I recently posted on my facelift page about the weirdness of walking into a Starbucks for an iced latte on an early summer morning and finding at the counter next to the register the new album by Fiona Apple. I’ve grown pretty accustomed to seeing music for sale there; they’ve been doing it for years. But there’s something uncomfortable for me about seeing music that I want in my collection at my elbow while I make my coffee order. The post I made on faceplant was simply the question: why am I weirded out by this? Why should I be? And since the new Fiona Apple album is one for which I feel not just a little bit of excitement, why didn’t I plunk down another 14 dollars right there on the spot so I could enjoy my latte and my Fiona at the very same time as I drove away in my car? I don’t know. I really don’t know.
And then I got two responses to my query which served as the inspiration for this blog entry. One friend’s response echoed the question in the preceding paragraph and went sort of like this: “What’s wrong with buying music at Starbucks? I do it from time to time and feel absolutely no weirdness.” And the other friend’s response was a link to an article that essentially answered all of the questions above. Sort of. Here’s the title of said article: “The Starbuck Brandscape and Consumers’ (Anticorporate) Experiences of Glocalization.” It was co-written by Craig J. Thompson and Zeynep Arsel, the piece was published in 2004 by the Journal of Consumer Research, and the bald-faced truth is that I understood very little of it. But I understood enough of it, as they say, to make me dangerous, enough of it, I’d like to think, to help me explain to myself and anybody else who might be interested WHY I got the heebie jeebies seeing Fiona Apple for sale at Starbucks.
To begin with, I’ve got milling around in my head what the authors of this article call “The Anti-Starbucks Discourse,” meaning that I share with a lot of folks certain criticisms of the Starbucks corporate enterprise. Whether because of infamous business practices, the exorbitant prices, the quality of the product, or the sense of the manufactured, 100% calculated experience of the environment, there’s to begin with a certain amount of self-doubt and guilt when I buy coffee there as opposed to frequenting the independent or the local–which I used to ALWAYS do when I lived closer to the independent and the local. Convenience has brought me back into the Starbucks fold against my better judgements. And then, feeling a bit sheepish to begin with about just being there, I see Fiona Apple’s new cd staring out at me from the counter. Fiona seems to be saying, “It’s all right. It’s all good. Look, I’m here. And you like me. Why can’t you like the rest of it?” It’s pure genius on the part of the PR people at the helm of this monolithic corporate enterprise, this strategy of fooling me into believing that, within this massive business structure, the local, no, the individual cultural interests are maintained and honored here. Hence: “Glocalization.” For me, in Milwaukie, Oregon, there’s nothing “local” about Fiona Apple. But there is something fiercely independent, individualistic about her, weird, eclectic, anti-establishment, personal, all things I value–for sale in a place that epitomizes what I don’t value: homogeneity, sterility, conformity, consistency–in the Emersonian sense: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. . .”
And this, I guess, is what weirds me out: the dichotomous feeling of patronizing an establishment at once sell-out and full of hipster credibility, at once representative of predatory corporate greed and independent spirit and experimentation, an establishment homogenous and conformist staffed by young, tattooed, pierced, multi-color hair-doed baristas.
I can’t buy Fiona Apple’s new album there. It would seem, somehow, sacrilegious, wrong, and forced–yes, forced, because I bet that music sales at Starbucks are almost entirely 100% compulsive purchases. No one says or thinks, “Fiona Apple’s new record was released today; let me go down to Starbucks and pick that baby up.” No one says or thinks that. Instead, they say, “I want coffee. Oh my god, look, there’s Fiona’s new record. I want that, too. Let me buy it now along with my coffee.” And that, for some whacky reason according to Michael Jarmer, is no good. Let us buy coffee when we are thirsty for coffee. And let us buy music when we are thirsty for that–and let us be okay with transporting ourselves in whatever way we can to a place that specializes in the medium. Let’s go to the local coffee shop for coffee, and the local record store for records. Then all is right in the world.