Monday, August 28, 2006

Buzz, Buzz, Buzzing Their Lives Away

Which part of the brain responds to scary news articles about epidemics of teenagers with drug addictions that imperil their futures and might even destroy America? I don’t know, but if I had a magnetic-resonance machine I could give my head a scan and just look for the giant callus within. There’s at least fifteen drug epidemics threatening our nation’s youth, what with meth and pot and ecstasy and all the others, but when the words enter my eyeballs and move to the teen-scare portions of my brain they just bounce off the callus and I think “the kids are alright” and move on to something else.

A callus is a defense mechanism that protects delicate tissue from irritation. Mine worked well for me until today, when I found a new teen-destroying drug-epidemic article written by someone named Katherine Mieszkowski, who wields such a claw-hammer of stupidity that it ripped my callus right off. Christ, what an awful metaphor, and I’m sorry to inflict it upon you but losing a brain-callus is almost as bad as a concussion, stunnednesswise, and the injury this article did to me damaged all sense of taste and discretion. So while I mend those parts of my psyche check out this bit from Salon (there’s a three-second ad first, if you click on the link):
The Frappuccino generation
Starbucks says it doesn't market to kids. But its sugary coffee confections represent the new cool for teens. While nutritionists are gasping, the caffeinated kids are buzzing.

It's just before 6 p.m. on a Wednesday night in Oakland, Calif., and the Starbucks on Lakeshore Avenue is packed. It has all the usual trappings of bland urbanity and sophistication: brick walls behind a line of baristas, oversize comfy chairs for lounging, and humming laptops scattered amid paper cups. About a quarter of the customers are under age 18. A tween boy out with his mom happily quaffs a milkshake-like Frappuccino, topped with a plastic lid shaped like a dome to accommodate the puffy mound of whipped cream drenched in caramel on top. Out front, teens sit at metal tables drinking their iced mochas, as they chat and check out passersby.

Kara Murray, 16, and Giana Cirolia, 16, breeze in from their summer internships. As part of a teen "leadership" program, Kara is working at the Oakland City Hall this summer, while Giana is deployed 9-to-5 at a local food bank. For these girls, who are both going into their junior year at Berkeley High School, summer is not about just hanging out. Tonight, they're taking an hour out from their busy schedules to explain to me how gourmet coffee has become the drink of choice at their high school, supplanting not soda so much as lunch altogether. "Think $4," says Giana. "That's what you pay for lunch. Not for coffee and lunch. Coffee is lunch. It's like the new mashed potatoes. Coffee is comfort food, especially when it rains."

Back in my English-teacher days, I could have told my students that these first two paragraphs contain many examples of the test-question literary technique called foreshadowing. For example, the milkshake-like drink with whipped cream and caramel foreshadows this part:
Nutritionists are not jazzed, of course, especially with childhood obesity on the rise. Those sugary, creamy coffee drinks are packed with enough calories to make a can of Dr. Pepper seem like Slim-Fast.

The bland urbanity and sophistication sneers at kids trying to act all grown-up, abnormal behavior which must be viewed with alarm:
"Almost all my older friends drink coffee," says Kara, explaining that she got into a chai tea latte habit last year, as a sophomore. Going out to Starbucks, "I feel very grown up," she says. "I hate to say that, but I feel super grown up." It's like the thrill of a trip to a fancy restaurant with your friends sans parents.
"Gourmet coffee the drink of choice" is subtler foreshadowing that actually incidates addiction:
Caffeine is the world's most widely used mood-altering drug, and it doesn't take much to get hooked. . . . as little as 100 milligrams of caffeine a day can produce a dependency that will induce withdrawal symptoms in many adults, ranging from headache to fatigue to inability to concentrate. There's more caffeine than that in a single cup of Starbucks coffee. Just three consecutive days of caffeine at that dosage can produce those symptoms when the stimulant fades.

