Thursday, July 31, 2008

Starbucks: Some Good News and Some Bad

Here's the good news.

The company which represents everything that is wrong with globalisation has announced that it is closing 61 of its 84 stores in Australia.

It has also announced its first ever fall in quarterly profits.

Time to pop the champagne corks and light up the Montecristos?

Not quite. Starbuck's ultra-aggressive CEO, Howard Schultz has also announced that despite the growing evidence that the world has had enough of his wretched company, he still intends to open 150 new stores in airports and railway stations in Britain, Germany and France.

The sight of a Starbucks anywhere is depressing enough. But to see one in a French railway station? That would redefine the word 'tragic'. A Starbucks world is a sterile one, an ultra-boring, ultra-standardised globalised dystopia in which every town in every country in the world would look exactly the same.

Let's hope that Mr Schultz's aggressive expansion scheme backfires. And for that to happen all you have to do is what increasing numbers of people now seem to be doing- namely not set foot in one of his stores.


KNaylor said...

Agreed. I went to Krakow recently and was depressed to discover that many bland chains have prominent locations just off the Rynek Glowny. Like the atrociously banal Hard Rock Cafe.

A favourite restaurant owned privately had been turned into a Coffe Republic. The old Bar Mleczny with cheap but filling food, very good for students and lazy cooks such as myself have all but gone.

Even worse is the new Galeria Krakowska, yet another bland Shopping Mall where people go even if they have no cash to spend. The building is the usual plate and lass kitsch and all but ruins the view of the Austro-Hungarian period railway station.

Olching might have something to say on this.

Anonymous said...

I understand your dislike of Starbucks. They are all over Phoenix and they have a very odd and superior atmosphere, but I do like Mr. Schultz. He grew up very poor in the New York projects, and he has obviously made something of himself. While Starbucks is lame, Mr. Schultz is a great example of the almost extinct American Dream of a poor man rising to the top. If I remeber correctly, doesn't he and starbucks donate quite a bit of money to charity? Also, he makes sure all his employees have health insurance, which is very unusual for American businesses.

Neil Clark said...

I'm very sad to hear about Krakow, Karl.
It reminds me of what happened to Budapest. When I first moved there, in the mid 1990s, there were still lots of great 'self-service' restaurants in the city centre, places where you could buy very cheap but very delicious and filling food. They were frequented by people from all walks of life- students, old people, office workers, manual workers, university professors, film directors, artists-you never knew who you'd meet there. Eating was done from shared tables- there'd always be a big jug of tap water on the table, so you weren't forced to buy a drink if you didn't want to. Now nearly all these places are gone, to be replaced by souless chain fast food outlets and coffee bars. You can't get a decent sit down meal anymore- only overpriced trash food, and overpriced coffee. These chains don't try and appeal to everyone- but only to 'yoof'. Unlike the old self service restaurants, you're not allowed to linger, it's eat your food/drink your coffee and then get out.
The seating arrangements are organised so that people sit apart from one another so there is minimal social interraction.
And they call it progress!

vladimir: sad to hear that Starbucks have taken over Phoenix too.

KNaylor said...

Neil Clark

Yes. The pity in the case of Krakow was that the city authorities held out for some time. On ul Szewska there is a McDonald's where the company had to consistently revise its plans for renovating a building so it does not stick out like the usual gaudy eyesore.

So why on earth they allowed planning permission for a huge shopping mall right in the centre of Krakow might have something to do with corruption.

Though the area outside the station was not exactly that aesthetically appealing before, consisting of cheap and grimy 'Drink Bars', shops where 'Jabcok' drinkers tended to congregate and a terrible bus terminus with communist era coaches belching unhealthy fumes they could have done better.

Anyway, the question I always have is do people really want all this ? Is it just mental inertia that causes people to go to McDonald's or Starbucks ? Or are younger people so brainwashed that they think it is a sign of status to go to just anything more Western ?

This is one of the ironies. I keep getting asked 'But why do you want to live in de Polant' .I used to just praise what I liked about Poland, but now I tend to be more vituperative and tell them how utterly sterile and vacuous life in Middle England has become, how devoid of any common culture and how life is devoted to the rituals of banal consumerism as an anodyne which represses the need to have to have one's own thoughts or feelings about the world around one.

This at least provokes some kind of recognition that life in Britain is NOT better because people have more spending power, most of it in any case just credit. Though it sounds a bit callous, a heavy recession might acts as a reality check in Britain and force people to re-evaluate their lives.

Connected to such unpleasant considerations, I often wonder whether a lot of the inchoate 'anti-globalisation' activism is as much, if not often more, a protest against the meaninglessness of a life which, as JG Ballard puts it, the only important decision people ever make is what brand of trainers they want to buy.

Ballard had a look at this in his novel Millennium People where he maded many points about the fact that people might be so bored by consumerism that they will think about not just acts of provocation, like anarchist groups defacing corporate symbols, but might resort to blowing up video rental shops and so forth. Ballard, remember, has an uncanny knack of predicting the near future.

That was what the May Day Riots were about back in 2000 when activists just trashed McDonald's. Who hasn't thought in their wildest and more deranged fantasies of just blowing up a chain of Starbucks to pieces at night if nobody was there ? Propaganda of the deed which forces people to think.

How many Islamist terrorists sitting in Starbucks might have felt that 'their' people have been bombed and killed by 'the West' just so the oil continues to flow and the meaningless and decadent society around them can continue to prosper and fulfil the needs of banal economic animals who just don't care how their il gotten prosperity is maintained. Atrocities such as 7/7 make consumers think and might generate the search for meaning.

How might increased violence and future terrorism be bred at the frustration at the conditions of life where there is nothing more than dum consumerism ?

Truehart Predoia said...

I am completely comfortable with yoru desire for delicious and quaint, uniquely owned and operated cafes and other such businesses, so long as they offer the living wage and comprehensive benefit packages, including same-sex partner benefits, that Starbucks offers me.