The myth of Starbucks

Ethno-fiction by Max Jakob Lusensky

 

An ethnological and psychoanalytical experiment in spending two months at various Starbucks Coffee spots around Europe, trying to understand their symbolic meaning in our culture today.


 

I. SEPARATION


GET ORGANIZED is sprayed in rugged black letters over the brick facade of the 19th century Gothic-style building right across the street of the Starbucks Coffeehouse I’m about to enter. An appeal to the activists of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement who for months have been gathering here. A call for action I take personally as it awakens memories of scribbled words pinned on my refrigerator door for many years: “Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.”[1] Is that so? Am I getting organized? Occupying Starbucks? At least I plan to spend an exorbitant time within their culture in order to better understand how it transformed into the cultural icon it become today.

 

Opening the door, crossing a threshold, separating from outside reality, entering into a space of constructed unknown, but judging by its atmosphere, well-known territory: the world of Starbucks. I am greeted by a soundscape of drifting jazz-tunes and distant female voices from a long forgotten past whispering words of love. Beans being ground, mobile conversations started, orders taken, milk heather martinheateding. In front of me, behind Lisa,  the barista, stands proud and silent a siren. Encircled by green, seductively staring at me, you, us, waiting in line to order, her hair seems to wave in the wind. What wind? I’m already off guard, disorganized, loosing myself in daydreams, fantasies and sensory experiences. What were my objectives again? A slide of my forefinger touching the screen of my iPhone opens my field notes and I’m reminded again of the questions I have set out to explore.

 

“What makes Starbucks the cultural icon is has become today? What is its myth and unique culture, what are its rituals?” Embarking on an ethnological exploration into one of the temples of 21st century globalized consumer society raises the need to first clear out another fundamental question in anthropology and in its subfield, ethnology. “Who is the other?” I realize that I speak this out loud as the woman in front of me slowly turns her head around giving me a disturbed smile I don’t know how to meet. Who am I studying? Who is being studied? Am I being studied? There are reasons to be paranoid. This field of study, the world of Starbucks, is an entirely constructed space experience and space. As consumers of Starbucks we are the ones getting studied., I and you and I are playing the roles of “the other” in a staged Starbucks experience most of us are unconscious of how it’s “scripted”.

 

Everything around me: letting my gaze dreamily sweep over the room – the big art canvas portraying a single oak in an African landscape and the words ‘hope’, ‘live your dreams’ and ‘Justice' carved in as with a pencil – the old 19th century coffee grinders put up on a oak shelf for display – the large framed high contrast black and white photos of coffee farmers smiling ( authentically) – the old sacks of coffee beans – the book shelves with old nautical atlases and novels – the automatic greeting from Lisa who waits for my order – the groove of the beat that smoothly blends into the next: it’s all an expensive fantasy, a constructed daydream and a script for the imagination constructedfashioned to serve the Starbucks mythology. A corporate myth that has become “ritualized” into an experience, built on in-depth consumer studies of us as “the other”. What can I do but observe the observed as I am being observed? How to hold this paradox?

 

To “get organized” might not be the best strategy after all within this constructed field of ethnological study? At least if we want to come out of this experience with insights that reaches beyond the “knowledge horizon” and what is already known by Starbucks own consumer research department. French anthropologist Marc Augé writes in his book “The War of Dreams” that the new techniques of communication and image-making render the relation to the other more and more abstract, “We become accustomed to seeing everything but there is some doubt whether we are still looking.” [2] To transcend the paradox and find answers to the questions of research I chose a strategy that is anything but organized, but rather pathological, that of the “doppelgänger” and multiple personality. Not to nourish what might already seem to be the undertaking of a psychotic researcher, but to make sure I keep one foot – one perspective – one camera – one ‘I’, outside the theatrical stage I am about to enter. An eye that critically monitors the one that observes us, a macro-lens of rationality setting our these experiences within the broader context of history and power relations and history. A complementary super-ego characterized by a “directed-thinking” that we I name Max. A personality supporting the other half of the split duo, the participant observer, Jakob, embodying the Starbucks experience guided by his fantasy-thinking. [3] Dear reader, please join us on thisa derive[4] into dreamland!

