Polman: Starbucks cups and Internet idiocracy

Dick Polman
Dick Polman

Isn't it nice to know that even in a time of international crisis — ISIS, Syria, Putin — some Americans still make time to freak out over trivia? There's something endearingly childlike (or pathetic) about our willful refusal to put things in perspective.

Take, for instance, the ephemeral flap about the design of Starbucks' holiday cup. There's no better way to illustrate the workings of the instant-rant Internet idiocracy.

One guy in Arizona, who bills himself as "an American evangelist, internet, and social media personality," got so upset about the 2015 cup (no reindeer, no snowflakes; it's just red) that he ran to Facebook and fumed, "Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus." And, at last count, 16 million Americans have watched his rant.

Elsewhere on the War on Christmas front, a provocateur on the conservative Breitbart "News" site offered his own denunciation: "The Red Cups are now an anti-Christmas symbol, with Starbucks declaring their formerly Christmassy cups to be 'holiday beverages' and shedding any sign of Christmas from them."

And last Monday, as you surely know, Donald Trump mined the meme in his own inimitable way: "Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don't know. Seriously, I don't care. If I become president, we're all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you."

This, apparently, is what the culture of victimhood has been reduced to: whining about the art on disposable paper.

And lying only makes it worse. The Arizona "social media personality" (a term that screams vapidity) typed this tripe for his virtual fans: "Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off their brand new cups?"

When it comes to peddling falsehoods, this guy outpaces Ben Carson. Starbucks has never put Christ on its cups, or a nativity scene, or the word "Christmas." Yeah, snowflakes and snowmen and reindeer have adorned previous cups, but those anodyne images were never intended as a celebration of Christian iconography.

Indeed, last I heard, Starbucks was not a Christian company. Its corporate culture has long stressed diversity, and its customer base includes millions of people who (a) aren't Christian, (b) are Christians who don't stoop to paranoid victimhood, and (c) aren't religious at all.

A private company has every right to execute a strategic image strategy in furtherance of its chosen business model. Memo to right-wing Christians and Internet idiocrats: This is what free enterprise is all about — remember?

It's truly pathetic — and a failure of perspective — that some people demand fealty to their faith from a paper cup.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia ( and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia..