Thursday, September 18, 2008

Supporting Small Businesses Is For Poseurs

I thought of yet another issue with those damn McDonalds commercials, the ones that managed to celebrate idiocy and make it seem like a wonderful national past time. A friend of mine mentioned Starbucks being just as "ubiquitous as McDonald's restaurants" (and I'm once again quoting without asking, because I suck). And I agree. But what strikes me is that many of the coffee shops I have frequented in my tenure as a coffee drinker have been independently owned and operated, actually have had things like Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble to play whilst drinking one's hot (or not so hot) beverage, and generally had some sort of non-pop music playing either from a stereo or through a live person sitting there serenading the generally unimpressed patrons.

I like coffee shops; I generally like independent vendors of any kind. Part of why I like them is because they aren't ubiquitous, at least not entirely. Every coffee shop sells basically the same product, but every shop has its own layout. Every shop has its own flavors and its own taste and its own baked goods. Every shop differs slightly in decor or style or music or what board games they have. Whether they have more couches or chairs. What kinds of bands they allow to play there. What kind of pamphlets and books and magazines are kicking around. And at the end of the day, I know that my dollar is going to support an individual who happens to enjoy selling coffee, or at the very least thought they could make a living doing it.

What McDonalds does is scoff at the very idea of individualism; it has done so with its food. A McDonalds Big Mac sold in California is the same as one sold in Connecticut is the same as one sold in France. Its workers are uniform, and wear uniforms. They are impersonal, and at the same time strangely comforting. But it is a false comfort; it is a comfort that allows conformity to become the status quo and rejects the notion of diversity. McDonalds -and other fast food restaurants- are a symptom of a greater problem. I know that McDonalds is a business. Businesses make commercials that supposedly positively influence the viewer into giving their product a chance. But there is something depressing about the idea that someone who may have once stopped for an individual experience at a coffee house will now pull up to a drive in window of a McDonalds and get a mass produced latte, and a latte and experience that is the same no matter which location that person chooses to frequent.

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