Starbucks Moderne

Capitalism, despite the hollow claims of “efficiency” of its zealous devotees, has a tendency to create a crap ton of useless and/or ugly objects. Unless you’re cursed with some sort of art background you’ll likely spend your days in blissful ignorance of the details of these objects. But if you’re burdened with a few aesthetic bones in your body, you just can’t stop looking at them. Take, for instance, this forgettable paper coffee cup that Kelly noticed.

Our ancestors would have poured their beverages in a reusable ceramic, metal or wood mug. Some of them might have downed their mead in a blinged out drinking horn. Before that they would have just cupped their hands at the stream. For a moment, let’s let go of the obvious problem of the “externalities” caused by sending this single use object to a landfill and take a close look at the aesthetics of this paper coffee cup.

The style and color pallet is what I call “Starbucks Moderne.” Consider it the committee-driven, focus group vetted, corporate response to the Portlandia “Bad Art Good Walls” routine. You’ll find Starbucks Moderne in the thousands of soulless hotels, “upscale” hospital waiting rooms and bank lobbies that scar our degraded architectural landscape. You’re not supposed to pay attention to Starbucks Moderne but, instead, feel like a mini-Jeff Bezos, subliminally enveloped in a muted pseudo-luxury color palette.

But what’s up with that face? Was the artist not paid enough to bother drawing a face? Is this a stab at corporate cubism? Or is this a mask? Is this a self-portrait of the artist who portrayed themselves wearing a mask as a kind of plea for help or a way of saying, “don’t blame me for this ugly thing?” Kelly actually started drawing a copy of this masked figure in order to understand it but couldn’t figure out what it was about.

The 1990s era curly chair in the background means that this hapless artist is probably of my, largely forgotten and ignored, Generation X. We’re the last generation that can remember a time of lounging in curlycued, overstuffed post-modern furniture, a time before the gig-slave economy. Now we’re hunched over in misery contemplating eking by on Fiverr and Mechanical Turk while the fat-cat masked billionaires enjoy slices of pie and a cup of coffee on the way to their Eyes Wide Shut parties.

Further evidence of the age of the artist or, more likely, that the coffee cup company hasn’t updated its art in 30 years is that there’s a be-crowned figure reading a physical newspaper instead of gigging on Fiverr for pennies an hour on a phone or laptop.

Keep turning the cup and you’ll find more bargain-basement cubism, masked, hegemonic figures and another slice of pie.

Methinks things would change if we prioritized the arts in our schools and people woke up to the sheer horror and ugliness that surround us. That day may yet come. Perhaps the revolution will be led by our blessed ceramics teachers . . .

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2 Comments

  1. Ha! The first thing that caught my attention were all the snakes coming out of the cups. Seems like I have seen this cup or something like it around somewhere. Yes, probably popular 20 years ago.

  2. even 20 years ago, this’d be “bargain-basement cubism” (ha! good one)–not art, but design coming out of marketing. Ptooey.

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