 

 

II. TRANSITION


 

“What’s your name?” “Jakob,” I answer, and before I realize I have given away something precious and before I get to ask her “What for?” my name is already written in black letters on a white Starbucks take-away cup, handed over to the barista, and as my Visa card smoothly slides into the machine and the transaction is processed, I understand I have just given away a part of me, a piece of identity and experienced some sort of micro-initiation. Separation – initiation – renewal, a rite-of-passage, into what?  into the Starbucks culture. I start to sweat, feel anxious, look nervously round, everyone is smiling, staring into space or screens; somewhere someone seems to call my name.  



The myth of Starbucks (Official version)

 

Once upon a time in America there was a self-made man named Howard Schultz working as general manager for an ordinary Swedish kitchen and house-ware company outside New York. Interested in why a certain company on the American west coast named “Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spices” bought so many plastic drip filters he decided to pay them a visit. In Seattle he was greeted by the founders; an, enthusiastic threesome of relaxed west-coast academics turned coffee beans lovers and entrepreneurs, Mr Schultz fell in love with the company and later wrote in his memoirs: “I couldn’t stop thinking about Starbucks… like a jazz tune you can´t get out of your head.”[5]
 

A few years after this initial meeting Schultz, by this time already head of marketing at Starbucks went on another trip but this time to another far away land, Europe, where he once again was shot by the arrows of Amore. He was in Italy for a housewaress  show but instead fell in love with the Italian coffee culture, the legacy of the European coffee house tradition with its romance and flair  ; he perceived it as “great theatre”. On the way back to America he had a vision, and a dream to transform Starbucks from a few stores for premium coffee beans, tea and spices into a new type of coffee house inheriting the cultural tradition of coffee he had experienced. “We would take something old and tired and common – coffee – and weave a sense of romance and community around it. We would rediscover the mystique and charm that swirled around coffee throughout the centuries.“[6]

 

Tightly compressed, this is the officially approved version of the Starbucks foundation myth. It is the corporate myth that is at the heart of the Starbucks brand and that nourishes their vision of bringing great coffee to everyone, everywhere, one cup at a time, through offering a unique and differentiated Starbucks experience. Schultz later states in his autobiography: “Like Nike, Starbucks had entered a low-margin commodity business and transformed its product into a cultural symbol.”[7] But how did this cultural icon find its form? What does its immense global success have to say about our collective of today? In order to answer this we need to more carefully look at its history, we have to decode the brand – “debrand” Starbucks – to see how their founding mythology is turned into a differentiating experience; or speaking ethnologically, into a ritualized act of consumption. But before that, let’s get back inside the brand through our heroic split-off half of an ethnographer, our other ‘I’. Let us join Jakob on his ethnographic excursion into dreamland, where he is just seems to have gabout to ogetten initiated.

 

“Jakob, you’re Jakob, right?” I hear a voice speaking to me, a flash of a smile, a cup in my hand. Araya, the barista is already back behind the coffee machine steaming milk and shouting “Tall Frappucchino extra shot for Jennifer” as I get to ask him: “What is this thing about the name?” He looks up, smiling before he starts talking. “You know it’s about sorting out orders and all of that… it can get pretty busy here in rush hours and hard to keep track of all customers.” He becomes silent, stares down into the cup, into which he, in seconds of what seems to be deep meditation, pours the foamed milk and finishes with forming the pattern of a heart, before looking up to say: “Well, it’s also a management thing…you know getting to know the customer and all of that. It has something to do with getting more intimate”, finishing his sentence by again looking into my eyes and giving me a warm friendly smile.

His words reminds me of what Kevin Roberts, CEO of global advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, wrote in his book ‘Lovemarks.’ How brands, to be successful today, must embrace love to compete and how it’s done though adding the trinity of mystery, sensuality and intimacy to their experience. “Thanks Araya, then I know,” I hear myself saying before turning around, facing the half-empty space, looking for my place. 

 


The early days: Establishing a culture (1974-1986)

 

Starbucks was founded in Seattle in 1974 at a time when roller skates were the hottest thing a teenager could be on, disco music was taking over the airwaves and a brand was still just another word for a logotype. A time of rapid change of collective identity and values that would stand in sharp contrast to the political revolt of the rebellious freedom-thirsty 60s , with its counterculture, student uprisings, feminist and hippie movements. A time when the energy of the counterculture movement with their dreams to change the world slowly began to fade away and became slogans used to sell products back to them. They wereL labelled the “Pepsi generation” and they would paradoxically paved the way for the individualism and narcissism we would see fully bloom in the 1980s.

