|The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
|The Morning Mendacity
Wednesday, April 20th, 2005
|The Nossiter Net is cast to snare some of the riper rascalities of the day. Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Gustatory hegemony is a phrase coined, unless we are shown evidence to the contrary, by this page (see Mondovino: A Hail of Grapeshot). But what does it mean, if anything at all? A barrage of demands for amplification leads to the following explanation:
Take Starbucks. With the number of stores approaching ten thousand worldwide, the Seattle purveyor of chocolate brownie frappucinos is well on its way to saturating the planet. Does the market like the sweet goo that Starbucks sells in the guise of coffee? Indubitably. Would Starbucks sell as many of its concoctions if the company didn’t have the resources to put an outlet on so many street corners? Certainly not. It’s a case of applying economic power to gain market dominance.
But how can that be bad if Starbucks is just giving customers what they want? To the extent that a proliferation of outlets drives out the competition and thereby reduces consumer choice, Starbucks’ dominance is harmful. Furthermore, by lavishly advertising the allure of their drinks, without mentioning the fact that they are bad for your health, Starbucks does its patrons harm of a more direct kind.
According to Healthyweightforum.org, one medium chocolate brownie frappucino contains 490 fat and sugar laden calories. That’s almost a quarter of the FDA’s recommended 2,000 calorie daily intake – in one drink. Contrast that with the five ounces of a traditional sized cappuccino from a real coffee house, which checks in at about one tenth the calories of Starbucks’ sticky 16 ouncer.
The added advantage of an old-fashioned cappuccino: it actually tastes like coffee. Whether that’s really what consumers want in an alleged coffee drink might be debatable. And nobody is holding a gun to a Starbucks patron’s head to force him to buy their sweet worst. But in a world battling an obesity epidemic, and paying the consequent medical bills, the half-truth implicit in all Starbucks’ marketing amounts to dangerous deception. You’ll hear all about how yummy their drinks are, but not a word about how they’ll make you fat. It’s incumbent on the consumer to educate himself about what he consumes, you say? Sure it is. Tell that to all the kiddies watching Saturday morning cartoons laden with McDonald’s ads.
Gustatory hegemony: it’s Seattle marketing wizards changing the way the world gets its morning cup of java, through sheer economic power. It can also change what you see in a home DVD, courtesy of the logistical geniuses in Bentonville, Arkansas. Larry McMurtry, in a review of a book about Hollywood by Edward Jay Epstein in the New York Review of Books,* quotes Epstein on the influence of Wal-Mart on Hollywood. It seems the Wal-Mart chieftains, headquartered in Bentonville, won’t stock DVDs and CDs that run counter to their interpretation of “family values”. Since Wal-Mart sells billions of dollars of DVDs and CDs, it’s a critically important outlet for producers of those items. So what’s a producer of DVDs and CDs to do? According to Epstein’s book, they ratchet down anything that might be deemed offensive by the Bentonville elect in order to gain valuable Wal-Mart shelf space.
Don’t care to have your viewing and listening censored by the sensibilities of Bentonville? Start your own giant chain of hypermarkets and practice some gustatory hegemony of your own. The alternative is to settle back with a chocolate brownie frappucino, hold the whipped cream, and enjoy a rousing viewing of The Sound of Music.
©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2005
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