No Logos in Starbucks’ Logo

The other day I visited Starbucks after a hike. I ordered a tall latte and, as I waited on the barista, wandered around the store. I perused the obligatory black-and-white art, the collection of coffee mugs, and a rambling mess of Starbucks paraphernalia. When I had made an almost complete circle back to the barista, I caught sight of a small cardboard stand-up. It proudly boasted Starbucks’ logo, hovering over a small paragraph of text.

Starbucks Logo
Starbucks Logo

As far as my imperfect memory recalls, the paragraph read something like this:

“The Siren. According to myth her song was beautiful and irresistible. We still can’t resist her.”

I cocked my head and re-read the justification for their logo once more. When I was certain I had read correctly, I started looking around me with an incredulous look on my face. No one else seemed bothered by what I noticed.

Based on my brief observation, I began to suspect that Starbucks suffered from a terrible disorder called mytholitis – that is, a condition in which one fails to recall mythological stories accurately or completely. Either they suffer from this terrible condition or, I’m afraid, they selectively retold this myth to hide an obvious truth about their product.

According to this cardboard prophet, Starbucks justifies the Siren in its logo because this creature was beautiful and irresistible to sailors. To the casual observer, this advertising sends a warm subliminal message which depicts hard working sailors (us – the consumer) being humored by the song of a beautiful woman (Starbucks). The appeal of this narrative – being pleased by a member of the opposite sex – is obvious. To rehash the Siren myth in this way, however, is a patent oversimplification.

As anyone who does not suffer from mytholitis could tell you, the real myth recounts a more tragic story of the Sirens. They were ugly humanoids – half bird, half woman in appearance – and were entirely wicked.  When unsuspecting ships would sail by Sirenum scopuli, the three rocky islands where the Sirens made their home, these creatures would begin to sing. Men who heard their ethereal voices became enchanted. Incensed, they sought to find the source of the music no matter the danger. Usually this meant turning their ships towards the noise and blindly sallying forth, wrecking their ships upon the rocks surrounding the Sirens’ islands and drowning, unfulfilled.

Initially, I was concerned that Starbucks was incorrectly rehashing a myth to justify their misuse of an icon. In hindsight, maybe that icon is appropriate – when the myth is correctly remembered. After all, Starbucks coffees aren’t necessarily healthy for us and, for many Starbucks regulars, their product does seem dangerously irresistible. Perhaps their marketing gurus put out this message to amuse themselves, fully cognizant of the fact that there are two vastly different ways of reading their logo: an incorrect way, which they’re peddling to consumers everyday; and a correct way, which would warn consumers away from heeding the Starbucks Siren’s call.

The Economy Can’t Open Our Eyes to Angels and Demons

At my father’s insistence, I’m reading Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons. While lounging with the book today, a passage caught my attention, especially in light of recent news from the Pew Research Center:

“Perhaps miracle is the wrong word. I was simply trying to speak your language.”

“My language?” Langdon was suddenly uncomfortable. “Not to disappoint you, sir, but I study religious symbology – I’m an academic, not a priest.”

Kohler slowed suddenly and turned, his gaze softening a bit. “Of course. How simple of me. One does not need to have cancer to analyze its symptoms.” (page 27).

In August of last year, I wrote “Emptying Pews Cry for Leadership,” in which I discussed my perception of religion as a dying institution, but one that’s dying needlessly, from a preventable disease. The quotation from Angels & Demons I’ve included above is a propos because I’m not particularly religious; I’m just fascinated by religion and how people engage themselves with it.

In these dire economic times, you’d expect more and more people would be going to church. After all, aren’t we used to seeing church attendance rise when tough times or hurdles lie ahead or when the future becomes cloudy and overcast? Furthermore, going to church is more or less free, so it’s not like you can use less cash as an excuse from attending.

Despite what you might expect, the Pew Research Center released findings on March 13 which suggest that people are just as unconvinced by the value of going to church now as they were before this crisis started.

From the Pew Research Center, March 13, 2009
From the Pew Research Center, March 13, 2009

From the graph to the left, you can see that church-goers remain at the same small handful in January 2009 as they did in January 2007.

I don’t know about you, but I fully expected that as the Dow Jones plummeted, church attendance would climb, a testament to our ability to ignore the good things in our life until all we’re surrounded by is the bad.

So what does this mean, that the flagging economy has failed to revive our interest in religion? Maybe, just maybe, it’s an dead horse that’s not worth beating anymore.

The Sexting Phenomenon and Accountability

I’m probably crossing a line with this post. I’ve been sitting on this one for about a week now, discussing this with friends and reflecting on it. My opinion hasn’t changed.

