Keep your crusade away from me. (ikea/starbucks)

sometimes other people can say it sooo much better than i:

It’s happened again.

Not for the first time, I was subjected the other day to a heartfelt diatribe on how Ikea has singlehandedly leached all the vitality and vigor out of the world, shoehorned human creativity into an infinity of barcode-anonymous MDF wall units, and spawned endless cyborg armies of khaki-clad, essentially fungible consumervolk.

You read that right: Ikea.

Unlike many nonsensical prejudices, it’s roughly possible to trace the root source of all this hostility, identify a locus classicus of Ikeaphobia: in this case, the vastly-overrated Fight Club. Ever since the film hit American screens, some years ago now, it’s been hip among would-be cynics of a certain cohort to reserve a stream of vituperation for the giant Swedish furnishings chain. (For those of you who didn’t see the movie, it contained a very nicely-produced CG sequence that essentially laid the blame for all that is fake, mediocre and generic in contemporary life at the company’s blue-and-yellow feet: the minute-long rant that launched ten thousand sneers.)

I must hear some version of this spiel once a month, generally from some self-consciously leftie male between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two desperate to prove his authenticity, present his down-with-the-people, fuck-the-Man bona fides. This despite the fact that Ikea was explicitly founded on the premise of providing well-designed furniture to the masses at affordable prices – a premise that the company still largely delivers on. (If I have a quibble, it’s with quality, not price.)

You know what? I’m done with it. If your life is mediocre, I promise you, Ingvar Kamprad didn’t make it that way. You did. And if you’re so desperate for your own soixante-huit moment that you can sit there with a straight face and tell me that you’re being oppressed by flat-packable pine furniture with goofy pseudo-Scandinavian names, I’d advise you to spend a few days working with child slaves in the Sudan, or something.

There’s an equally wrongheaded sibling rant, which is the eternal current of complaint lodged against Starbucks Coffee. Although there’s probably more truth in the notion that Starbucks has made it difficult for independent local alternatives to survive – mmmmmmmaybe – most critiques directed at the chain strike me as being built on the same shaky armature of self-righteousness, spoiledness, and ahistoricity. Like the blistering Ikea-hatred, there’s something wildly out of scale in the tone and tenor of the criticism directed at Starbucks.

To reiterate, in the wake of a perhaps representative rant of this type: 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.

Finally, for those of you who seem to be so incensed with the musical selections on offer at Starbucks: god forbid we should enjoy some Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra from time to time. You don’t like it, bring an iPod.

Can you see that I’m really, really tired of people whining and complaining about the horrible, evil, monocultural, hegemonizing, bland, MOR grafted devil that is Starbucks? I mean, you try and find another place in Beijing, or on I-40 in the ass-end of nowhere, that rocks coffee this good.

(What’s that? You can’t? Or if you can, it is solely because Starbucks tutored the mass audience in what to demand of coffee? Yeah, I thought so.)

The dynamic at work in both cases is one many of us might recognize from bad relationships: when a deeply wounded person suffering from low self-esteem finally fights back against the various agents of their distress, very often it’s the closest, most sympathetic soft target they lash out at first, in defiance of all logic (or justice).

Not the absent father, but the present lover. It feels like the same neurosis at work with young activists of the No Logo stripe: never ADM, General Dynamics, Monsanto, but Nike and Ikea and Starbucks. And never mind that each of these latter firms is, to a greater or lesser degree, founded on what used to be known as progressive principles, or is to a greater or lesser degree responsive to the demands of a politically and socially conscious audience.

What I would sorely like to do is channel all the resentment currently directed at what are, after all, relatively benign inhabitants of the corporate sphere where it belongs, to drop all of that change energy on the institutions that actually are responsible for far greater deformations of the world. Is a little sense of scale too much to ask for?

— end of line —

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3 comments to Keep your crusade away from me. (ikea/starbucks)

  • avatar Anonymous

    Tim Hortons

    Tim Horton’s was bought by an American company not too long ago.

    Ikea? People have a problem with IKEA?

    I’m sure that must be sacrilege! 😉

    Brighid (lurking on through)

  • Re: Tim Hortons

    hiya brighid, good to see ya 🙂
    and no, *people* don’t have a problem with ikea.
    or, i should say, people who i consider people 🙂
    — end of line —

  • I’ve only been to IKEA once and it kinda scared me, just cuz it was so damn huge. A little overwhelming. I went with my mom and we bought everything from a couch, to scissor, and swedish fish. Fantastic!

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