 

To “socially imagine” this lost era is important for us in understanding the legacy of Starbucks, how it formed its identity and corporate culture. The three founders were all academics, intellectuals and romantics, typical children of this generation. T; they had escaped into the world of coffee, not in search of political liberation but the perfect roast. Entrepreneurs (they quickly grew from one to ten stores in the area), who were motivated not mainly by growth but rather by the striving for quality and coffee perfection, seeing business as a lifestyle and aa way to self-realization. Their focus was dedicated to the quality of the coffee beans, tea and spices. The cappuccino, coffee latté and colonial ambitions came later as Howard Schultz entered the picture.

 

The first logotype of Starbucks is an adaptation of a sixteenth-century Norse woodcut found by their designer friend Terry Heckler, when searching through old marine books and nautical to go with the name “Starbucks” (taken from the coffee-loving character named ‘Starbuck’ on the ship Pequod in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick). It depictures a rather grim-looking two-tailed mermaid, a melusine[8] or siren wearing a crown, encircled by the store’s original name framed in brown. “That bare breasted siren was to be as seductive as coffee itself,”[9] Schultz later wrote in his autobiography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starbucks first logotype, 1971 – 1987

Sirens are, by way of the Odyssey written into the canon of literary history as the seductive nymphs who with their song and implicit promises of sex awaken the deepest desires of man. Odysseus had his men tie him to the mast as they sailed by their island. 

The mermaid has a sexually charged history and its image and motif  commonly motif was commonly decorated in European churches and cathedrals as warnings of temptation already in the 15th century. But its legacy goes even further back, to old, pagan, Goddess religions, and the symbol is implicitly linked to female sexual mysteries, powers and fertility. I digress on this because we will, unlike Odysseus, try confronting the Starbucks siren with open ears in our own ethnological experiment of an odyssey. We will follow her changes throughout Starbucks’ own journey of individuation our journey and let her be the guide to the darker, deeper secrets of its Starbucks mythology. T; the parts that did not make the family-friendly official family-friendly version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 15th century two-tailed mermaid or Melusine.

I find a seat on the upper floor with a good view over the field, right under the speaker that gives the siren its song, a steady beating soundtrack. I put down my cup on the small round wooden table, purposefully designed so as to prevent me from feeling lonely. [10]At this point I still don’t know that I will grow familiar with this place, come back here many times over my weeks of study, to silently observe the clientele, take notes and occasionally engage in conversations. Today is as most days: in the room an average of fifteen people, equally divided between men and women, a spread of all ages, but a majority 20-35, average time spent I estimate to roughly an hour. An overwhelming majority alone, in front of an iMac, iPhone or iPad, working, studying, digitally dwelling, daydreaming in front of screens. Occasionally there is someone with a book but then they are students. No one is talking to one another – everyone is is in their own world.


Well, today that’s not really true. Who I take to be a businessman of Chinese heritage has occupied the corner of the large comfortable sofa by the stairway that leads down to the first floor. He speaks loudly right into the empty space as if a mad man or someone from another planet. I stand up to see what’s wrong with him and from this new angle I can see his alibi, the shiny black device lying on the table. In its frame an Asian women, I assume his wife, moving her lips like in a silent song. I feel relieved and hear myself thinking, “if there is anyone to act like a madman here it’s me,” as my eyes catches attention of the bookshelf.

 


Becoming a brand (1986-2001)


I find a seat on the upper floor with a good view over the field, right under the speaker that gives the siren its song, a steady beating soundtrack. I put down my cup on the small round wooden table, purposefully designed so to prevent me from feeling lonely. [11]At this point I yet don’t know that I will grow familiar with this place, come back here many times over my weeks of study to silently observe the clientele, take notes and occasionally engage in conversations. Today is as most days: in the room an average of fifteen people, equally divided between men and women, a spread of all ages, a majority between 20-35, average time spent roughly an hour. An overwhelming majority alone, in front of an iMac, iPhone or iPad, working, studying, digitally dwelling or daydreaming, in front of screens. Occasionally there is someone with a book but then they are students. No one is talking to one another – everyone is in their own world.

