Monday, April 28, 2008

Americaffe

In Rockstar Games' hugely anticipated release Grand Theft Auto IV, which comes out tomorrow, the Statue of Liberty has been rechristened the Statue of Happiness, and she holds aloft not a torch, but a cup of coffee. "Give me your tired," indeed.

I think this is a brilliant little detail. I've spent my fair share of time working in coffee shops, and I'm of the opinion that while many people come in because they genuinely appreciate coffee as coffee, plenty of others have made Starbucks and other coffee shops part of their daily routine not because of any particular appreciation of espresso, but because the act of drinking a grande vanilla soy latte or a caramel Frappuccino each morning is a way of saying to others and to themselves, "Yes, I am someone in our consumer society! Behold, I can afford to spend four dollars each day on a cup of coffee! And with every precious sip, I keep the voices of doubt at bay, and restore meaning and value to my life! Doesn't this branded coffee cup in my hand go great with my iPod and my RAZR?" Meanwhile, despite the tremendous success and proliferation of such shops, the people who work them can often barely afford to shop them. From Naomi Klein's blistering 2000 book No Logo:

"They expect us to look like a Gap ad, professional, clean and neat all the time, and I can't even pay to do laundry," says Laurie Bonang of Starbucks. "You can buy two grande mocha cappuccinos with my hourly salary." Like millions of her demographic coevals on the payrolls of all-star brands like the Gap, Nike and Barnes & Noble, Bonang is living inside a stunning corporate success story -- though you'd never know it from the resignation and anger in her voice. All the brand-name retail workers I spoke with expressed their frustration at helping their stores rake in, to them, unimaginable profits, and then having to watch that profit get funneled into compulsive expansion. Employee wages, meanwhile, stagnate or even decline. At Starbucks in British Columbia new workers faced an actual wage decrease -- from Can$7.50 to $7 an hour -- during a period when the chain was doubling its profits and opening 350 new stores a year. "I do the banking. I know how much the store pulls in a week," Laurie Bonang says. "They just take all that revenue and open up new stores."

Anyway, enough quoting of left-wing text on my part. I just want to say that to me, in addition to everything else that they were, the earlier GTA games were also truly incisive satire of American culture, and that I'm really looking forward, not only to wreaking havoc in Liberty City and getting into plenty of shootouts and high-speed car chases (though I am most definitely looking forward to that stuff -- A LOT!), but also to discovering the game's humor, to cruising around and listening to Fox...er, sorry, Weazel News, and to seeing what GTA IV has to say about the America we're living in now.

2 comments:

Paul said...

Yeah, it's pretty incredible how a fucking cup of coffee can be a fashion/brand statement... Also, I can't wait for Fox to figure out Weazel News. Enjoy the game!

-Paul
NinthValidBacon

Heather said...

I really liked your take on GTA. I was just pondering about it myself today.

And yah, I get people coming in all the time that ask me how the food at the Michelin rated restaurant next door is. Come on folks, use your brains! I obviously don't make enough $$ per hour to afford a meal starting at $75 a person. And I think that's obvious by the apron I'm wearing. It's ridiculous.