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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Starbucks: Not my one-stop culture shop

    Karlie Smith is an employee of Starbucks and proud of it.

    She says she drinks Starbucks coffee at least once every day of the week. The animal sciences freshman says she loves working for Starbucks because of the connection she makes with her regular customers. She also admits working as a barista saves her significant money on her Frappuccino bills.

    Karlie was not the only Starbucks devotee – lets call them Starbuckians – I met on a recent trip. Her friend Peter Valenzuela, a veterinary science freshman, echoed Karlie’s devotion, saying he goes to Starbucks around four times a week. He admits, as do most others, that he talks about Starbucks when he’s not there and it’s the first name he thinks when he hears “”coffee shop.””

    Starbucks reinvented coffee – its rise, not coincidentally, coincides with a major rise in coffee drinking. Starbucks made coffee about more than just having a morning cup o’ joe – it meant paying $4 and change for your morning cup o’ joe. And having it iced, whipped, soy, shaken and nonfat with a touch of whipped cream and sprinkles.

    Now, 35 years after the first Starbucks was opened, it is the name of coffee. Like Xerox is to photocopying or Kleenex to facial tissues, we can’t separate the product from the brand. And the students I spoke to are comfortable with this – coffee is Starbucks.

    Everyone I spoke with said the same thing – college students at Starbucks like Starbucks. College students at Starbucks enjoy the coffee at Starbucks. Surprised? Neither was I.

    But what about when Starbucks begins to offer more to us than just coffee?

    Mike Fow, a general biology senior, wouldn’t call himself a Starbuckian despite frequenting the East University Boulevard location up to three times a week.

    Yes, he associates Starbucks with coffee shops and a great atmosphere. But would he take their recommendation on music? Starbucks wants to offer him one.

    Five years ago, Starbucks entered the music business with its purchase of record label Hear Music and started selling CDs at the counter.

    But Mike, who has met new people at Starbucks and even dated someone he met there, isn’t taking it: “”I buy my coffee at a coffee shop and my music from a music shop,”” he said. But Starbucks is a major cultural influence – whether or not we think we’re a part of it.

    Flush with the success of its music recommendations, Starbucks recently started selling Mitch Albom’s new novel, “”For One More Day,”” and this summer promoted the movie “”Akeelah and the Bee”” through its 8,800-plus U.S. stores.

    So a brand everyone associates with coffee is beginning to sell a lifestyle – hip, if not a bit out of date for our generation. But are we buying what they’re selling?

    An informal survey says no. Among the customers I spoke to, not one suggested they might ever buy a CD or book or see a movie because Daddy Starbucks recommends it. It seems, in this instance at least, that UA students are rising above a national trend.

    And that’s a good thing. Starbucks’ aim, with its music, CD and movie recommendations, is to market to the widest audience. Therefore, each CD or book is free of offensive and, for that matter, thought-provoking content.

    That would be fine if Starbucks wanted to be just one of your cultural influences – but it appears the company’s goal is to offer you a one-stop culture shop.

    Starbucks is the Wal-Mart of coffee shops. They are both multinational, consistently branded, revolutionary concept stores. And just as Wal-Mart wants you to buy everything through its store, Starbucks, too, is ready to equip you with coffee to drink, music to listen to, books to read and a place to ingest it all.

    Starbucks does well in choosing innocuous content to sell – but I fear for the content armies of highly caffeinated Starbuckians will not read or hear.

    Would Starbucks sell Noam Chomsky’s “”Hegemony of Survival”” to customers? Doubtful. If Starbucks achieves its own hegemony of culture – they plan to double the number of stores worldwide to 40,000 – what will its many devotees miss?

    Starbucks makes great drinks and even a few tasty pastries. But when Starbucks begins to offer us our reading and listening, I fear the chilling effect it could have on less than mass-market ideas.

    And that’s a trend I won’t drink to.

    Sam Feldman is a junior majoring in political science and Spanish. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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