Somehow or other, I came across a news story this weekend about a coffee shop that had opened up in Los Angeles called “Dumb Starbucks.” I cringed.
What the fuck is this? I thought. Is Starbucks behind this? Is someone else? What does it mean? What’s the point?
As it turns out, it’s a parody of the real Starbucks chain, and comedian Nathan Fielder is behind it. The point of it, apparently, besides publicity, is to make fun of Starbucks. By calling it “dumb.”
You know, I really don’t want to be a cranky pain in the ass, constantly on the lookout for a hint of offensive. I’m a fan of humor, of parody, of irreverence. A HUGE fan! Sarcasm is my second language. But I don’t understand why it is still okay to use intelligence as a means to value people and things.
Intelligence seems to be the be-all end-all, the mother of all attributes. Everyone wants to be a genius, or wants their kids to be geniuses. Well, guess what? The vast majority of us are not geniuses – and even those of us who may be very, very intelligent are unlikely to do really great things with that super intellect. Most of us, regardless of our IQs, will live pretty average, unremarkable lives. That is not to say meaningless lives – we each give our own lives meaning – but in the end, I don’t think intelligence has very much at all to do with how meaningful or fulfilling our lives are.
Even within the Down syndrome parenting community, there are many, many parents who reject the notion that their intellectually disabled child is not smart. We build up our kids’ intelligence because, apparently, while we can deal with heart defects and celiac disease and leukemia, we cannot deal with low intellect. A memoir I recently read by a young man with autism mentioned that people often assumed he was “retarded” because of his having autism, but, he insisted, he is not “retarded.” Even within the disability community, being not smart seems to be the very worst trait a person can have.
I’ve written endlessly about the use of “retard” and “retarded” as slurs. The truth is, though, that “retard” and “retarded” are only the most crude and obnoxious ways we insult and value people based upon their intellect. Calling people and things “dumb,” “stupid,” “idiotic,” and “moronic” are similar reflections of how we view intellect and intelligence, and how we value people based on those things.
I doubt Nathan Fielder was thinking specifically of Down syndrome or any intellectual disability when he undertook this project – and yet, it does reflect a certain attitude that smart = good/superior, and not smart = bad/inferior. After all, he didn’t call it “Smart Starbucks.” What would be funny about that?
Imagine if he had decided to call his parody store “Fat Starbucks,” or “Gay Starbucks,” or “Poor Starbucks”? Would that be as funny as “Dumb Starbucks”?