Remember when Starbucks pimped coffee, not culture?
Do you know what “elucubrate” means? “Succedaneum”? How about “frappuccino”? “Macchiato”? Ah, there we go.
Have you met Starbucks’ newest media venture? America’s favorite caffeinated corporation has taken to promoting films. That’s right — amid the artsy-fartsy wall murals, pleasantly dim hanging lights, and oh-so-comfy velvet chairs, your beloved Starbucks atmosphere is now featuring yet another Piece of Flair: An ad campaign for one of the newest movies by Lions Gate Films, Akeelah and the Bee.
Akeelah is the feel-good movie of the moment, about an African-American girl facing adversity in several grueling forms, namely poverty, race, and multi-syllabic words. Yeah, another spelling-bee film, as if the world even needed one. Surprise, surprise: Our Akeelah seeks the guidance of a wise old dude who’s otherwise unaffiliated with her family, and proceeds to triumph by the movie’s end, either by way of trophy or heightened self-esteem. If you can’t make it to the theater, just rent The Karate Kid or something — it’s sure to have the same effect.
The Karate Kid, however, has not taken over Starbucks. Is your venti Caffè Americano too hot? I invite you to protect yourself with a themed cardboard insulator, adorned with a hard-to-spell word like “pterodactyl” or “cambist.” Has the impossible happened? Is your wi-fi Internet connection neglecting to entertain? Maybe you’d prefer one of the travel-sized Scrabble boards that are currently on sale at the register.
You were never good with words. In second grade, you got the spelling book with the turtle on it, not the train. Now’s your chance to make up for lost time. Man, too bad the SAT was in high school.
Wait — maybe you didn’t come into Starbucks in search of tacky advertisements. Maybe you’re content with your grasp of the English language, however tenuous. Maybe you’re not particularly in want of movie-going guidance. Maybe you were just... thirsty?
I can only speak for myself, but at my recent visit to the Craig Street Starbucks in search of a caramel frap, I found the whole thing pretty damn unusual. I’ve long suspected Starbucks of putting nicotine (or something similar) in their coffee, but this is serious. As far as I’m concerned, this might be the last straw, the last plasticky-green straw. I might have had it. Starbucks, we need to talk.
Which is more disturbing: That this isn’t some caffeine-induced coma or that Starbucks really has reduced itself to pimping movies? That I’m strangely tempted to suck it up and trek the extra couple of yards to Kiva Han? Or — oh no — does it get even worse? What could possibly be worse than how weird it is that Starbucks is allowing its walls to be sullied with an ad campaign? Only one thing: That it’s not very weird at all.
Screw biscotti — I should be eating my words. Initially, I was so shocked about this Akeelah business that I nearly forgot that I’ve been coming to Starbucks for entertainment advice for years. And by I, I mean America. But back to me: Whenever I see an XM radio, the Starbucks station is my first inclination. I can never seem to make it past one of their CD racks without at least fingering the selection, perhaps making a purchase. And as for literature — I can’t recall the last time I entered a Barnes and Noble that didn’t have a Starbucks nestled somewhere within. What is film but the next stop in Starbucks’ conquest of all that is media?
Whatever Starbucks is trying to pull in the world of entertainment seems to be in fundamental opposition to what it means to be a coffeehouse. If all I had was a craving for java, I’d go to McDonald’s. But a coffeehouse is more than that, and it has nothing to do with movies chronicling inner-city spelling-bee participants.
In Europe and colonial America, coffeehouses were significant meeting places for revolutionaries. People came to share their ideas, not get them with their beverages. The Sons of Liberty met to discuss the Boston Tea Party at the historic Green Dragon Tavern. In Paris, plans made at the Café de Foy culminated in the storming of the Bastille. What plans are we making now? “Meet me outside Loews at 7”?
As Starbucks continues to epitomize the American coffee house, is it any wonder that we Americans are often scolded for our 21st-century apathy? All I know is that if I want to have a heated discussion about the war in Iraq, abortion, same-sex marriages, or a host of other provocative topics, I don’t go looking for it at Starbucks.
Maybe that’s just what coffeehouses have become. But just because I won’t be doing any revolutionary scheming over a white hot chocolate anytime soon doesn’t mean that I’m content with allowing Starbucks to continue such over-the-top marketing. Maybe spelling is important — there’s but a small difference between customer and consumer. Which one do you want to be?
Starbucks, I’ve got one word for you: U-N-A-C-C-E-P-T-A-B-L-E.