Today I drove through Starbucks and ordered a pumpkin spice latte. I felt a little bit less ashamed of myself driving through, because who knows who might have judged me if I’d actually been spotted ordering such an embarrassing specialty beverage in person? I mean, probably even the baristas look down upon people with such ridiculously common orders. I’m sure a simple cappuccino or “flat white,” whatever the hell that is, has way more street cred than the trendy #PSL.
But you know what? I actually like the pumpkin spice latte. There, I said it. It tastes good. It makes me feel excited about fall. It’s sweet and spicy, and for Christ’s sake, who doesn’t enjoy that combo?
I’m not sure when pumpkin spice lattes become trendy, nor can I precisely recall when mocking those who enjoy the festive beverage became even trendier. (Were people legitimately surprised and outraged to discover there was no actual pumpkin in this drink? I mean, how could there possibly be pumpkin in it? It’s a coffee, not a smoothie.) But I can say this for sure: People are dicks. That’s right. Making fun of things that masses of people find enjoyable is just mean-spirited. And yet it is probably one of the most celebrated national pastimes. Oh, and also: I do it, too.
If you want to blow your own mind, try to imagine where the cycle ends: It’s considered “popular” to like things that lots of other people like, and making fun of things that are popular is popular, so then, what, we take it to the next level and jump on the “making fun of people who make fun of people who like popular things” bandwagon?
So yes, I love me a good pumpkin spice latte. I also enjoy pumpkin tarts, caramel apple ciders (even, gasp “salted caramel” things!), and other clichéd autumn-flavored (yes, fall has a flavor) items, as does a large percentage of mainstream culture. Because here’s the thing: People universally enjoy the changing of seasons. We collectively psych ourselves up for the upcoming weather and the refreshing change it brings. We look forward to a chill in the air, to beautiful changing leaves, to wearing scarves and sweaters. We get excited about pumpkins and Halloween. We experience nostalgia. Fall reminds of us of when we were kids, planning our costumes (punk rocker, anyone?) and carving boring jack-o-lanterns that looked the exact same as our neighbors because there were no cool specialty carving kits back then.
We create traditions—often in the form of seasonal treats that have quickly become clichés—and we feel like we’re part of something when other people share our traditions. Fall makes us feel warm and cozy and excited. And we like to treat ourselves to extra doses of that happy feeling through our novelty f*cking coffees, dammit.
But. The other day I was at Target and saw something utterly ridiculous. I can’t even remember what it was: pumpkin spice Twinkies or breath mints or deodorant maybe? Whatever it was, it was stupid. I snorted, scoffing at the nitwits behind this consumer craze. What next? I thought.
Because I, too, enjoy making fun of popular trends.
Last weekend my brother had to explain to me what the term “basic bitches” meant. I had never heard of it. That probably means I am one. I think I get it now: basic bitches all put on their Uggs and go to Starbucks and drink their PSLs and wear their Lululemon or whatever the hell and they share a brain. He mentioned that some of his friends were going to “party like basic bitches” over the weekend, which I think means they drank lots of Cosmos. By the way, my brother is exceptionally cool and said the above with a tone of endearment and not contempt. So, judge him and die.
According to Wikipedia, the definition of basic bitch is as follows:
Basic bitch (or simply basic) is a slang term in American popular culture used to pejoratively describe people who like popular, mainstream products or music. The term originated in hip-hop culture and began to appear in rap music in 2010. It rose in popularity through songs, blogs, and videos from 2011 to 2014, when the basic bitch phenomenon was parodied by College Humor. Interpretations of the term vary and its use has been criticized for being an overly vague and a misogynistic insult.
It’s clear that I am several years too late in grasping this pop culture phenomenon. And it’s possible I occasionally embody it: I definitely like a lot of things that other people like, including yoga pants and leggings. And Sex and the City. And . . . Cosmos. And other trendy cocktails like espresso martinis. And duh, tasty fall coffee drinks.
These trends—yoga pants, pumpkin spice allthethings, “Mommy needs wine”—have a positive effect of bringing people together, reminding us of our similarities. Enjoying a common pleasure is unifying. However, another thing that is unifying is making fun of stuff. Does anything bring people together more than mockery? I think not.
So I’m torn. I openly admit that I enjoy the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, and even though it has become a delightful pastime to mock said flavor, I will not stop drinking them. I once dated a guy who loved indie bands. But as soon as a band became at all mainstream, he would stop listening to them. This aggravated me to no end—what is the point of not liking something anymore just because it’s become liked by other people? That seems like the unattractive flip side of being a “basic bitch.” It’s pretentious in its own way.
I think many of us live with a degree of fear of becoming a cliché. We want to be relevant, we want to be unique. Mocking something trendy is a great way to make us feel a teensy bit superior, like we’re a part of the bigger inside joke. And hey, I’m not bagging on people who have openly mocked Pumpkin Spice Coke (don’t look it up, it’s not a real thing.) because I totally get the appeal of mass mocking. I live for The Onion and McSweeney’s.
The whole PSL thing reminds me of how often in my life I feel like I’m a double agent. I feel irate when people make fun of those who jump on fun bandwagons like novelty drinks and comfy clothes and footwear (Psst, I don’t have Uggs. Does that make me cool or uncool?) and using hashtags (within reason. I totally judge unnecessary hashtag users) and yet I too have an inner hypocritical jerk who can’t resist making fun of dumb actors and ridiculous songs and stupid crazes.
So in the meantime, I guess I’ll keep looking for the fall festivity line. I’ll enjoy my pumpkin spice latte (probably with some sort of pumpkin spice muffin or scone or cake pop) without shame, and maybe even in public. But I’ll probably steer clear of the pumpkin spice scented tampons and loudly announce how disgusting the caramel apple hand sanitizer smells—what idiot thought that was a good idea?
And I totally can’t wait for gingerbread latte season. I’ll enjoy dozens of them while curled up in my yoga pants.
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