And the tween boy is one for whom Starbucks uses sweet or chocolatey drinks to trick him into drinking something nasty:
Michele Simon, director of the Center for Informed Food Choices in Oakland, takes a dimmer view. "What Starbucks is doing is taking a beverage that has traditionally been consumed by adults, and making it attractive to children with sugar and fat. They're using milk and sweetener as a way to soften the bitterness. You can even think of it as a gateway drug." It's irresponsible, she says, for Starbucks to claim not to market to kids while selling highly sweetened and highly caloric beverages that are attractive to them.
I regret former career choices which left me knowing the difference between marketing and selling. Michele Simon might benefit, though. I probably can’t quote much more of the story without drifting into copyright-infringement territory, so let me summarize this urgently written piece for you: Kids are destroying their lives by drinking coffee. Some of it contains sugar and chocolate, all of it contains caffeine, none of it has any nutrition and it’s a gateway drug to a lifetime of stimulant addiction, poor nutrition, wild mood swings and all-around bad health. And it makes people fat.

Maybe this story would have been more convincing if it started out by quoting kids with bad grades and dim futures, instead of kids with summer internships at places like city hall or a food bank. Or perhaps it still would have been a pointlessly hysterical ramble. Calm down, Katherine, the kids at Starbucks are alright.


Blogger rhhardin said...

Always ask : what can I scare women with? That's what goes into news and essays that make money on selling audience eyes to advertisers.

3:37 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

They'll pry my coffee from my cold, dead hands.

Seriously, I sometimes wonder if a War on Caffeine is coming. Well, if it does, that'll be when I take up arms against my oppressors.

5:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do they mention that the "withdrawal symptoms" last for a couple days max? And that aspirin and taking it easy for those two days basically takes care of the symptoms? Or that it's a good idea to do so periodically to "reset" your body when your usual amount of coffee doesn't seem to be working as well? I do this fairly frequently because my kidneys bother me if I have more than a big mug every day.

5:27 AM  
Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

This is why I don't go to Starbucks, I drink 2-3 cups of black coffee every day. None of the milk, sugar, etc that other people use, and I get all the benefits of antioxidants and a caffeine buzz. Plus, it doesn't cost me $4 per cup.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I don't go to Starbucks either, Brad, but if I were a teenager I'd probably love to hang out there. Even the highest-calorie drinks at Starbucks are no worse than a milkshake (and much better than a McDonald's meal), the caffeine won't hurt kids accustomed to drinking sodas, and seriously--what the hell is wrong with teens trying to act like adults and doing it in a way that doesn't involve alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs whose addictions can lead to actual problems?

Hell, when I was sixteen I'd get off from my pizza-making job and then go hang out in the woods next to a vacant lot, or on a local shabby beach whose boardwalk still hadn't been repaired after a hurricane struck generations before. A clean, safe, well-lighted coffeehouse populated by kids with jobs like city-hall intern or food-bank worker would have been a much more wholesome environment for my impressionable young self.

6:23 AM  
Blogger David Macharelli said...

I wonder how a person can write an article using two working teens meeting up for a coffee break, and find something insidious? Is it just because a few food scolds are concerned about sugar, which doesn't have to be added to the coffee? Or it a "teens like it, it must be bad, and your kids will want to do it too" garbage.

7:45 AM  
Anonymous mediageek said...

In an ideal world, nannyism of this magnitude would have adverse health effects.

I mean, this person actually gets paid real money to expectorate this sort of imbecilic drivel?

Meanspirited comments: that's my addiction.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

Prohibition prompted an upgrade from beer and wine to hard liquor, just as the war on drugs has prompted use of pot with higher THC levels.

We can blame the prohibition against soft drinks in schools as the cause of kids seeking out more potent forms of caffeine.

I will be giving my ten year old daughter a cup of Folgers with milk and sugar every morning. And if it doesn't run afoul of the school's zero tolerance policy (aka zero intelligence) I will send her to school with a small thermos of coffee for her to drink at lunch.

The school once suggested ritalin, but I didn't just say no, I said "HELL NO!" But I do find that a cup of coffee increases her ability to stay focused. This summer she read books 2,3 and 4 in the Harry Potter series. When she drank coffee she would read 2 chapters instead of one.

Perhaps if I have her mainlining Starbucks her grades will go from 3.5 to 4.0.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

There are days when I'm ashamed to be a reporter.

10:22 AM  

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