Well, today that’s not really true. Who I take  to be a businessman of Chinese heritage has occupied the corner of the large comfortable sofa by the stairway that leads down to the first floor. He speaks loudly right into the empty space as if a mad man or at least one from another planet. I stand up to see what’s wrong and from this new angle I can see his alibi, the shiny black device lying on the table. In its frame an Asian women, I assume his wife, moving her lips like in a silent song. I feel relieved and hear myself thinking, “if there is anyone to act like a madman here it’s me,” as my eyes catches attention of the bookshelf.

 

It was the 80’s and 90’s that would form the Starbucks Empire and turn it into the cultural iconicon of it today. “Branding” became in these decades an established practice and moved from the paradigm of logos and selling the product to instead selling its image (or analytically speaking: imago) and emotional allure. A new marketing era of eros when constructing an attractive identity and a “brand personality” and “brand experience” became the companies chief concern. Like a psychological complex, brands moved from the outside sensational world of advertising, billboards and slogans to the inner world of psyche. The marketer’s role became that of the magician in constructing a matrix of associations woven around emotional cues linked to the product. Brands’ role shifted from being mere identifiers of products to become cultural symbols of status and lifestyles, helping individuals to express and identify their own lost identity. Like few other brands, Starbucks with Schultz steering the ship, following the song of the siren would become a symbol of this new era in marketing.

 

In 1986, as Top Gun and Tom Cruise were? was hitting the cinemas and the pop-group ‘The Bangles’ taught people to “Walk like an Egyptian” Schultz had a brief extra-marital affair with his enterprise Il Giornale. A chain of espresso houses he opened frustrated of the original Starbucks founders who did not share his visions of coffee colonization. Only a few years later Schultz would have his way when they suddenly decided to sell and Schultz took full control over the company and merged it with Il Giornale. The result of this coupling is the Starbucks we know today, a public company, no longer only selling coffee beans but a retailer of espresso, café latte, giant sized muffins and a scripted sensorial experience: the Starbucks experience. Schultz put his foot on the pedal and accelerated into the 1990’s frenzy of brand extensions, Frappucino’s, Pepsi Co , joint ventures, CD compilations, instant coffee blends and espresso flavoured ice cream. In the ethos of branding Starbucks started selling anything but the product. In 1995 there was one store in every US city, a year later the first overseas branch opened in Tokyo and by the turn of the century they had gone from 500 to 17 000 stores worldwide.

 

 


 

 

 

Starbucks logotype 1987 – 1992

 

The merge of two cultures also led to the development of Starbucks logotype more or less as we know it today. The Giornale logotype pictured Mercury in a green circle; the Roman God of speed, mercantilism and commerce was coupled with the mother goddess of the mermaid and siren with her nourishing qualities and implicitly charged sexuality. Now with a “face-job”, lips lifted, smiling, all fat on the belly sucked out, airbrushed and ready to play its role as a symbol in the celebrity-fixated, “Sex in the City” culture of the 1990’s. The sexual connotations still a bit much for some and a few years’ later further plastic surgery, this time cutting away the navel of the siren (appendix 4). Symbolically the navel represents the “lifeline” and our “life force” [12]. Is what we witness here Starbucks “cut” with her own roots and history? A symbolical act that amputates the connection to the life force and principles of their original founders? The legacy of cultivating low-scale coffee perfection sacrificed for the commercial opportunities of coffee colonisation?

 

 

 

Il Giornale logotype 1986-1987



De:branding the Starbucks 
experience
 

It’s mysterious. I spent the last weeks coming back to this exact spot but I have never noticed the bookshelf before. Could it be that it is placed in a “dead” angle for me or is it just not meant to be seen? It has three shelves and holds book of various sorts but with what seems to be a recurrent ? subsequent theme of nautical atlases and travel literature mixed with older European novels with traditional binding; books that people like to look at or surround themselves with but seldom read. The thought won’t leave me, is it a real bookshelf, is it meant to be seen, are these books “real” or a part of the construction? Can I go up there and start casually reading one of them or would that be breaking “the script”? Am I a virus in the scripted code of Starbucks experience?


