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June 09, 2008

NYT Idiot Wants "Elite Status" Recognition for His Starbucks Patronage

Dream big, kid. Dream big.

Rewards are nice, but recognition is better. So if I'm one of Starbucks's best customers, I want to have elite status, as I do on American Airlines. I want shorter lines, better freebies, special seating (Aeron chairs, preferably) and electrical outlets reserved just for me and my laptop.

Silly? No, he says.

When I dared express these thoughts in a post on the personal finance Web site FiLife a few months ago, commenters there and on the Starbucks Gossip site called me selfish and self-absorbed and suggested that I get a life. After all, itís just coffee, they said.

He also "wants to be invited to "a members-only party when new products come out." Again, like the old Calgon ad said, "Live the fantasy."

What to say? I've said this before, but if anyone wants to understand the basic cultural impulse of Luppies (Liberal Urban Professionals), watch the commentary track of Gosford Park. The screenwriter explains the tastes of the dying aristocracy of the early 1900's as largely a series of learned affectations designed to set them apart from the commoners. Thus their flat rejection of popular culture (something the proles like, in the main) and suspicions about anyone making money by actually making money (as opposed to just living off ancestral lands' rents).

And of course those forced to be most ostentatious about these affectations were precisely those least entitled to call themselves the aristocracy, that is, those who were only barely high-born, or actually quite poor despite their high social status, or otherwise in danger of losing their cherished membership in the club.

Those more secure in their position, or adequately dirty-rich, could better afford to flout the affected tastes of the country-manor set.

It's the same sort of overcompensation that is often said to lead to men with feelings of inadequacy buying big-engined sportscars. The same impulse leads those with a gnawing sense of lack of adequate social status to buy Volvos and Priuses, but of course they don't like to joke about that.

Many liberals are much concerned with setting themselves apart as members of the socio-cogno-cultural elite, and yet don't have any particularly strong claims on such status, to wit, either aristocratic lineage, high accomplishment in one's field, or (as ever) a big stinking heap of money.

And thus these idiotic cultural/tribal signifiers -- an otherwise inexplicable romance with rather overpriced and often-burned coffee sold in strip-malls and walking-malls by a vendor with some light European pretensions, a rage about this or that independent movie that all of the smart-set agrees is a must-see, which hot new vodka is currently the only one to drink, etc. -- occupy such a disproportionately large part of the Luppies' mindspace.

They're not just buying coffee at Starbucks, you see. They are, for just $3.99 per Venti, establishing or reinforcing, they think, that craved position in the social/cultural/cognitive elite that otherwise eludes them. Renting status at a steeply-discounted price, considering the various other ways -- either difficult or expensive or both -- to actually obtain it.

Me? I go to coffee shops for coffee, not cultural entre. I watch movies because I like them, not to establish my credentials in a largely-imaginary liberal urban "elite."

For an ostensible (and ostentatious) elite that scorns the cultural choices of the hoi polloi, they sure do seem to buy into an awful lot of affected nonsense, don't they?

At least the hoi polloi comes by its tastes authentically and without pretense, rather than feigning tastes swiped from others.

This poor NYT jackass just makes the mistake of admitting his yearning for what is usually best kept as subtext -- some sort of official recognition of his elite status by the huckster coffee company renting it to him.

The Anxious Class: Alex writes--

Paul Fussell's book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System made some related observations.

Fussell pointed out that one of the chief characteristics of the American middle class is status anxiety and the desire to be perceived as upper-middle-class (and for upper-middles, desire to be perceived as upper-class). Hence such thoroughly middle-class practices as "advertis[ing] their college and university affiliations in the rear window of their automobiles," or ostentatiously making sure that everyone around them knows that they have "upscale" tastes in clothing, reading material (e.g., the New Yorker magazine), food, and wine (and these days, coffee).

The ironic thing about the latter phenomenon is that the truly upper-class -- meaning, people who mostly live on inherited money and have enough of it not to feel like they have to impress anybody -- often have pretty poor taste in eating, drinking, and reading, drive beat-up crappy cars, and wear ratty old suits with frayed collars and cuffs.

But yeah: Starbucks is totally middle-class in exactly that way.


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posted by Ace at 05:36 PM

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