Adam Greenfield defends Ikea and Starbucks. Yes, I'm just as annoyed as he is by those bandwagon-jumpers that seem to be more into finding a movement (any movement will do) and joining it...than they're into actually buying in to the thoughts and ramifications of the policies they espouse.
(I especially hate those "Kill Your Television" bumper stickers. They're using the most sound-bite, reductionist medium possible to argue against what they view as a perfunctory medium that reduces everything to sound bites. Granted, though I don't watch a lot of TV, there is certainly a lot of good television out there. TV's just like any other medium or even tool: you can use it for good, you can use it for evil, you can use it for completely neutral, amoral purposes. It's not the medium's fault if you don't like the message. Moreover, I'm automatically suspicious of any philosophy that can be encapsulated on a bumper sticker.)
Here's what Adam says, in part, about Starbucks:
I drink Starbucks coffee on a fairly regular basis and am generally quite satisfied. The chain provides a highly reliable, reasonably high-quality beverage - high-octane drip coffee, in my case - at a not-absurd price point. I am rarely more than a block or two away from one. I get much less attitude from the people behind the counter than I do at the one indie coffeehouse I frequent - I mean, they'll actually say hi, remember me and my drink from yesterday, refrain from chatting with each other while I'm standing there waiting to order. And their bathrooms tend to the clean.
More importantly, I am also old enough to remember the swill that Americans drank and were pleased to call "coffee" before Howard Schultz swept down out of his damp PNW redoubt and clusterbombed us with franchises. It tasted like soggy cardboard, it was served in chipped diner porcelain that itself generally tasted of soap, and most importantly, with a very few exceptions, it was all you could get anywhere. There simply was no alternative, let alone an entire alternative venue that also provided comfortable seating. At sixty or seventy-five cents, too, this "coffee" was no bargain - far better to my mind to pay twice that and get something consistently worth drinking.
Interesting points, but the American palate has vastly improved -- grown more sophisticated, educated, adventurous, and much less tolerant of crap -- in the past forty years or so. (Just check out the Gallery of Regrettable Food for some disturbing proof.) Raw fish is now "sushi" and not "bait"; I'd be surprised if it wasn't available in some college dining hall somewhere. Salsa outsells ketchup. Restaurants have exploded in variety and number. Americans have embraced ethnic food far beyond the fried-with-orange-glop "Chinese" and red-sauce Italian joints that were pretty much the only offerings back then. So I'm not sure that all the quantum leap in coffee options stems solely from the existence of Starbucks -- Americans started paying attention to what they're putting in their mouths.
(Now if more of them would just read Fast Food Nation.)
Now this may just be a matter of aesthetic differences between Adam and me, but I don't hate Starbucks because they're evil...I hate them because their coffee sucks. Every cup of coffee I've ever had at a Starbucks (particularly the regular drip stuff, but also the espresso-based drinks) tastes scorched, bitter, and foul. My theory? They buy cheap crappy beans to save money, over-roast the ever-livin' bejesus out of them to disguise their skinflint ways, and pass it off as Grade A Number One Supremo java. Starbucks is indeed more consistent than your average indie coffeehouse...but that doesn't help when their product is consistently awful.
I loathe Starbucks not because they're everywhere, or because they put the little guy out of business (that's the meme, at least, and I wonder if that's really the case like it is with, say, bookstores), or because they're expensive. I resent them deeply because their their gigantic advertising budget, coupled with their sheer ubiquity, has duped America into thinking that what they serve is good coffee. They've sold us a bill of goods, and they're not delivering on it because they're too chintzy to come up with a decent cup of joe. Coffee should be strong, but not bitter. It should taste of coffee and not of carbon. It shouldn't be loaded up with so much mint-caramel-choco-mocha-Pepsi-whipped-cream-with-sprinkles-on-top foo-faw that it qualifies more as a dessert than a beverage. It should taste balanced and rich and interesting and good. Sorry, but Starbucks doesn't qualify.
Besides, Starbucks isn't in the coffee business anyway. Starbucks is in the lifestyle and mood business. When you go to Starbucks, you're not just buying a cup of gut-bustingly-bad coffee. You're renting a few square feet of generally well-designed space in unusually nice surroundings for a chain store, and the superheated swill just happens to come with. If they sold coffee that was the equivalent of Green Mountain's, or the Mud Truck's, or Irving Farm's, or Gevalia's, or hell, even Caribou's, my ass would be in a Starbucks about eighteen hours a day.
(And oh yeah, I like Ikea too. They're clean, it's easy to find what you want, the shopping experience is pleasant, their furniture looks good, and it's cheap. (So what if you get what you pay for?))
ADDENDUM: Also posted (in much-abbreviated form) to MetaFilter, since Adam's original post was good and would likely spark interesting debate.