CMNS 428 – Media and Education

Media Design Project I: Culture Jam (revised)

Jennifer Liu


CMNS 428 – D100

Instructor: Stuart Poyntz

TA: Chris Jeschelnik

Media Design Project I

The images “The Death-Starbucks,” “Skinny Latte,” and “Every Step of the Way” are linked by a central attempt to highlight the penetrating influence Starbucksholds in society and in particular, the lives of youths and children. Each individual image are created with the intention to exaggerate and distort current realities surrounding Starbucks products and advertisements to evoke a reflection of what future consequences can arise if awareness is not developed of the growing capability of corporations, such as Starbucks, to assert itself as a force which has the ability to reshape our social and cultural norms. Although each image is designed for a slightly different audience group, it is hoped that the use of shocking pictures and well recognized cultural icons will make each culture jam accessible to its viewers.

The first of the culture jams “The Death-Starbucks” is a reinvention of “Coming Together”. Whereas the weakness in “Coming Together” was identified as its inability to express a clear and concise message of why Starbucks is projecting a false and artificial persona of inclusively to gain revenue, “The Death-Starbucks” is successful in its assertion that Starbucks possesses a distinctively negative agenda. In order for this culture jam to work effectively, it is crucial for the reader to be familiar with George Lucas’ Star Wars and recognize the Death Star as a symbol of totalitarian control,destructionand death. The juxtaposition of the Death Star with the Starbucks logo creates an instant association that tells the readers Starbucks means trouble. In the culture jam, the earth is small and is given the appearance of being backed into a corner in an attempt to resist the reach of a larger, ominous Death-Starbucks spaceship. Although no specific instructions are left for the readers, the title “The Death-Starbucks” encourages readers to come up with their own thoughts on the ways in which Starbucks is like the Death Star, ie, exploitation of earth’s resources, Starbuck employees as clones, the mechanical and alienated structurethat is the Death-Starbucks in comparison to the earth, and so forth.

The anticipated “capture” of the earth might already be happening as we see the propagation of Starbucks coffee shops on a global scale. As smaller, privately owned cafes are pushed out of the market by the coffee giant, local communities are made vulnerable due to a lost in profits which might have otherwise stayed in the area, reliable employment opportunities which pay a living-wage are replaced, and there is even potentially a loss in a sense of cultural identity; these are but some of the casualties of the Death-Starbucks. The hegemony of the homogenous Starbucks culture and its ‘cloning’ effect can be observed in the ways people have come to shift their expectation of their coffee experience should be, for example sometimes naming their cup sizes “tall, venti and grande” even when they are not at a Starbucks location.

“Skinny Latte” is a reaction to an actual beverage that was marketed by Starbucks earlier in 2008. While the name of the drink is intended to be a clever personification of a latte which has now been modified to be low in fat, the implication of this drink can have an indirect influence in how many young people, woman especially, would change their coffee drinking behaviour and beyond. The absurdity of connecting a drink with a human characteristic of thinness is lost in the climate of current society’s obsession with the female body and how it should look.The anorexic woman in the picture is actually a model for a well-known designer. The fabulously rich and beautiful lifestyles fashion models are believed to have are frequently envied by those who feel compelled to mimic their idols in order to achieve personal satisfaction. As a culture jam, “Skinny Latte” aims to resurface this absurdity by putting side by side the image of a pitifully thin, anorexic young woman with an anorexic Starbucks cup. Although the image of the anorexic women may be considered extreme and offensive to some, its unique ability to disgust and appal gives this culture jam substance.

As mentioned earlier, Starbucks has a tremendous potential in its ability to control and mould societal values and norms through pervasive advertisements and market dominance.With a full understanding of their scope of influence, Starbucks’ creation of a skinny latte should be deemed an irresponsible and ethically misplaceddecision because it capitalizes on the vulnerability of those who are seeking to improve their self-worth through their physical appearance. The skinny latte perpetuates the idea that skinny is the desired body type in today’s world, regardless of whether this desirability is healthy or natural.

“Every Step of the Way” provides a frightening yet highly possible insight for upcoming Starbucks merchandise. The baby bottle and sippy cup embossed with the Starbucks logo are not actual products available today; they were created to illustrate the penetrating influence of Starbucks on today’s youths and children which begin at a younger and younger age than ever before. The infant with an exaggerated grimace sits uncomfortably in a coffee cup, waiting to be served up as a life long consumer of Starbucks coffee and goods placed below him. In this situation, the giant coffee cup is as a prison or mechanism for holding the infant hostage. Besides Starbucks, there are already many brands such as Fisher Price which are determined to lock children as loyal customers before they can even speak or develop proper motor skills for independent mobility. It is extremely important for parents and those who are expecting to understand the power of brands and how their choice in consumption canaffect the development and cultural understanding of their offspring.

An indirect assertion about the separate world of adults and children coming together through brand marketing is also made in this piece. The effectiveness of this culture jam comes from the overwhelming and carefully staged Starbucks logo on everything, there is a sense that the innocence of the child is being invaded and he is being helplessly forced into a life long slavery as a customer through the usage of Starbucks branded wares from infanthood until adulthood, “a Starbucks in hand every step of the way.”