Starbucks in Fredericton: bosom buddy or barbarian at the gate?

It’s been hypothesized that the Roman Empire fell because of lead poisoning in their (admittedly lead­-based) water supply. It’s a largely discredited theory, but people still like to talk about it. Perhaps what makes it such an attractive hypothesis is that we ourselves are so often afraid of being destroyed not by the barbarians at our gates, but by the very people and things that are closest to us. To the Romans, I’m sure death by a hail of Visigoths not only sounded more likely, but perhaps less unsettling than one caused by the plumbing system of their own design.

Toxified water and vagabonding cutthroats — with that we’ll segue into our topic of discussion this week: Starbucks. Yes, word has it that Fredericton will soon be getting its next instalment of sugar­based caffeine infusions from everyone’s favourite franchise of chicly masquerading corporate capitalism. Word also has it that the world is doomed to end in March of the coming year with the arrival of a fourth and final “blood moon” heralding the second coming of Jesus Christ and the great tribulation to precede it, but I’ll let you figure out if the two are a coincidence or not.

What do Starbucks and the decline of the Roman Empire have to do with one another, you ask, before turning to another page for someone else’s less hackneyed pretensions to intellectuality. Well, not much, I say, unless you’re prepared to ask the silly question of whether another Starbucks in this town represents a reason to rejoice or simply more lead in the pipes.

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to be glad we’re getting another faux-Italian-by-way-of-Seattle coffee shop. It’s not like we have an overabundance of places where the working man or woman can enjoy some Proust over an unnecessarily expensive latte and contemplate the inherent tragedy of nostalgia. Besides which, we are entering the Christmas season and, well, Papa needs his candy cane frappuccino. For many people, Starbucks holds a very dear place in their hearts, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But consider the alternatives. First, we need another Starbucks about as badly as Greece needs more feral cats. That may go without saying, but let’s also consider the other alternatives to heaping yet more love on the little Forbes­-listed coffee house that could. We don’t have to take the time to advance the same anti­-corporation and anti­-commercialism arguments we’ve all heard before. We need not to invoke the ghost of Karl Marx to come and rid us of yet another pox of wage-­slavery patiently waiting for us at the end of our liberal arts education.

Instead, the very least we should do is ask ourselves what another multinational corporation on our doorstep in the form of overly­-educated baristas and overly­-dried biscotti signifies. What does it mean when we cheer on the arrival of such a thing? Could it really be something as serious as more Goths crossing the Danube, or are those just foolish misgivings about a harmless institution known and loved around the world? Will we surely never go the way of the Romans, or might the lead in our pipes finally be getting to us?

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