On Oprah’s Tea and Other Flood-Worthy Inanities
I was sitting in a local Starbucks this afternoon when I saw the most absurd thing in the history of humankind: a big glossy advertisement for a product called an “Oprah Chai Tea Latte.” Alongside pictures of what I can only imagine must be very tasty delights indeed (iced or hot) was a (larger) picture of a beaming Oprah Winfrey, lending her teeth, her hair, her celebrity to this product. What does Oprah have to do with chai tea lattes, you might wonder? I certainly did. Did Oprah Winfrey make this chai tea? Did she create the recipe? Did she enjoy drinking this tea in some kind of unique way? Does she own the tea? Did she import it for our benefit? The advertisement didn’t tell us. It simply presented a picture of Oprah, a picture of tasty beverages and assumed that we would make (invent?) the connection.
I squinted more closely at the advertisement to see what the connection between Oprah and chai tea might be. Handcrafted with organic Teavana® tea, it said. Not knowing how to interpret this strange sentence, my gaze came to rest on the black coffee I was currently drinking. I imagined my name on the cup, my picture on the advertising (I would wear my best shirt), my self being used to penetrate hearts and wallets of the eager consumers of celebrity culture. Yes, I’d like a Ryan Black Coffee please. Oh, and make it a “grande.” The idea seemed laughably absurd. Because, after all, my name has very little to do with a cup of coffee. Also, I don’t have teeth (or hair) like Oprah. My smile isn’t nearly as lucrative.
I began to wonder how such an obscenity as the “Oprah Chai Tea Latte” could even exist. How does the world not spontaneously combust at the appearance of such stupidities? How do people not look at such advertisements, and say, “well what on earth does Oprah Winfrey have to do with the artificially produced, mass-engineered product I am about to enjoy thousands of kilometres from where Ms. Winfrey lives?” How do people not say, “Well, these advertisers clearly think that I am a very foolish human if they think that simply prefixing “chai tea latte ” with “Oprah” would ever be enough to make me purchase their products. How can we collectively tolerate such madness?
I began to despair of the human race. I could imagine God wanting to wipe us out with a flood.
And then I thought about a conversation I had the previous evening with a photographer friend who is visiting from Europe. We talked about the triviality of a world where we increasingly live online, promiscuously tossing around our “likes” on Facebook—photos, cat videos, blog posts, pithy updates… We like, therefore we are!—and about how our kids are growing up in a world where they are learning to evaluate themselves according to these inane categories… We talked about how quality work, whether in writing or photography, sometimes goes almost entirely unnoticed while virtual crap is rewarded by the masses every day… We talked about Facebook “Like Farms” where “likes” are bought and sold or manufactured in attempts to boost popularity, revenue, whatever… About how social media is turning us all into the equivalent of petulant preschoolers squalling for attention….
Like Farms. How can the world tolerate such things?
And then I thought about how I spent the previous evening, watching overpaid, hyper-tattooed millionaires prancing around the football cathedrals of Brazil, each of whose feet had been bought by Adidas or Nike or Puma or whoever, all trying desperately to stand out with their flashy, colourful footwear and their innumerable tattoos and their perfectly coiffed hair, all looking exactly the same…. I thought about the many enormous corporations who have purchased the sport of football (and every other sport) in order to sell it back to us, the ever-eager consumers of celebrity… I thought about ridiculous World Cup pre-game shows where perfectly manicured beautiful people talk (apparently seriously) about which football players are getting more Google searches or tweets and what this means (because presumably it means something other than the fact that there are a lot of bored, trivial people out there with a good deal of time and technology on their hands)…
And I began to think that the world is a very, very bad and stupid place, and we are very, very bad and stupid people.
So I did the only rational thing I could do and wrote a disheveled, denunciatory blog post about all of this on a Macbook® laptop, sipping a Starbucks® coffee in between reading a few chapters of a novel purchased at Chapters® and recommended by Oprah Winfrey® before hurrying home to watch the USA vs. Ghana at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.®
And then, the weight of my own hypocrisy and self-righteousness having grown too heavy to bear, I admitted defeat, closed my computer, and headed meekly for the exit. I didn’t want to spontaneously combust in front of all the nice people all around me sipping their artificially produced, mass-engineered beverages on a lazy Monday afternoon. The last thing I saw as I staggered duplicitously out the door was Oprah Winfrey, beaming down upon me, imploring me to try her chai tea.