Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

The Cultural Calamity of Coffee Consumption & Critique

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Coffee in modernity has gained a renown for its ample variation in complex flavor and nuanced notes that harken to other products of indulgence(through chocolate, fruit, herbal and/or floral intricacy dependent on where the beans were grown and how they’ve been roasted). But as esotericism and specific interest evolve and intensify with each generation, the global fanaticism around the bean continually escalates, molding the small group of dedicated zealots into bean connoisseurs always in pursuit of the perfect roast, trailblazing and Starbucking the majority as early entrepreneurs settled, and continued to populate the caffeine industry. But most industry claims are either lies or loosely based truths extrapolated away from the reality of the harvest, advertising romanticized tales of roaster-farmer connections to attract consumers by motivating questioning of personal moral standards, asking “Do you know where your coffee came from?” The question hosts myriad insinuations, first that the choice of brand might intertwine the moral calculus of both the consumer and the roasting corporation, and subsequently questioning the degree of coffee-ological intelligence the consumer holds, positing inferiority on those who do not understand the differentiation between Guatemalan, Kenyan and Argentinian farmed beans, etc. By highlighting and encouraging consumer reflection on the personal lack of technical coffee knowledge, which subsequently imbues a lack of global awareness, the industry bullies the buyer into purchasing high priced brands and specialty roasts in the hope that ingesting the beverage each morning, noon and night will transmit specialized knowledge of its origin and convoluted flavor.

The culture permeates daily life, making the citizen a consumer with a product to buy the moment he wakes each day, introducing a decadent flavor experience that can be consumed without calories(!!!) and throughout all waking hours. “Need a boost? Get a coffee.” Participation by the consumer stimulates self-satisfaction with the distinction of their choice and their brand, while the corporation regulates the transmission of this information, being careful to “enhance” knowledge while never inspiring hobbyism or independence, keeping the buyer buying. The advertised product and the accompanied context its makers broadcast ensures the consumer receives a peripheral understanding, an incomplete picture where the vague grasp of coffee practice and procedure enables the drinking of it to become a specific “interest” rather than passing action. This allows the judging of flavor, no matter the drinker’s true palette for coffee, as a right commonly exercised.  The consumer’s idiosyncrasy is bastardized for believing their understanding of the advertised coffee production procedure is involved and thorough, lowering the qualifications for subjects granted into our field of recreation and ultimately our personality. We are being dulled down, suckered into corners where “Caramel Mocha Frappaccinos” can exist as signifiers of nostalgia and strength in given friend- and relationships.

“Celebrity” acts to intensify this cultural diminution, where gossip and voyeuristic tabloids plaster their inner pages with photographs of famous names drinking specific drinks with each motion of their daily life, the reader either consciously or unconsciously absorbing the insignia his favorite personality flaunts. Trying to define our authenticity through single products and activities (along with direct, purposeful comparison to fame) enforces our own boundaries and achieves the opposite result: an increase in our banality and mediocrity. We are continually being programmed with the force of non-genuine interest by our interconnectivity, social media and popular culture always slackening our self-esteem and encouraging us to broadcast everything we know, allowing us to be in competition with every living creature.

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One thought on “The Cultural Calamity of Coffee Consumption & Critique

  1. I appreciate that you were able to move beyond film, television, and music to a part of media–advertising–that is less overt but realistically more present in our daily lives then we would like to let on. You also did a great job taking on the voice of Horkheimer/Adorno. Much of the coffee experience and thus the coffee-perpetuating experience is in the hands of the barista, someone who is economically outside of much of the prestige that coffee symbolizes. What do you think Horkheimer and Adorno’s opinion of that juxtaposition would be?

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