Saturday, November 25, 2006

Starbucks in Larchmont, White Plains, Rye, Mamaroneck, Chappaqua, Rye Brook and You

An unavoidable part of the experience of heading toward middle-age in the Burbs is having popular culture leave you behind. You don’t like pop music anymore, most movies seem entirely uninteresting, you don’t identify with pop icons, the new clothes are ridiculous costumes – oh, yes, it is happening. But folks, let me fill you in on a not so well kept secret: there’s nothing natural or inevitable about this. It’s done on purpose. And by a relatively small number of people pulling the proverbial levers. It’s all about post-war advertising strategies.

You may know that advertisers relying on questionable research have determined that Americans older than their twenties are not highly desirable targets for ads. Why? Because supposedly the older folks are not likely to change product brands. According to this widely ascribed to theory, once you enter into your thirties you have brand loyalty and no amount of advertising is likely to seduce you away to new soaps and deodorants.

The culture industries are either directly or indirectly (but within a degree or so) dependent on advertising revenue for their profit and thus survival. So they ain’t gonna waste their time on cultural products (music, movies, sandwiches, etc.) on anyone that their advertisers don’t want to market to. And that means me – and you (probably). But definitely anyone closer than a decade or two to middle aged.

So no wonder you can’t stand to listen to commercial radio anymore – it could care less about what you like. Of course, as you well know, the young don’t know what the heck they like and will take to pretty much anything wrapped up for them in a tidy little package with a colorful bow on it. So they’re being spoon fed unspeakable things in order to get them to buy other unspeakably useless things that they are too darn naïve to recognize as unspeakable or useless. It’s almost enough to make me glad I’m an aging, overweight Burbanite with antiquated tastes and no obvious purpose in the culture anymore.

This may be changing a bit.

Starbucks likes people like me.

The ubiquitous coffee chain has found out that there are a lot of people who are older than twenty five, who do not crave just intense doses of salt pierced by shockingly sweet and mind puckering sour bursts of flavor from food, don’t really want to listen to hip-hop and one Simpson sister or another all the time and need to sit down and go to the bathroom (a clean one) on a regular basis. They have researched you and they know that you want to have good flaky butter-layered croissants, strong dark coffee, salads with artisan ingredients; that you want to listen to Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Amos Lee; that you want organic.

Starbucks knows. And they aim to deliver to me the things I want to make me, well, be me.

The artist Ashley Bickerton, a prominent member of the “Neo-Geo” art movement of the 1980’s, created a series of extremely well constructed devices that hung on the wall and were emblazoned with various product and company logos. He explained his work as being engaged in the process by which individuals constructed their identities through consumer choices. Now this is a bit simplistic (remember this was the ‘80’s) but Bickerton has a point.

There’s no doubt that Starbucks offerings are in synch with a sensibility that I identify with and that aspect of identity is reinforced by eating, drinking, listening and being at Starbucks - as antithetical to that very sensibility as it may sound. But I do wonder, is Starbucks serving an authentic cultural niche that I independently like and call my own and with which Starbucks is genuinely in synch? Or are they just going for seconds on selling artifacts to a consumer group that the rest of pop culture long ago abandoned for passé? Bickerton (and his spiritual godfather Andy Warhol) might have asked: what’s the difference


Anonymous said...

The thing about Starbucks is that it is one of the few cafes that are open late at night. If anyone has a better suggestion for a place to study in the evening near Ardsley, I would love to hear about it. In the meantime, I will keep frequenting the Starbucks where the 16 year old baristas reluctantly fill your order and the policemen who pull over drivers for the slightest infractions, take frequent, long breaks to flirt with them. Can someone please show these people how to steam milk correctly? Oh, woe is me. If only Coffee Labs kept later hours during the week!

Pobo said...

Starbucks is not my favorite type of coffee, and I really don't like chains of any kind, even upscale ones (once you get out of NY area, it seems it's just chains everywhere). Best coffee in Larchmont: La Rennaissance. They won't tell me what kind it is. They also have great french breads and pastries as well as quiches and omelets, salads for lunch.