Monday, 10 October 2011

Coffee Culture

Let’s face it: if you ever actually met any of the characters from Friends you’d probably hate their guts.

Only in Sit-Com land can you meet characters who are so totally self-obsessed, contribute less to society and whose problems are so insignificant that they can be solved in half an hour.

Just take a look at them: Rachel - A Prom Queen who adapted to life without Daddy’s credit card by getting a high flying job in fashion (with no qualifications, training or experience mind you), Monica – a cleanliness obsessed chef in a fancy restaurant where a starter costs a weeks wages, Phoebe – an occasional masseuse and not-so-great musician, Joey – a permanently out of work actor, Ross – a not-so-popular with his students lecturer and Chandler – a whatever the hell it is that Chandler does.

And to be fair a) I have probably watched every episode of Friends at least twice and would have to admit under torture to quite liking it and b) the problem is generic across the whole of the genre and not purely limited to Friends: even the greats like Fawlty Towers rely on a set of characters that would, in reality, soon be consigned to some form of institution for the socially inept.

However the reason I picked Friends for special attention was because of what they represented. Perhaps more than any other sit-com of the last few years the cast of Friends are reflective of our obsession with social climbing.

This is one of the reasons that places like Starbuck’s, Costa and the like are so successful. Let’s face it: before the coffee house came along we were all happy to go to our local Greasy Spoon Café and pay 40 pence or so for a cup of tea with bits of limescale floating in the top (for added flavour you understand) and half the contents served in the saucer.

Then the big coffee houses came along and realised that what they were selling was not actually coffee, but aspirations: and that with the right setting they could easily charge three pounds for a cup of hot coffee flavoured milk.

People wanted to go somewhere where they could talk quietly to their friends and not be drowned out by music, or to read the newspaper before going to work – they wanted the big apartments, no real problems and easy lifestyle of the people they saw on TV – people like they saw in Sitcoms and on dramas.

Which is why, in turn, the cast of Friends – bent on selling us this ideal for life – spent so much time hogging the sofa at Central Perk. We aspired to be there in their easy lives, never seeming to actually have to go to work, never having any real problems – able to suddenly drop everything and go to the Bahamas

The trend for this new way of living has become so successful that I can immediately think of 6 Starbuck’s and 4-5 Costas all based within a 10 mile radius. Even that old bastion of social gathering, the Public House, has had to resort to trying to sell coffee (albeit on beer soaked tables) to get us back.

Why do I spend so much of my life regretting that I am unable to live this life? Well, actually I don’t really – but I am certainly aware that such a lifestyle exists, just outside of my financial range. Let’s face it, and as Douglas Adams once said, many of this planet’s problems are caused by the movement of small pieces of paper (or, increasingly, plastic cards). Wouldn’t it be better to forget these aspirations and be happy with our lot? Is such a thing even possible today?  We as a society have somehow bought into the idea that this way of life is somehow our right and allowed ourselves to become miserable and disgruntled due to our lack of ability to claim it.

Still, I can’t help that feel that even with all of this the coffee shops are missing out on a trick: one that Friends showed us on almost a weekly basis.

Just once, when I walk into a coffee shop I would like to see a corner cleared of tables and a little stage erected. On that stage I would like to see someone sitting with an acoustic guitar, singing gentle songs.

If one of them is “Smelly Cat” that would definitely be a bonus


Argent said...

Not having fallen prey to Friends, I'll have to take your word for it about the characters (which I'm happy to do).

Coffee houses actually go a looong way back in history - our own stock exchange started life there I believe, Starbucks et al are just the latest incarnations.

That said, I do wish we had little stages in them with a musician playing (and if it could be me, so much the better). Sadly, today's coffee patrons would probably ignore (at best) or be abusive towards him/her.

I don't want a life of indolent non-contribution (even though I was hoiked out of bed at 4:30 this morning to fix a busted computer system). I do wish for a more fulfilling job, though.

Word verification: pinge. Says it all really

Mimi Foxmorton said...

Well, Smelly Cat makes up for a lot..........

Anonymous said...

#Smelly cat, Smelly cat, what are they feeding you?#

Herself :o)x

The Bug said...

I was going to say that I think I could be friends with Phoebe - even if it meant lying & telling her how fabulous Smelly Cat is :)

I don't drink coffee! Ha! Although that doesn't keep me from being susceptible to envy. I just try to not watch TV or read magazines anymore - that helps.

Stephen Hayes said...

I always wonder where these people get the money to pay for these incredible apartments. Chandler and Joey live in a two bedroom that would cost thousands of dollars according to what I see on "Selling New York." And Monica's apartment would cost even more.

Michael said...

You've touched on the reality that we all suffer from wanting. We seek out escape (cheap laughs in sit-coms) to settle down the angst and in doing this we nurture the desire for what we don't have (and stoke the fire of of our suffering).

We can be happy with what is. It can be in Starbucks, a homely diner, or at home.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Argent - i guess coffee houses are older than i thought, but did they charge so much? dunno. I think we all want an easier/better life and it tends to be social media that shapes our idea of what that life should be.

Mimi - you can't go wrong with Smelly Cat

Herself- indeedy

Bug - yes, i see how that would help as sometimes we can be aware that we dont have this impossible world shown on TV

Stephen - i believe there was a throwaway line in the final episode about rent-freezing to try and get over the fact that they could never afford to live in such places, but yes - agreed

Michael - so glad that you visited this post as i was very much thinking of yourself and buddhist philosophies when i wrote it and wishing i could just find some way to accept my lot - which would be easier if we didnt have to spend so much of our time worrying about money

pohanginapete said...

This rings so true, and that last suggestion of yours seemed truly eerie — I'm sitting in a cafe in Huaraz in Peru; it's quiet, and some guy has just finished an excellent impromptu session with his acoustic guitar. Everything about the situation and the coincidence of reading your post seems impossible. But it's true — I think ;^)

Excellent, thoughtful post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Cute. I'll drink airline coffe before I shell out the big bucks at Starbucks, but yeah, I could do with a little acoustical accompaniment.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Pete - its funny the way the world works sometimes. Serendipty perhaps?

Gene Pool Diva - good on you!

Lydia said...

"Smelly Cat"!!! Yes! I was singing that to Shiva Lullaby just recently (prior to dunking her into the bathtub).

I love your social commentary on all-things-coffee that are really all-things-not-coffee-but-social- commentary! This is a brilliant line:
We as a society have somehow bought into the idea that this way of life is somehow our right and allowed ourselves to become miserable and disgruntled due to our lack of ability to claim it.

Once again, my husband's job is in a tenuous state; big staff meeting on the 13th, etc. The director of his division "retired" last Thursday, which means that his division is probably getting phased out. We are nervous wrecks. The days when I can pop into a Starbucks for a latte' are hanging by a little red straw!

With all these protests I just thought that "Smelly Cat" could be reworked into "Smelly Fat Cat" -- but I am too wired to come up with lyrics and don't remember the tune...

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Lydia - i think Phoebe actually said that the great thing about Smelly Cat is that you can't "take it from the top" because "there is no top"