Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Dumb Starbucks: social commentary or just a latte trouble?

(arts) dumb starbucks (courtesy of jaclyn sanchez)

A long line of eager people wraps around the corner. Making a run to Starbucks is essential to your morning routine. Cappuccino, latte, frappuccino — you wonder which one it will be today. Probably just a simple americano with a extra shot of espresso. After all, you are in a hurry to beat the morning traffic jam.

When you glance at the menu, you hesitate. The design is the same. The layout is the same. The coffee smells the same.

But, why is the espresso all of a sudden called dumb?

Coffee is a staple, especially for the modern day student who needs a cup of java in the morning to get the day started. Lines at coffee shops, especially a Fortune 500 company like Starbucks, are infamous for having lines out the door. But Dumb Starbucks isn’t your ordinary coffee shop serving your ordinary coffee.

It’s art.

Last weekend in Los Feliz, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, Calif., people were lining up outside Dumb Starbucks to get an order of free coffee and pastries. There was excitement buzz and hype building and the mystery of who could be behind this spoof. Everything you would expect to be served in an actual Starbucks was offered with dumb being added before the name. “Dumb” coffee, “dumb” pastries, and even “dumb” CDs from “dumb” indie artists.

As the buzz grew, comedian Nathan Fielder, who is best known for working on Comedy Central, claimed that Dumb Starbucks was his project. Fielder is known for creating innovative and inspirational social experiments. Some of his infamous projects include “The National Dinner Tour” where Fielder held dinners with strangers across the country in an R.V. and “The Advice of Strangers” where his everyday decisions were dictated by online polls.

Under the “Fair Use” law, trademarks, such as Starbucks, can be used for paradoxical reasons. Fielder operated Dumb Starbucks under the parody law, stating Dumb Starbucks was actually an art gallery and the coffee was the art.

Fielder even lists how the company operates and why under a FAQ sheet that was conveniently plastered on a community board in the shop. The FAQ sheet is full of humor and sarcasm with Fielder assuring the reader there is no enmity towards Starbucks and to leave worries up to their lawyer.

The hype began when Dumb Starbucks’ Twitter tweeted when they were operating and their location. A YouTube video was created and posted to garner attention to the shop. In the video, Fielder claims he “plans to get rich from” from Dumb Starbucks and how it is legal for the shop to operate because they have the minimum requirements to operate as a parody.

Dumb Starbucks quickly caught headlines as Twitter exploded with tweets about the project. The sudden popularity quickly caught Starbucks’ attention who were quick to defend their trademark and are still evaluating their next step.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health shut down Dumb Starbucks for operating without a valid health permit. All that remains of Dumb Starbucks are the countless tweets, photos and memorable cups that are popping up on the internet.

Whether a commentary on capitalism, an art gallery or an actual business that had to operate as an art gallery, Dumb Starbucks had people and media buzzing. Art appropriation is nothing new, and projects like Dumb Starbucks have been around since the early 20th century like Duchamp’s “Fountain.”

It may not have been Fielder’s intentions to have his “business” shut down, but he did achieve something — a stir in the media and a new following of art patrons.

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