I abruptly stand up, walk across the room in order to study its contents closer, the atlas could be interesting I think for myself, move my hand to take it but notice with awe that it’s glued to the book lying under it. I reach for another book but it is also glued. I am filled with an anxious feeling, my heart beats faster, start to sweat, look around. The Chinese man is staring straight at me as his wife continues speaking as if an automaton, the women behind the laptop looks up with a puzzled look on her face, a group of young university students try to hold back their laughter. It’s dead quiet, but I only hear the sound of the sirens singing somewhere in the background to the beatground. I get a sudden urge to try to explain but I don’t know how. I move quickly back towards my seat almost tipping a chair on the way.

 

The Starbucks experience is staged with the purpose of bringing to life the romantic legacy of the its mythology through stimuli touching all our five senses. Schultz states: “Were not in the coffee business – we’re in the experience business.”[13],  “The artwork, the music, the aromas, the surfaces all have to send the same subliminal message as the flavour of the coffee”[14]., says Schultz. Just like its siren the experience carries a sensual message of seduction. The implicit promise of leaving mundane reality, and invitation to play a role in a romanticised play of coffeehouse nostalgia, interpreted and staged by the brand,, “like theatre.”. Starbucks management refers to this experience as the “third- space”. A place that is not work and not home but rather somewhere in-between, a transitional space between fact and fiction, dream and reality. A myth that has been “ritualized” into a consumer experience through a carefully narrated script programmed to evoke our emotions, stimulate all senses and lead us on a journey through a constructed imagination, echoed by the mood of the music.

 

Much like the French writer Count Xavier de Maistre in his 18th century novel “A Journey round my Chamber,” we are invited to travel without ever leaving this space. The novel is an autobiographical account of a young officer who after a duel is imprisoned in his room for six weeks and then decides to travel through fantasy and start a voyage in his own chamber. Starbucks seems to invite us on a similar journey, into an imaginary land, to be found on no map, without ever leaving its branded utopia.


 


Brand inflation and the return of Schultz 

 

The busy bustling brand frenzy of the 90’s would have a short halt in its machinery and  “Minatorian” craving for growth in the early days of the new millennium. Naomi Klein proclaimed “No Logo” and the globalization activists turned the spotlights on the brand bullies. Schultz seemed to have run out of libido and decided to leave his post as CEO at a time when Starbucks had became a scapegoat for globalization’s shadow effects. But the problems would get worse and as Starbucks turned thirty-eight in 2008, they experienced somewhat of a midlife crisis. Starbucks had become too lofty and grandiose, like the Puer flying too high and too fast,; “opening stores became as routine as pulling shots of espresso”.[15] “We seemed to have become the poster child for excess,” Schultz later writes. Net income plummeted, over 600 hundred stores had to be closed in US alone and criticism continued to soar.

 

Opening my iMac should help me get back on script, it’s a well-known accessory and status object in this milieu that could perhaps help me re-establish some of the trust I lost with the ‘bookshelf incident.’ I connect to the Starbucks wireless network, a webpage greets me with “one hour of free Internet” and then the logo of the siren that once again asks for my name. I type in “Max” this time, give away his email and answer “perfect” on the question “How was your coffee experience today?” I am digitally dwelling, checking emails, befriending Starbucks on Facebook (Nr: 4 682 561), follow them on Twitter (Nr: 2 293 005) and “Like” a story they tell on their blog about a guy named Dan that brought Starbucks coffee to his cancer sick friend. I’m the digital flâneur, slow-surfing, drifting in between physical and virtual space and reality, digitally dwelling as I suddenly catch the sight of a tiny spider that has landed on the top of my screen.

 

Coffee utopia risking to turning dystopia gave the opportunity for a heroic CEO-comeback of Schultz (perhaps only rivalled by Steve Jobs’ return to Apple.inc in 1996) who once again stepped in to take charge of his company. He closed down yet more unprofitable stores and went out to re-invent that distinctive Starbucks third-space experience. He sensed that its mythology had been watered out and his ambition was to bring aroma, romance, theatre and magic back into its stores. As a symbolical act he decided to close all Starbucks for half a day to train the staff in its corporate mythology and in how to make the perfect espresso. The result of this and other activities is that 2012 Starbucks is again more successful than ever with a market capitalization of about $33 billion and profits of over 1.7 billion.

