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Always fascinated by the paradox presented in Hesse's Magister Ludi between the worlds of the spirt and of the flesh, I left academia after completing the coursework for a Ph.D. in English Literature for a career in Information Technology consulting, foresaking Shakespeare, Byron, and Fitzgerald for Turing, Iverson, and Date. Soon thereafter, I, like Tom and Laura's father, the telephone lineman, fell in love with long distance. In the years that followed, I plied my craft in places strange and far, including Riyadh, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sarajevo, and (most pleasantly) Nice. Returning to my native America after many years abroad, I have found it dramatically changed, not necessarily for the better. Now I practice my trade more sedately, traveling to such exotic places as St. Louis, Atlanta, and Hartford. But, as Mr. Buffett reminds us, "there's still so much to be done." So hearkening back to Tom's absent father... if the phone doesn't ring, it's me.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why Does “Middle America” Hate Starbucks?

Don’t want to read no stinkin’ books. Let’s go to McDonalds and then go watch some football!
McDonalds is competing with Starbucks in the upscale coffee market. Yes, you can now get a medium (not a grande, mind you) latte from the great purveyor of cheap, greasy hamburgers and composite chicken nuggets. Their advertisements generally emphasize their cheapness in regards to Starbucks, rather than their quality…



And this, of course, is a key reason that Middle America prefers the clown. However, McDonalds’ commercials illustrate other, less flattering reasons as well. Of particular note is a commercial featuring two twenty-ish young men, both with glasses and vaguely European dress, sitting in a quiet shop, drinking coffee and, of all things, reading! One tells the other that McDonalds is now serving lattes to which the second replies, “That’s great!!” Now he can shave his goatee, take off his glasses (he wears them simply to look more intellectual), stop reading books, and (hallelujah) watch football. The second, while removing his black turtleneck, reveals that he, too, “likes to sit and watch football.”

It’s interesting that McDonalds did not chose to portray either yuppies or hippies as its version of the type of person likely to frequent Starbucks, but rather “beats,” dressed, of course, in black. Most of McDonalds’ audience wouldn’t know Kerouac from Ginsberg and the only beat they might possibly recognize would be Maynard G Krebs. Evidently, however, the image of the intellectual beat endures and is associated with something vaguely anti-American.

This, of course, is the complementary appeal to cheapness over quality, an appeal to Sarah Palin’s “real Americans,” who would never want dress or look differently than the crowd and who certainly would never prefer reading a book to watching football. Moreover, “real Americans” view any desire to sip coffee on reasonable chairs in a quiet environment with, perhaps a bit of classical music, as opposed to sitting on plastic chairs listening to the screams of their and others darting children, as inherently elitist -- you know, those things that Europeans and urbanites, those “faux Americans,” like.

Sadly, McDonalds will certainly succeed in capturing a large share of Starbucks’ market share. Those real Americans who, each Sunday (prior to the game, of course), hop into their foreign-made SUVs that get 20 miles per Middle Eastern gallon and flock to Wal-Mart to buy massive amounts of cheap, made-in-China goods, and who write letters to their Representatives and to the twin media deities, Hannity and O’Reilly, lamenting the death of American manufacturing, will always prefer cheapness to quality.

One final reason for this emerges just at the end of the McDonalds’ commercial when the second young man says that he even almost bought a beret. That’s it! Not only does the coffee cost more at Starbucks, you can’t even get Freedom Fries with it. Bring in the clowns!

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

CNN, You Must Be Doing Something Right

While conservatives hate MSNBC and liberals hate Fox News, both agree on one thing -- CNN is biased against them!

This is a story of two internet message boards, each a mirror image of the other, and their attitudes toward CNN in specific, and the media in general. Conservative Underground (CU) is, as its name implies, a conservative board on which members extol the virtues of God (of the Christian variety, of course -- no Muzzies, as they say, allowed), Guns, and unregulated free markets; Democratic Underground (DU) is a liberal board on which members swear by government handouts, social engineering through financial incentives and penalties, and state-controlled economies.

Full Disclosure: I've been banned from both boards (twice!). In the case of DU the last banning resulted from me suggesting that communism wasn't especially beneficial to Eastern Europe and, in the case of CU, it was for espousing the view that Sarah Palin wasn't particularly the sharpest knife in the drawer, particularly regarding international affairs.

Both boards are eerily similar in their attitudes and methods with only their respective agendas differing from extreme right to extreme left. Both believe in the right of government to interfere in people's lives -- CU in the enforcement of Christian morals and DU in the enforcement of social equality. Posters expressing opposing views are normally insulted via ad hominem attacks, in clear violation of the rules of the board, a fact ignored by sympathetic moderators and administrators (see Addendum). Indeed, an odd symmetry exists between the two, even in terms of their relationship to one another. CU has an entire forum, one of its most popular, dedicated to mocking posts and posters at DU; DU has a board-wide rule that CU is not to be discussed, or even have its name mentioned by any poster.
While both are suspicious of the media in general -- either the "evil liberal media" or the "corporate-sponsored media" depending upon the board -- both do have their media idols. CU worships at the alter of Fox News, its dieties manifesting themselves as Shaun Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, while MSNBC, with its resident gods of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, provides spiritual guidance to those at DU; similarly, on talk radio, it's Rush Limbaugh vs Randi Rhodes; among print opinion columnists, it's Ann Coulter vs Paul Krugman; and so on, ad nauseam.
Between the two extremes, represented here by CU and DU, media sources reside at almost equal, but inverse, points along the spectrum from love to hate. The Washington Post, for example, is generally, but moderately disliked by the right and generally, but moderately liked by the left. But there's one source that appears to be equally despised by both left and right -- the pioneer in 24 hour news, CNN. At CU, for example, CNN is regarded thusly...

Sonnabend
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You are part of the problem

No, the rest of the lying, leftist media, the Communist News Network, SeeBeeS, ABC, Looseweek, The New York Slimes, Slime Magazine..are the problem.
Fox News is at least balanced...last time I checked, Dan Rather didn't work for them.


Emphasis mine. While at DU, poor CNN suffers from a similar distrust and disdain...

Daveparts (659 posts)
1. Corporate News Network
CNN the Corporate News Network a division of Time Warner, founders of the phrase garbage in, garbage out. Their tactic to assess the success or failure of the Cuban revolution is to compare Cuba in a vacuum. To pick and choose statistics which add to it’s [sic] argument.

“Dissident groups say Cuba holds more than 200 political prisoners, an
accusation the government denies. Television, radio and newspapers are all controlled by the state.”

From espousing communism, according to the whacky-whackies of the right, to being in the pocket of large corporations, a construct interpreted as fascism by the looney left (due to the convergence of corporations and the state in Mussolini's Italy), CNN certainly spans the ideological gamut. So, John, Wolf, and Anderson, a tip of the hat to you. If you're equally despised by the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum, you must be doing something right.

Two sides, same coin.

Addendum: In fairness to Conservative Underground, the corresponding idealogical extreme to Democratic Underground was previously the ultra-right Free Republic. It has only been recently that, with a change in the administration of CU and the disappointment in the recent elections, CU has taken on all of the attributes of DU. There are still a few members (and mods) who do not mirror their leftist counterparts.

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