretensions, a rage about this or that independent movie that all of the smart-set agrees is a must-see, which hot new vodka is currently the only one to drink, etc. -- occupy such a disproportionately large part of the Luppies' mindspace.

They're not just buying coffee at Starbucks, you see. They are, for just $3.99 per Venti, establishing or reinforcing, they think, that craved position in the social/cultural/cognitive elite that otherwise eludes them. Renting status at a steeply-discounted price, considering the various other ways -- either difficult or expensive or both -- to actually obtain it.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at June 10, 2008 06:44 AM


I do not have much of a fight in the coffee wars, as I feel that if a man is going to interrupt his labours for refreshment, he ought to have a proper British drink like a gin and tonic.

But I do feel that some defence of Starbucks is warranted. It should be obvious that any self-selecting consumption community is going to use particular products and procedures (and a conscious rejection of alternative products and procedures) as part of its shared rituals. Call that Marketing Anthropology 101.

This is true whether the goodies for sale are Star Trek commemorative salt and pepper shakers, or Starbucks vente caramel macchiatos, or Colt 1911 pistols.

So yes it is somewhat nonsensical when viewed with the lens of a non-member of that consumption tribe. We consider it stupid for a regular Starbucks patron to behave in such a stereotypically LUPpie way, but then there are also countless examples of equally stupid thinking by their conservative counterparts (Conservative Rural "Iconoclasts"?), who hate pretty much anything to do with high culture and urbanisation.

A mistake, to my mind, since the success and endurance of our dense cities is indeed one of the hallmarks (if not one of the key success vectors) of Western civilisation. Where would we be if we couldn't support urbanisation on the scale of 27 BC Rome, or 18-19th century London, or 21st century Tokyo?

Anyway, it should be obvious to even a 1st year marketing student that the motivational orientation of any individual member of a consumer tribe is, surprise surprise, going to be governed by the extent of their identification with the brand. And that is true whether the brand is a particular religion, TV show, food or website.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2008 11:35 AM

Although it should be added that Starbucks is teh suck.

Posted by: urthshu [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2008 02:03 PM

Yes, I was thinking that too. I am not anti-Starbucks due to their branding or my irritation with their clientele but the because the coffee is burnt and horrid.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2008 02:20 PM

...but that's how all coffee tastes! =\

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2008 04:04 PM

I've never understood the fascination with Starbuck's coffee. It is horrid, over-roastedto the point of burnt, and overpriced. It tastes like burnt corn filtered through gym sock and dirt.


On the other hand McDonalds, the perpetual target of lefty antiglobalist ire, now has some very good coffee. At about 1/2 of the price.

Go Free Market!

Posted by: dpatten [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2008 04:07 PM

Tim. Horton's.

One of several reasons I moved back to Canada.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2008 04:10 PM