 

As we have seen throughout this historical odyssey of debranding  Starbucks complementing our ethnological experiential experiences observations, the changes of the Starbucks brands are always somehow also mirrored in their logotype. The siren was finally in 2011 freed from her green circle and in the line of brands like Apple and Nike before them they dropped their company name. Why would a brand like Starbucks drop its name? “It gives us the freedom and flexibility to do things beyond coffee”[16], answers Schultz and points to new ventures into categories as energy drinks and fruit juices. Having reached the level of a cultural icon means not having to write out the company name. The Starbucks symbol has already taken a “psychic position” inside the collective and the mind and heart of us as consumers.
 

 

 

 

 

Starbucks logotype – 2011 And beyond
 

III. Renewal

 

Opening my iMac should help me get back on script, it’s a well-known accessory and status object in this milieu and could perhaps help me re-establish some of the trust I lost with the ‘bookshelf incident.’ I connect to the Starbucks wireless network, a webpage greets me with “one hour of free Internet” and then the logo of the siren that once again asks for my name. I type in “Max” this time, give away his email and answer “perfect” on the question “How was your coffee experience today?” I am digitally dwelling, checking emails, befriending Starbucks on Facebook (Nr: 4 682 561), follow them on Twitter (Nr: 2 293 005) and “Like” a story they tell on their blog about a guy named Dan that brought Starbucks coffee to his cancer sick friend in Colombia. I’m the digital flâneur, a slow-surfing coffee bohemian, drifting in between physical and virtual space (reality?), digitally dwelling as I suddenly catch the sight of a tiny spider that has landed on the top of my screen.



The (hidden) other

 

The different threads of our history woven together and looked at from a distance portray a quite different pattern than the one publically presented in the official Starbucks’ corporate mythology. A reinterpreted, renewed, revisioned, reinterpreted and  more realistic version of this corporate story cannot pretend to overlook the conspicuous link between coffee, capitalism and its colonialist discourse. Next to oil, coffee – the black gold – is still today the world’s most-traded commodity. The legacy of coffee culture so proudly inherited by Schultz and the Starbucks brand does not only carry the elements of elegant European coffeehouse romance but in its discourse is also embedded the more implicit notions of power, exploitation and slavery.

 

The purpose of this ethnological experiment is not to highlight and critique the already well-documented physical post-colonisation project and the omnipresence of Starbucks Coffee houses in today’s increasingly globalized (and as a result of that, gentrified) world. Rather the purpose is to  better understand the underlying psychic connection us as post-modern consumers have built with the brand. Thereby putting our spotlight on a potentially more alarming and underlying psychological colonisation: that of our imagination. When we now try to stitch together the two perspectives of the doppelgänger, Max and Jakob, the micro and macro, fiction and fact,  dream and reality, ethnological observations and historical decoding; dream and reala more complex pattern takes form. We are left with if not an as aesthetically pleasing, so at least a more realistic image of the siren’s face.

 

If we are tto believe Schultz and Starbucks’ own management about what has transformed the brand into a cultural icon, we have learnt that the answer lies in in how they managed to ritualize, and stage their founding mythology into a differentiated third-space experience. They have romancedromanticized and mystified coffee culture and by this taken a low-margin commodity and turned it into an experience consumers are willing to pay more for (and come back for more). Our ethnological observations, combined with historical decoding of the brand, its experience its and symbol and  experience reveals that there are deeper powers at play. To Marc Augé “all ritual activity has the goal of producing identity through the recognition of alterities (otherness)”[17]. He writes that seen anthropologically, “Identity is always posed in relation to the other”. [18] This leads us back to our original initial until now unanswered question of ‘who’ and ‘what’ that other is? Who is the other that a Starbucks consumers’ forms his or her identity in relationship to?

At a first glance the other seems to be our fellow consumers on the market stage with whoma we interacts and show-off social status and differentiation through our choice of brands of consumption. More importantly though, the true hidden other, that we the consumer forms truly form an identity in “relation” too is is the Starbucks brand itself, injected with “mana” by its its management and myth-makers. In a   dance of projection dance between us the as (unconscious) unconscious consumers and the (conscious) Starbucks brand and by embodying its their constructed mythology ritualized into an brand experience, we form an “imagined consumer identity” and a lifestyle, ghost-written by Starbucks.

