PM Pick

On Starbucks and Recurrence

This is something that many travelers have to contend with. How about you?

You return to a city where you’ve stayed before and where do you choose to hole up? A place that you have lodged and dined before? Or somewhere else different? Sure, I know that should depend on the quality of times past. And some other factors such as money in your pockets or proximity to those things you have planned this go-round. But, all things being equal – say it was a fine stay before and the place is close to where you will now be gigging – then what? You up for a new experience? Or would you prefer to fall back on what is known, what is safe? What will cause points of least resistance. After all, now you know the route to and from the station, you know the layout of the streets, the location of the convenience stores and the neighborhood noodle shops. You know which dog’s bark to avoid at just which house along the way.

In short, you have sunk time and resources sufficient to now produce economies of scale. Are you now up for capitalizing on the benefits?


Fortunately, not all of life is economics. Humans, thankfully, are not entirely rational, goal-regarding or end-driven entities. So, there is that. And philosophically, we could get into discussions of recurrence and eternal returns, also about the futility of trying to recreate discrete moments, as if one could ever pour granules of colored sand back into the bottle from which it was poured in identical shape or combination. Rarely do all the flakes make it back in, and – even if they do – rarely in the same configuration.

But this is really not that deep a concept, here. So why try to convert it into one? This is about choosing to live a moment or too with a certain level of comfort – gained in the pre-envisioning of future experience – or the desire to live a more seat-of-the-pants, fly-by-the-turn-of-the-moment, kind of deal. You know, one of the underlying themes in any of my peripatetic escapades.

And which would you choose? What kind of flavor are you?


The more I travel, the more I have to make these decisions. As vectors come to overlap one another. This summer I will have this decision to make in Paris; and since work and business opportunities are bringing more and more frequently to Tokyo, it is a decision that I face every few weeks now. This time round I chose a prior haunt. And what I found was one of those “six of one/half dozen of another” things; or maybe, possibly, it was even better: one of those “twofers”. Like the floor wax that doubles as a food topping, or the beanball that puts the winning run on first base and also allows you to enter the game as the substitute runner.

In other words, by picking a spot where I know the route, I am free to expand, to explore, to re-reroute and redouble, free of care. I know ultimately where I will end. So, I can relax and manage to stumble across this Starbucks where I am now sitting, ensconced in the picture window on the second floor that commands a view of the quadruple crosswalks topped by a train overpass.

Enough stimulation to keep me people-gazing and human condition-pondering, for minutes. And minutes.


My choice of Starbucks here is not unintentional. It is both metaphor and guide. For, one of the tricks that consumer culture has turned on us sustainers of it, is the way it has convinced us to sustain it. And how? Often by selling us the twin dollops of certitude and uncertainty. Huh? Sure. We want to know that what we are about to receive is something that we will be thankful for afterward. In that way it has to be safe, assured, predictable, bankable. It is also something that we hope is distinct, yet not so unknown that we won’t know how to receive, process, and use it. It must be fathomable, anticipatable, knowable; but not so much that we can phone it in. And Starbucks is probably one of the better examples of that. Certainly better than McDonalds which – save for the random teriyaki burger or fried shrimp balls – is ALL certitude. Starbucks, by contrast, is not supposed to be completely so. There is supposed to be diversity amongst the directiveness. And, in fact, the founder was recently quoted as complaining that his invention has gone off track, under the weight of mega-expansion. Now, it has lost its vision, its soul, its core concept. Starbucks, the brand, has become too staid, too cookie-cutter predictable; it has lost all individuality and, hence, spontaneity, within the assorted isles out in the stream. In short, there is a plea to please get back to delivering some uncertainty along with the certitude; inject difference and distinctiveness along with the mocha frappaccino.

Something with which I concur. As I sit in the picture window on the second floor that commands a view of the quadruple crosswalks topped by a train overpass. Not the window in the Tsutaya multi-media building overlooking the famous Hachiko statue in Shibuya, nor the window that opens into the hotel lobby in Sendai. All locales distinct enough, with surrounding different enough that each one of these generally-agreed upon, generally-comparable environments, will, nonetheless, deliver different experience.

So. Am I recommending the road more traveled? Is that what this life’s guide of yours is suggesting?

Is that what I am advocating? Well . . . yes, perhaps. Possibly so.

At least as long as you remember – as long as we have the understanding – that whatever transpires within that institutional oasis with a view of the world rushing by is ultimately on you. What you choose to see, what you manage to think, who you happen to interact with, and how -- that is all up to you. It is ultimately you who chooses the road taken. It is you who decides whether it will be the one more or less often traversed.

It is you who determines how much recurrence, and in what measure, you will invite into your personal life history.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image