5.01.2006

Upon Opening a Can of Chock Full 0' Nuts...

just so you'll know, this post is gonna end up talking about the Toyota Scion and American culture, but first...

Since i have so little time left up here in Massachusetts i haven't had Gridge's ship me any more coffee. And since i've found that the faux designer coffee in bins at grocery stores is all about presentation (and not at all about quality), AND since i have a very annoying, tiny grinder up here, i've gone back to my roots and started buying cans. If you just want a fairly decent and affordable cup 'o mud to start your day, then a can of giant company is better than a bag of tiny faux local roaster. Mostly i've stuck with Maxwell House, but I've still been experimenting. The other day, for instance, i bought a can of something called Harmony Bay and found the only thing it had going for it was its patented can design.

The bigger text here, however, is concerned with two things: quality and difference. For years i've been a paranoid consumer. I've always figured no matter what i was buying, for whatever price, under whatever name, it was still the same product. It was probably made by one of just a couple giant companies and put into a different package. This goes for woodworking equipment: Jet and Powermatic are different colors and different prices, but they're the same thing. The only difference is the lingering reputation from when they were still manufactured in the U.S. This goes for clothes: Bananna Republic and The Gap and Old Navy are different stores but sell the same thing. The only difference is in how much they iron stuff. (To their credit, however, the Bananna/Gap/Navy triumverate knows their consumers are savvy and so owns up to the connection, turning it instead into a clever marketing strategy).

So i was pleasantly surprised this morning to open a can of Chock Full O' Nuts. I got to step back and say "viva la difference!" I mean, it still tastes like coffee from a can, but it was obvious to my eye and nose that this coffee was not made by the same ole same ole. CFo'N is a Sara Lee product. Maxwell House is Kraft. As far as i know, these are not the same company.

Anyway! Opening that can of coffee this morning led me to pondering why it is that i resent the crap out of the Toyota Scion. I hadn't figured it out yet, but it has to do with nothing short of the tragectory of consumer products over the history of industrialization.

First we had the situation where if you wanted something you made it yourself, right? Then, later on, you got it from a local source. Mass-manufactuing ended the local source concept, but buying something still required being a careful consumer. Generalizing heavily, the mid-century was characterized by having the consumptive and actual value of a product as still somewhat of a choice. We then entered a phase--say, over the past twenty years--where the only value left was the consumptive value. What i'm calling "actual value" ceased to matter because everything was the same product. Well, lately, consumers have become hip to even that. Manufacturing has had to come up with a new wrinkle. And what is that? individualization.

Enter the Toyota Scion. Taking a page from the book of Harley Davidson, Toyota has introduced a way to sell the same over-priced, over-hyped crap to everybody, but allow the consumer to believe it's their own through the act of customization.

Alright. Why does this matter to me, you might ask? Well, you can't imagine how dis-heartening it is to have a love of making things by hand, and by believing there is an inherent value in the one-of-a-kind, only to see phase after phase of mass-production continually render what you're doing obsolete. Those people that tell machines in China how to make things are some clever bastards.

What i'm talking about here is the American Cowboy love for the concept of freedom, of the individual. We Americans love to think that we are, to a person, unique. That unique-ness has always already (?) come to realize itself through being a consumer. So the late-nineties generic manufactuing process wore itself out--we saw through the disguise--and it had to morph into this new thing of customization. Hence the Harley Davidson and the Scion (whose website hardly even mentions its connection to Toyota), hundreds of home improvement shows, and thousands of the same crap-ass coffee with names like Harmony Bay in patented cans.

Here's the deal: don't be a sucker. This whole scheme is the same wolf, in the same sheep's clothing--only this time it's wearin' sunglasses and a moustache hoping you won't recognize it.

Wanna be unique? Don't buy anything.

7 comments:

Charlie said...

Biffle,
Thanks for putting the (?) after "always already." Alison, you need to explain this construction since you love it so much. I substitute "inherently" or "immanently" whenever I see it in stuff I read, and it usually works really well . . . is that a good gloss, or do you have something to add? I'm only asking b/c I used the Judith Butler to try to cure my insomnia last night, and actually found myself pretty rapt - further evidence that I am, indeed, king of the nerds.

-C

dranktank said...

Not that you were fishing for opinions on Chock-Full-O-Nuts... but I found your post (via Gridges, the world best coffee) and couldn't resist. You see, I tried CFON about a year ago and it caused some very interesting bowel problems. Not that anyone wants to read the details here, but I had nasty diarrhea (cha cha cha) everytime I drank a few cups. I was so shocked and amuzed that I kept testing to make sure that was in fact what was causing it (by going a week or so without, and then having a few cups). Yeah, I won't drink that stuff anymore... unless, well, I need to.

Walter said...

i love our blog. "judith butler" and
"diarrhea (cha cha cha)" within inches of each other.

oh, and dranktank, i'll keep ya posted as to my bowel movements so we can compare experiences.

Mango said...

Individualists of the world, unite!

claire said...

But with cars they get you on the "freedom" and "individuality" thing by making you bargain for the car as if you are really going to get a deal by threatening to walk out. So it is "my" car, because I only overpaid by 3,000$ and you paid an extra 5,000$

Yes, stop buying; except for coffee (have you tried 8 o clock bean? They won the consumer reports cheap can coffee prize) and shoes.

mary said...

8 o' clock = ;(

Anonymous said...

I happen to enjoy CFON - I recommend adding cinniman in with the grinds before brewing. A nice treat.

sidenote - my anunt and uncle bought the small scion. they bought it because it got the same amount of miles of a hybrid at a lower price.