I’m not a real big Starbucks fan. Their coffee is okay. I don’t have real strong opinions about them. But about fourteen years ago, for about a day, I decided to form a strong opinion about Starbucks.
I was in college, Facebook was sort of new, and a post had circulated about the Starbucks logo. In case you weren’t aware—neither was I—Starbucks was created to be a force of paganism. And the logo proves it. It’s a Greek goddess meant for all of us to worship.
I don’t know why I believed it, but I did. It may have been because of who shared it, or what was on my mind that day. But I took it upon myself to share the same post. And while the post itself demanded that Christians boycott Starbucks, I suggested that, well, if your conscience leads you to boycott it, go ahead and boycott it.
And then someone took me to task. It was actually my high school journalism teacher from a few years back. She let me know that no, the guy who created Starbucks wasn’t trying to turn people pagan. He was trying to make money selling coffee, and he was so transparent about it that he made the logo into a siren—half woman, half fish, luring sailors to islands known as starbuck islands. Just like his coffee, which lures people into caffeine addiction through an unmistakably iconic logo.
But he also wanted to lure people to make the world a better place. Of course, like with most companies, maybe that’s just part of the image to keep customer loyalty.
So for a whole day, I thought Starbucks had pagan motives. Why? Because I shared the first thing I saw on Facebook and I didn’t do my research. Even halfway through college I still had lessons to learn.
Of course that’s not to say that Starbucks doesn’t have its own practices worthy of criticism—predatory market expansion, cheating customers, violating contracts with farmers. It’s the kind of stuff that pretty much every major corporation ends up doing. And in some way, you could compare it to the fruits of paganism in any culture. But just you go and try navigating the global marketplace without encountering products made by large companies with weird logos and warped effects on society. Boycott whoever you want, but at least choose a worthy criteria and be consistent about it.
But it was because of this one time when I recognized that I was wrong about Starbucks—yes, it was because of the lesson I learned that I later thought twice about rumors I heard about Starbucks. Of course, sometimes Starbucks is just plain stupid. They’re a corporate brand too big for their head, coming up with immature ideas like the #racetogether campaign so they can bank on trend after trend and look like they’re relevant enough to cultural progress that we can buy their capitalist product. Hardly the actions of a dark organization bent on evil. Yet sometimes their stupid naivete becomes the rallying cry of some culture war by those who just want a scapegoat for their own issues.
In 2015 it was “cup-gate,” and Starbucks was part of the “War on Christmas.” Because I was wrong before, I knew this was a case of Starbucks being stupid—trying to not offend anybody during the holidays—than it was a case of Starbucks hating Jesus being born.
In 2017 it was refugees, whom some people just hate. Starbucks responded to Trump’s anti-refugee legislation by announcing they were going to hire more refugees. Fake bulletins erupted on social media accusing Starbucks of hating veterans. Why didn’t I share it? I did my research. Since 2013 Starbucks had been helping out veterans by hiring them and giving them free coffee. Would the me 10 years prior have shared this knowledge? Or would I have bought the narrative that Starbucks was an anti-American pagan cult cared for foreigners more than soldiers? I don’t know. I just know who I am now.
What I learned from being wrong about Starbucks is that it’s not worth it getting wrapped up in a culture war, especially if you don’t have your facts straight. Corporations want to influence you so that you are loyal to their products, and seldom to they have any agenda bigger than money. The pursuit of money alone is enough to produce some absurd engagements with social media and controversial politics.
Sometimes a board meeting is full of people who want to change the world. And sometimes a cup is just a cup.
Nevertheless, I like my coffee local anyway. So boycott Starbucks if you want. Maybe I was partly right anyway.