Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Besides the number of obvious things that were excellent about the late television series Babylon 5–the characters, the rich sociopolitical drama, the philosophical depth–the series also created one of my favorite throwaway gags in all of science fiction…that somehow every sentient race in the universe had, independently of each other, created what we humans know as the Swedish meatball.
After a surprisingly frigid, thirty-minute bike ride down to rehearsal this evening, I decided to go into the nearest Starbucks and get a hot beverage to counter the chills I was experiencing. For some time now, the Starbucks paper coffee cups have featured a number of quotations from artists, statesmen, scientists, and others, under the banner title of “The Way I See It.”
On my cup this evening was #21 in this series, the following quote from respected Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour:
“People need to see that, far from being an obstacle, the world’s diversity of languages, religions, and traditions is a great treasure. affording us precious opportunities to recognize ourselves in others.”
I’m not saying I found this quote profound. I agreed with it wholeheartedly, had even before I read it on my coffee cup. It doesn’t say anything I didn’t already believe and so didn’t offer any startling revelation for me to carry with me through the rest of my life. It reminds us that for all of our differences there is probably at least one Swedish meatball we have in common between us.
And yet, right there underneath the quotation was the following:
“This is the author’s opinion, not necessarily that of Starbucks.”
This is a standard disclaimer, I know, and not having kept track of however many other “The Way I See It” cups there might be, I can’t guess at how often this disclaimer was tested. I don’t know how often the website Starbucks has set up to receive responses to these quotations has received angry letters from people because of their disagreement with the words on their randomly selected coffee cup.
I felt annoyed by the disclaimer being there below this particular “The Way I See It.” The disclaimer is there to preemptively deal with the loss of sales that could erupt when somebody decides that the offense they’ve taken to these particular words is enough reason to organize some kind of boycott of the company’s product.
But here’s where I’m blind, I guess. “The Way I See It #21” seems obvious to me, and I can’t say I understand the mindset of anybody who could read N’Dour’s words and consider them objectionable.
That’s not true.
I see how somebody could consider this quote objectionable. They’d have to be some kind of especially raging xenophobe, the type of person you find at StormFront meetings claiming that the best way to solve the illegal immigration problem is with lots of well-placed bullets. The sort of person who doesn’t hesitate to speak aloud punchlines like “a pizza doesn’t scream when you put it in the oven,” who complains about “that n***er jungle music from next door,” who knows that we invaded Iraq to protect our freedom from those Islamofascist bastards but if it was just for oil, hell, that’s okay too. That’s the mindset you need to look at a quotation celebrating our diversity as a human race and get so hot under the collar that it makes you complain directly to the company that served you something so fleeting and inconsequential as a cup of coffee. To proclaim that this company will no longer be getting your business for as long as such hippie-dippie Kumbaya propaganda is allowed to exist on their packaging.
I’m aware of the all-powerful profit motive, but there are times I want a large corporation such as Starbucks to, instead of issuing a disclaimer beforehand, stare down the sort of people who disagree with Youssou N’Dour and say:
“You won’t be patronizing us anymore? Good. Fuck off. We don’t want your business. We put these words on our coffee cups because they are true and needed to be disseminated. We put these words on our coffee cups because the diversity of human life is a miracle that should be celebrated and experienced. That you are too ignorant to understand that is not our problem, and we don’t care how many letters you write or how many of your nasty little thugs you get to agree not to buy our product. We make enough money from our civilized customers to buy and sell your ugly, outmoded little social club a hundred times over and if you all stopped drinking our coffee it would mean we could only buy and sell you ninety-seven or ninety-eight times over. We wanted to put all that on the cup but it wouldn’t all fit in the font size we felt would be most appropriate. We greatly appreciate your taking the time to write so we could tell you all this personally, instead.”
Besides…aren’t the sort of people who would boycott Starbucks over such a quotation the same people who can without a note of satire in their voice spit out phrases about Volvo-driving, latte-sucking liberals? How often were these jackasses actually giving Starbucks their business in the first place?
Where’s your spine, Starbucks? You have the gumption to solicit such a quote and then print it on your merchandise, but you can’t stomach the chance that maybe one of your customers will be offended by it? Why’d you bother with this campaign anyway, then? Just pay one of your in-house graphic designers to come up with a system of vaguely 1960s’ mod tesselation and slap your logo on it, if you can’t fully stand behind what you’re doing right now.
Yes, I understand that I’m essentially getting angry at Starbucks because I was offended by the text that told me how to express my offense for the text above it. Welcome to the intersection of my thought and emotional centers. Not always the most logical place but by God, what it says it says clearly and without compromise.