What We take form in what socio-cultural anthropologist Arun Appudai describes as a mediascape  and which for the purposes of this finale of our paper we rename brandscape. “An image-centred narrative based accounts of strips of reality… What they offer to those who experience and transform them is a series of element out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives.”. [19] As this ritual is repetitively performed a deep form of identification seems to take shape that could be likened to thatwhat ethnologist Levy-Brühl refers to as a participation mystique. A term he used to describe how “primitive cultures” form a symbiotic relationship with their objects., As a relationship that according to Marie-Louise von Franz is characterized by “a minimum of self-awareness combined with a maximum of attachment of the object..”[20]. What are the cultural consequences of this psychological drama continuously repeated globally today?



The myth of Starbucks // Re-visioned

I am perplexed by the intrusion of this archaic little arachnid that seems as confused as me and to have spent too much time in this space. I observe the fragile thread it spins, a hanging bridge between my screen and the empty chair opposite. “How long have you been here” I imagine him asking and me answering, “For a month,” before I realize that I am about to lose it completely, and have lived in this fantasy for too long. But the symbolism of the spider catches has caught my (unscripted) own imagination. In Buddhist philosophy the spiderit spun was spinning the māyā, the veil of this world built up of illusions, in mythology it was  a manifestation of the cosmic creator and demiurge. In psychoanalysis it is sometimes often seen a symbol for the devouring mother and  ?her her its related complexes. How it can interweavinterweave an analysande a ?patient into a comfortable web of childhood fantasies and omnipotence,  a forgotten paradise, an oceanic feeling of nostalgic longing that risks ?can leads to escaping real-life realities and responsibilities, stuck in adolescence, ,forever young, utopia turning dystopia. I carefully pick up the thread and release the link between us twotwo, as I understood its time for me to leave;.  

it’s time for me to leave. 

 

Schultz writes in his autobiography that: “My highest aim is to have […] the entire Starbucks’ experience provide human connection and personal enrichment in cherished moments around the world, one cup at a time”.[21] Our ethnological observations sharply contradict this conscious wish. The Starbucks space and experience is a highly individualized one, characterized by its lack of human interaction. What is prominent in our ethnological observations is rather the intensive use of digital communication technologies, smart phones and screens and an overall sense of alienation and separation between people, each one in her own world. Marc Augé introduces the term non-spaces – “spaces of solitary individuality” [22] – such as airplanes or motor highways, places of “disconnection” where the individual identity is lost. Is Starbucks such a non-space? Or perhaps it’s a t can be argued and we go one step further defining the Starbucks experience not only as a potential non-space but as a non-state?

Seen with these suspicious eyes Starbucks is a symbol for of a globalized Utopian- state, not limited by any national borders. Ubiquitously it transcends geography, not only in its global colonisation of physical space but also in its psychological conquest of our imagination conquest. The word “Utopia” has its root in Greek and Latin and can be translated with “no-where”, a “no-place-land” a form of “unreal reality”, a land of imagination that is both distant and close. By repetitively performing the Starbucks ritual of consumption we seem subliminally to be offered the transcendent promise of overcoming inbuilt paradoxes in our biological and post-modern existence. We partake in the “ritualization” of a n utopic myth that weaves fantasy and facts and scripts an imaginative bridge that promises to transcends the opposites of work-home, physical-digital, past history-future, staying-travelling, reality and imagination.

Is one of the reasons for Starbucks success this, that she offers new “n answers” for a “liquid modernity”[23]? A non-space between work and home for the globalized consumer,  and and a non-state where stoic philosopher Seneca’s warning of “being everywhere is being nowhere”[24] seem to have formed the post-modern “always-connected” and ubiquitous the new ideal? Emotionally alienated from his/her fellow humans, constantly embedded in aa comforting and nourishing web of sensual fantasies, technological transcendence and oral satisfactions, stimulated by the mother – sorry market.

