Monday, November 17, 2008

the starbucks principle

Speaking of Bob Ong, allow me to re-introduce The Starbucks Principle, written by my friend Nick when we were -- what? -- college? Ugh. Kainggit noh? It was published in Ong's ...Baliktad... book, although if my memory serves me right, it first circulated -- and caused quite a ruckus -- in the then-pre-blogosphere Internet. Makes me wonder if that's the reason (or a major contributing factor) it got published. I myself was flamed for forwarding the thing. HAHAHAHAHA!

The article is still making rounds, albeit with some minor modifications from whomever forwarded/posted it (or was the edited version the one in the book? I forget). And it's still getting some rants/raves. I guess it does resonate to people, despite the fact that it was written when FPJ was running for president and one can judge another person based on his Nokia cell phone (Finland or China?). And yes, when Starbucks was just in Ayala 6750 and Pearl Drive in Ortigas and a handful of other stores in the Metro.

This is the kind of writing I want to achieve. I'd like to think I'm getting there. I don't think I can handle the flameouts though.

Below is the closest to the original I can find. I think.

* * *
The Starbucks Principle

Haven't you noticed how Starbucks has taken the place of Mega mall, Enchanted Kingdom, and Jollibee? Today, Starbucks spells gimmick. Suddenly everyone is mad about coffee, and is willing to spend a whooping hundred bucks for "one tall mocha frappe please!" or "I'll have one grande iced coffee please!" Everyone claims it's different, it's something else, it's to die for. Instead of catching a nice flick at the cinema, the Filipinos' new idea of fun is to voluntarily park their buns at the café and ingurgitate all the caffeine they can.

No one knows exactly why Starbucks has become the hot spot, when what they serve is just foamed Blend 45 for crying out loud. Oh, try pointing this out to Starbucks fanatics (i.e., the gulping likes of teeny-boppers and “kikay” girls), and you can expect getting attacked on how little you know about coffee. Get ready with answers like "Duh! Starbucks isn't just coffee! They're ground beans and processed chocolate and skimmed milk! What do you know about that?"

They have a point there, though, because even in the United States, when you talk (about) coffee, Starbucks comes first. Their ingredients are never questionable, and if I'm not mistaken, Starbucks is an established-since-year brand. In short, Starbucks is the coffee authority. But it ends there. Starbucks is coffee, period. Certainly not a gimmick place of some sort, not convincing enough as an alternative for the mall. This, I repeat, is the case in the United States.

But Starbucks invades Manila and here it becomes an obsession. As you may have already seen, the interiors of Starbucks cafes are all designed to create a distinct ambience. Notice from the Italian-tiled flooring, to the cowboy-motif wall covering, to the fancy lamps, tables and chairs crafted like those only seen in home magazines. Of course, who would miss the complicated bar counter, behind which all the grinders and blenders are displayed as if to remind you they really do process your cappuccino.

I mean who can resist frequenting a posh place like this? Instead of worrying about other important things the typical “kikay” teenager puts on her best dress, together with her “kikay” friends goes straight to Starbucks where she orders "one tall caramel frappe please!" This takes time to prepare, which is fine. She feels rewarded by the fact that the ethical cashier would shout her name across the room by the time her frappe is ready. After she claims it, she heads for the self-service corner where she takes excessive pockets of extra sugar, extra cream, and an inch thick of Starbucks tissue paper for souvenirs. Then she sits by the front window, hoping someone she knows would pass by and see her drinking expensive coffee. She takes remarkably small sips in order to prolong her stay, like a real smart-ass.

During the entire process, there is the obligatory flaunting of Nokia Cell phones Finland or China???), the occasional eruptions of "yeah" and "sure" here and there. You get the impression everyone in the room is from CRC.

Pathetic as it is, the Starbucks atmosphere is so contagious that it simply brings out the social climber in one. You have to admit that the Philippine franchiser of Starbucks--whoever he is--deserves credit. He's certainly not stupid. He sees through us Filipinos, and definitely knows how to flatter us.

Mr. Starbucks is aware of the average Pinoy desire to be associated and considered among the elite because well, in reality, the average Pinoy is far from being that.

The average Pinoy home is less attractive than a place like Starbucks. The average Pinoy meal is without garnishes. The average Pinoy environment is less comforting and convenient than the service of Starbucks.

But when in Starbucks, the average Pinoy is instantly made to feel he's in New York, or Las Vegas, or Paris, or anywhere else but Manila--one probable reason why we Filipinos buy this flick. We are total suckers for anything that is western in concept. But Starbucks has gone beyond colonial mentality; it has become pure escapism. It helps us forget about the traffic jam, the hostages in Mindanao, and the decreasing popularity of FPJ. In this age of harsh realities of poverty and chaos, anything that offers oblivion and temporary indulgence sells fast.

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