By now, you probably have heard of the sexting phenomenon. If not, in brief, it is the act of sending nude or semi-nude pictures of yourself to others via your mobile phone. Here’s the shocker: according to a survey performed last year by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens “said they had sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves” (MSNBC). Split out by gender, this was true for 22% of girls vs 18% of boys.

In the last couple of months, three sexting scandals have launched onto the media’s radar. Continue reading “The Sexting Phenomenon and Accountability”

Still Brewing on Branding

I haven’t had much time to write in the last couple of weeks, but I still wanted to capture this train of thought somewhere.

At the turn of the month, I made my rounds to Talking Philosophy, where Jean Kazez had just written (competently, I feel) about the perils of caring too much and the virtue of indifference, especially as it pertains to religious matters. Although I’m taking it out of context, one of the passage which stirred most concerned a topic I’m passionate about:

“At least in the US, we are rather fond of definining ourselves clearly.  Each person practically has a brand (huge exaggeration–but think about facebook pages, blogs, ring-tones, and the like).  There’s also high intolerance for non-belief, making it more important to “come out” defiantly as a non-believer.  Atheism has developed something akin to a gay-pride movement, because there is in fact a high level of misunderstanding and prejudice in both cases.”

Jean says that considering Facebook pages, blogs, ring-tones, etc as a personal brand is a “huge exaggeration.” But is it really? In recent years, authors, prominent businesspersons, and media mongols have been pushing the idea that the main ingredient in success is creating a strong, irresistible brand of “You.” Considering that:

1) Are artifacts like Facebook, MySpace, ring-tones, blogs, twitters, etc precursors of the Brand-of-I mentality, or symptoms?

2) Are these precursors/symptoms healthy? Useful?

3) Where should we draw the line with our personal brands?

4) Perhaps more than anything, are we creating the brands, or are the brands creating us? (Corny, I know, but chew on it: Is the effort of perfecting our image for consumption causing us to burn away something more important?)

I’m reminded of Walter Fisher’s narrative paradigm. He suggested that we relate to people most through narrative. This trend is exemplary evidence to support that theory. Further more, this trend may end up showing just how constructive – or destructive – narrative can be.

Happy Birthday: Now Spill All Your Secrets.

What were you doing at midnight on February 4, 2009? Sleeping? Chomping down a late-night snack? Facebooking? If the latter, you were unwittingly celebrating Mark Zuckerberg’s creation on its fifth birthday.


Five years and 150 million users later, Facebook is still the topic of heated debate. What does this construct say about our society? What impact is it having? What social mores is it changing? These questions, and others, will continue to be posed and considered for years to come and, fortunately, Facebook will keep delivering material for speculation. Take, for example, the “25 Random Things” note racing through this social network’s veins like some epidemic virus. The object is to fill out a list of 25 things about yourself, a blend of the private and the personal, and publish it to your friends. They are then supposed to fill out a list about themselves in turn, and pass it on. As John Timpane of the Philadelphia Inquirer observes, after one person sent this note to ten others, and those ten sent the note to ten of their friends, “soon Facebook – a virtual living room where people hang out and tell everyone else what they’re doing and thinking – is awash with personal revelations, admissions, info once kept private.”

Continue reading “Happy Birthday: Now Spill All Your Secrets.”

The Last Professors? This is Not a Rhetorical Question.

Yesterday a friend of mine pointed out Stanley Fish’s review of Frank Donoghue’s The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. According to his publisher, Donogue, a professor at The Ohio State University, uses this book as an opportunity to take “a clear-eyed look at American higher education over the last twenty years…[and] outlines a web of forces – social, political, and institutional – dismantling the professoriate.” Having sat in on a class of Donoghue’s and spoken with him about my own aspirations to join the professoriate, I paid special attention to this review. One excerpt sent chills down my spine more quickly than any other:

“Donoghue begins by challenging the oft-repeated declaration that liberal arts education in general and the humanities in particular face a crisis, a word that suggests an interruption of a normal state of affairs and the possibility of restoring the natural order of things.

‘Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past. In “ two or three generations,” Donoghue predicts, “humanists . . . will become an insignificant percentage of the country’s university instructional workforce.'”

My interest in all of this, of course, traces back to the cultural factor. I agree with Donoghue’s logic, and his evidence is enough for me to be onboard with the idea that the Academy’s original, humanist, liberal arts roots are rotting from the inside out, from xylem to phloem. However, I’m less concerned about the fact that this is happening, than why it is happening. And I’m less concerned about why it is happening, than determining what societal elements have changed to allow this shift. What values have we set aside and which have taken their place? Is this a sign that we are comfortable ignoring our souls, so long as we fatten our wallets?

