Saturday, August 18, 2007

Two pompous heels with no perspective

That's how I feel compelled to describe both the subject and author of the Slate article 'Worst Op-ed Ever Written'. Author Ron Rosenbaum browbeats out of touch Professor Stanley Fish for his New York Times op-ed "Getting Coffee Is Hard To Do" in which he reports the bewildering experience of going to Starbucks, which he seems to consider a pretty low-to-middle brow, uncouth sort of place, where you are forced to rub shoulders with the masses, use all sorts of silly faux-fancy words that are supposed to make you sound sophisticated, and finally are forced to add sugar to your own coffee. Rosenbaum considers Fish's deprecating detachment from the experience insulting. Both come off as unlikeable people whom I would not like to meet.
The thing that got to me though are Fish's reaction to the Starbucks fixin's bar and Rosenbaum's reaction to that reaction. Fish says that, by paying $3 and up for a coffee
what you're paying for is the privilege of doing the work that should be done by
those who take your money.

This is patently false. You are paying so much for coffee because a) you can and b) you want to.
Rosenbaum takes great offense at Fish's demand for good service, and particularly
the growing practice of shifting the burden of labor to the consumer—gas
stations, grocery and drug stores, bagel shops (why should I put on my own cream
cheese?), airline check-ins, parking lots.

The brunt of Rosenbaum's thougthless, ideology-driven resentment is directed at Fish's use of the phrase "those we pay to serve us". Rosenbaum says

Is it just me, or is there something grating in that phrase: "those we pay to serve us"? So distasteful, the life of the servant class, compared with the life of the mind.
But at least in the old days the servant class hopped to it and got professor Fish his coffee and Danish in "20 seconds, tops" and worked themselves to the point of exhaustion all day for less than a minimum wage to make sure he would have something to consume with his "sports page."

First of all, I think it would be an exagerration to claim the existence of a servant class among the people who work at Starbucks. One of the features of having such a hugely mobilized workforce as America does is that many of the people doing the serving are young and destined for jobs in other fields. Starbucks workers by and large don't belong to a servant class.
The real issue is that Rosenbaum resents Fish, a professor, mildly disdaining a mainstrem middle-class experience that likely makes Rosenbaum feel at least a little sophisticated. Rosenbaum even tries to inject a little working-class anti-intellectual spirit into his article with the moldy old chestnut

As multidegreed as he is, I have a feeling that it would be an invaluable addition to his education if professor Fish spent a week "serving" as a barista. You know: For someone who believes in perspectives rather than foundations (except when it comes to grants), it would seem like a useful additional perspective on the whole coffee-servant question.

Well I'll go ahead and call you both dumb. Professor Fish, the trend of increased do-it-yourselfness in America is a direct result of rising wages and standards of living. You'd be paying a lot more than $3 for coffee if you were getting any better service, because people aren't cheap. If you would like better service, you do still have the option of going to a diner where a waitress will serve you, but you'll pay for that service and get cheap coffee instead. Rosenbaum, stop acting like we're doing more things for ourselves because we're anti-elitist and somehow in touch with the working class. We do it because we have to. Both of you, with your hoary old rationales for your beliefs and actions, are delusional, because the things you're discussing as if they are some sort of cultural issues are purely products of economics. As are both of you. Deal with it.

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