Hey, I’m still here! Don’t leave me. I am looking for the exit but seem to have got lost. All the spaces I spent time in, all the weeks that passed by seem to have blurred into one. Did I occupy? Was I occupied? I think for myself, as a green sign informs me that, THIS IS NOT AN EXIT. I turn around, now in rush through the place, dizzy in space, ashes of familiar faces relentlessly staring into screens, the barista that always smiles, takes my name, but never remembers it, in my head the sirens songs in an endless echo. ere is no turning back I think as I nally see the door, approach, and open it. Air – inhale – exhale, closing my eyes and breath slowly. Open them again as right in front of me a tram rushes by carrying a commercial over which someone tagged with a black marker, UNFUCK THE WORLD. “A good reason to get organized?” Max asks as we are crossing the street.

For more on the same topic, get your copy of Brandpsycho - Four essay's on debranding.

END NOTES

 

[1] Jung, C.G, The Undiscovered Self, CW 10, par. 540
 

[2]  Augé, M, 1999, The War of Dreams – Studies in ethno fiction, Pluto Press, p. 14


[3] A term launched by Carl Gustav Jung, fantasy-thinking is a thinking characterized by that its guided by unconscious motives. Jung writes in CW5, par 20: “Almost every day we can see for ourselves, when falling asleep, how our fantasies get woven into our dreams, so that between day-dreaming and night-dreaming there is not much difference. We have therefore two kinds of thinking: directed thinking, and dreaming or fantasy-thinking.  The former operates with speech elements for the purpose of communication, and is difficult and exhausting; the latter is effortless working as it were spontaneously, with the contents ready to hand, and guided by unconscious motives.”


[4] Dérive (literally: “drifting”) is a term developed by the activist group ‘Situationist International’ and their main theorist Guy Debord for explaining a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.

[5] Schultz H, Yang D.J, 1999, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, Hyperion, p. 38


[6] Schultz & Yang, p. 262


[7] Schultz & Yang, p. 262


[8] Melusine or Melusina is a feminine spirit of fresh waters that lives in sacred springs and rivers, a well-known figure of European folklore, legends and myths. Usually she is depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish from the waist down, much like the mermaid.
 

[9] Schultz & Yang, p. 33


[10] In an interview in Marketing News from May 1 2005, former Starbucks executive vice president at Starbucks Coffee Co and overall responsible for creating the Starbucks experience tells the journalist “I insisted on using round tables, because from a psychological standpoint you can sit at a round table alone and not feel lonely or isolated”. 


[11] In an interview in Marketing News from May 1 2005, former Starbucks executive vice president at Starbucks Coffee Co and overall responsible for creating the Starbucks experience tells the journalist “I insisted on using round tables, because from a psychological standpoint you can sit at a round table alone and not feel lonely or isolated”. 

 

[12] Chevalier J, 1969, The penguin dictionary of symbols, Penguin, p. 719

 

[13] Howard Schultz brews strong coffee at Starbucks, CNN Money, http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/11/17/starbucks-howard-schultz-business-person-year/, Retrieved on 21 of April 2012


[14] Schultz & Yang, p. 252


[15] Schultz & Yang, p. 193


[16] A look at the future of Starbucks. Starbucks.com http://www.starbucks.com/preview, Retrieved on 21 April 2012


[17] Augé, M, 1999, The War of Dreams – Studies in ethno fiction, Pluto Press, p. 14

 

[18] Augé, M, 1999, The War of Dreams – Studies in ethno fiction, Pluto Press, p. 14


[19] Appadurai, A 1996, Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy I Education, Globalization & Social change, Lauder, Halsey, Brown, Dillabough, Oxford University Press, p. 183

 

[20] Von Franz, M-L, 1985, Projection and re-collection in Jungian psychology, Open Court Publishing Company; Reprint edition, p. 8

 

[21] Schultz & Yang, p. 266


[22] Augé, M, 1995, Non-places. Introduction to an anthropology of super modernity. London / New York: Verso, pp. 75-115.

 

[23] Liquid modernity is a term used by sociologist Zygmunt Baumann to define a post-modern state of fluid existences seeking identity in a globalized and individualized world predominated by digital communication technologies. The post-modern identity is seen as individually constructed in a continuous reflexive and dynamic process with one’s environment.
 

[24] Seneca, L.A 1969, Letters from a Stoic, Penguin Books
 

Jungian psychoanalyst in Neukölln, Berlin.

Imprint / Privacy

© 2021 Jakob Lusensky