Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Coffee Talk

Had a chance to watch Best in Show again recently, and since I rented the DVD, I was able to pause, transcribe, rewind, transcribe, pause, etceteras, a wonderful little scene that goes a little something like this:

Meg Swan: We met at Starbucks. Not the same Starbucks, but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other. And Hamilton got up the courage to walk across the street one day and … approached me.
Hamilton: Yeah. I’d seen you at law school before.
Meg Swan: Yeah.
Hamilton: And I know that sometimes I’d be in one Starbucks and then you’d be in the other Starbucks and then I’d think maybe, you know, I should go over to that Starbucks the next weekend and then you’d be at the other Starbucks so we kinda crossed paths.
Meg Swan: [Cackles]
Hamilton: I know it sound so stupid now.
Meg Swan: He’s so good.

As the scene continues Meg and Hamilton (played by Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock respectively) discuss what they were drinking at the time. We learn that Meg was drawn to Hamilton’s choice of Grande espresso, which she thought was "sexy." On the fateful day, Meg was working on her Mac, and Hamilton had his under his arm, and he spotted her J. Crew catalogue and it was brand-name love at first sight. As Meg puts it: "We were so lucky to be raised amongst catalogues."

It’s my favourite few minutes in the film, in no small part due to the fact that there are kitty-corner Starbucks at Robson and Thurlow, in Vancouver. (Best in Show was shot in Vancouver – coincidence?) The scene has a certain deftness in conveying the idea that you are what you own, a No Logo moment, only, like, funny. The whole Starbucks thing dovetails with something Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr. Burns (among many others), said in a Q&A interview last year:

HS: You see a yearning to get more of that again in these Main Street-style malls that are being built, which are trying to summon the semblance or a simulacrum of community without actually the essence of it. So there's clearly a feeling that we need more of this but we don't know how to get it at this point. "Let's all read the same book" is as close as we can come.

Salon: And wear the same clothes, and drink the same coffee. Yet you've bemoaned the lack of a Starbucks in an airport when you're stuck there for an hour and a half waiting for your luggage.

HS: I sure do. Because Starbucks is not the problem. The problem is the fact that the only place in town where people sit for any length of time and maybe talk to each other is Starbucks. That's the problem. The problem is that Starbucks filled a hole -- Starbucks didn't invent that hole. There might not be so many Starbucks if there were more plazas, if there were places that older cities discovered were good ideas for people to hang out, where they don't have to spend $3 to get in.

I struggle with this idea, because occasionally I visit the great Satan, even though I hate myself (briefly) afterwards and have chided Naomi Klein for doing likewise.

Unfortunately, the big ol' plaza at Yonge and Dundas has yet to solve the problem. More on that in a few weeks...