Essentially this issue raises the question (and requires an answer to): What is the purpose of life?

Comfort or inquiry? Body or mind?

The irony, to me, is that while this issue begs the question, it also represents our diminishing capacity to answer it.

Count Your Marbles

Take any given person (even yourself, if you’d like), and ask the following:

Does he/she exhibit traces of

  • Impaired social skills (social interaction),
  • Impaired communicative abilities,
  • Restricted interests, and/or
  • Repetitive behavior.

If you answered yes to a majority of those characteristics, you are either

  1. A modern, “connected” individual
  2. Autistic

As Janet Maslin points out in a book review entitled, “So Plugged in, Yet So Disconnected: Field Notes from Wired America,” perhaps the most valuable aspect of Dalton Conley’s Elsewhere, U.S.A. was buried in a footnote: the observation of a “connection between social disembodiment and rising rates of autism, a condition that defies the conventions of social networking.”

The similarities between autism and “our isolating, newly normal adult behavior are related” are frightening, indeed.

Religion: Chicken Soup for the Soul…or Just Chicken Soup?

The JanuaryFebruary 2009 issue of The Atlantic points out an article which begs the question: is religion a spiritual quest alone, or could there be something more physical, more mundane behind it?

“Assortative Sociality, Limited Dispersal, Infectious Disease and the Genesis of the Global Pattern of Religion Diversity” published by the Royal Society in Proceedings B seems to suggest that religion could be attributed to evolution.

According to this document, “religion manifests from evolved behavioral strategies for the avoidance and management of infectious disease” (Medical News). Furthermore, the “diversity of religions in a given country correlates closely” with the amount of disease (Atlantic Monthly 21). Consider, for example, why Brazil boasts 159 religions, while Canada squeaks by with a mere 15? Perhaps it is because Brazil – poor and without a public-health system – is overrun by disease when compared to Canada – which has better than average healthcare and few known parasites.

In otherwords, people in regions with a greater chance of exposing them to a disease tend to limit travel and interpersonal interaction; which stems the flow of ideas and values responsible for birthing new religions.

Now, consider why Church pews the world over are emptying faster than you can say a Hail Mary?  Could it be that the advent of new health care systems and technologies have resulted in a world where religion no longer serves its evolutionary purpose? If this is the case, then are the people who contine to visit them weak links bound to fail the “only the strong survive” test, or do they represent the next evolutionary step for religion, whatever that may be?

A lot of questions to be asked, with few answers to give. It hurts to think outside your own generation, doesn’t it?

Creating (and Destroying) Realities

At thirteen years of age and living just four-doors apart from each other, Sarah Drew and Megan Meier were your typical girl friends in your typical Missouri town living their typical teenage lives. Megan and Sarah even experienced a typical falling-out, when chats about boys turned into name-calling, bickering and, eventually, silence.

If only that had been the end of their typical friendship. Instead, in the summer of 2006, Sarah’s mother, Lori Drew, got involved. Aged forty-seven at the time, Lori created a MySpace profile for a fictional boy, Josh Evans. She sought out and “friended” Megan Meier online “in an attempt to woo [Megan] and extract information from her to determine if she had been spreading gossip about [her] daughter.” [1] For weeks, Lori Drew, her daughter, and a co-worker fabricated a romantic relationship with Meier until, in October 2006, things got ugly. Attacking Megan’s self-esteem, “Josh Evans” wrote “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore because you’re not nice to your friends.”[2] Shortly after Megan replied, asking what he meant, she realized that “Evans” had publicly posted messages she had written to him, where they could be viewed by all of her friends at school. As a result, these “friends” began posting bulletins making fun of Megan. Continue reading “Creating (and Destroying) Realities”

Mobile (banking+politics+connecing)=?

You may have noticed a good deal of hullabaloo in the press about the advent of Mobile Banking: the new technology enabling consumers to control their financial assets from their mobile phone (texting to transfer funds, schedule a payment, check balances, et cetera).

As exciting as that is, banking is not the only activity people engage in on-the-go. ABI research reports that 46% of those who use social networks have also accessed a social network through their mobile phone (70% of those had visited MySpace  and 67% had visited Facebook). Interestingly, when asked why they had logged in via their mobile, 50% acknowledged checking for comments and messages, while 45% logged in to make status updates – that is, projecting what they were doing or feeling to their online audience. Continue reading “Mobile (banking+politics+connecing)=?”