Vivian Hoang ’24 is from Fairfax, Va. and hopes to use her history and journalism and digital media double major to uplift marginalized voices. Outside of being The Flat Hat’s Executive Editor, she is a Communications Student Partner with the Studio for Teaching and Learning Innovation and a Reporting Fellow with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. As a journalist, she is especially passionate about reporting on topics related to race, community, displacement and power. Contact her at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
Humor me for a moment and pretend that you are a minimum-wage Starbucks barista. At 4:00 a.m., you groggily wake up for your 5:00 a.m. morning shift and roll out of bed, still half-asleep, to put on your bright green apron emblazoned with a smiling siren in its center. You even practice your customer service voice in the mirror before you make the trek over to face corporate America: “Hi, welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you?”
Just a few minutes later when you ask that very same question to the person at the front of an anxiously humming line of early birds, you’re cut short by a man hopping the sacred barrier between barista and customer, roughly pushing you to the side and savagely ransacking the protected goods stashed away from public view.
Holy sh–t, you think as you anxiously try to recall corporate policy for what to do in a situation like this, we’re being robbed.
But, in an unexpected twist of dystopian fate, the man lunges not for the hundreds of dollars in cash nestled inside the locked cash register but instead … for a cup?
You stare in shock, stepping back in a daze as your brain scrambles to process the scene of chaos unfolding before you. But nope, you’re not imagining it. The man has caused an enormous scene in your workplace and broken several laws all to steal nothing but bright pink cups.
What in the fresh hell is going on here?
I’ll break the unfortunate news to you: this is the freak consumeristic nightmare that we as a society continue to descend into and a horrific reality that one Starbucks worker had to live through just a few weeks ago.
Over the course of the last few months, the brand Stanley has completely dominated the reusable bottle market and infiltrated the hearts and wallets of women across America. What is now known as the “Stanley Cup” does not refer to a National Hockey League championship trophy, as many older generations have thought, but to a stainless steel insulated tumbler cup. The Stanley is distinguished by its large size (typically 40 ounces), a slim base meant to solve the common issue of reusable water bottles failing to fit in the average car’s cup holder, a large handle and straw.
The 110-year-old brand initially advertised their cups to men who would need a cup to keep their drinks cold as they worked outside, such as outdoor enthusiasts or construction workers. Stanley has now completely and successfully pivoted its marketing toward young girls and women once it unexpectedly found its niche there. Just walking around campus today, you’re bound to spot quite a few students with Stanleys in hand or poking out of backpacks.
Indeed, over the last year, the cups have exploded in popularity across social media, producing a wave of viral videos that show people quite literally setting up camp and sleeping overnight outside of Target to be the first in line when the store opens at 8:00 a.m. sharp when new Stanleys are released, such as the limited edition Stanley x Starbucks collaborative cup that a man attempted to steal as described above. People are even sprinting towards aisle displays of Stanleys at the crack of dawn, many of them not even interested at all in the cup itself, but the money that can be made off of it. Though they retail between $45-55 (already a steep price in my frugal opinion), Stanleys have shot up in value so drastically that they are reselling online for hundreds of dollars — even making an appearance on StockX, a site typically used for reselling designer items and rare sneakers. Any sneakerhead can tell you why a Stanley being on StockX is certifiably insane, but I’m personally ashamed to share space on this planet with people who are willing to spend $250 on a trendy cup… just in case they need yet another container for their $8 venti Starbucks frap.
Those who do indeed purchase these cups to use rather than resell claim that they are enticed by the durability and practicality of the cup, citing a viral video showing the Stanley cup allegedly surviving a car fire as bona fide confirmation of their claim. However, if the cup really is so strong and can survive an entire explosion, why would you ever need more than one? Collecting Stanley cups, a product meant to reduce waste by being reusable and long-lasting, is excessive and antithetical to the initial purpose of non-single-use bottles. You’re meant to have ONE that you wash and reuse over and over again; otherwise, you might as well go back to buying 24-packs of plastic water bottles at Costco, and you can say goodbye to those baby turtles you claim to care so much about with your woke purchases of bamboo straws and, oh, just a casual 67 Stanleys as one 16-year-old girl has collected.
And it gets worse. A woman was recently arrested for stealing over $2,500 worth of Stanleys: her entire car filled to the brim with dozens and dozens of the now infamous cups. Parents are coming out in droves claiming their elementary-school-aged children are being bullied in school for bringing off-brand insulated cups to class. Online users are swearing off all other brands of cups as if they weren’t obsessed with Hydro Flasks several years ago, blindly declaring loyalty to a brand that has zero personal investment in them whatsoever. Every day, more and more people join the Stanley cult, meaning our Goodwills and landfills will be filled with these very same cups in just a few months when the next huge trend takes TikTok by storm.
This sort of frenzied craze is not exclusive to the Stanley cup. Nike sneakers, Squishmallows, toilet paper and any other hot commodities that attract a massive spike in online attention have also led people to buy out entire displays the minute a store opens, hiking up retail prices by over 200%. Even decor and clothes from discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s are being scooped up en masse by maniacal scalpers and collectors, defeating their purpose of providing an inclusive space for lower-income shoppers to participate in trends at a reduced price.
Gone are the days of being able to walk into your favorite store, browse and buy a product that piqued your interest. Now, a select selfish few have turned shopping into a hyper-capitalistic competition that denies the general working population access to goods that were once mass-manufactured for all. Once-fun fads are squeezed into limited edition releases, which have supposedly upstanding American citizens fist-fighting one another in department store aisles like feral dogs over scraps of rotted food. Many stores have even resorted to imposing “two per customer” limits on popular products in hopes of staving off mayhem from occurring on their floors, proving that if left unchecked, the average American simply cannot help themself but to indulge in capitalistic greed. Indeed, I can’t recall the last time I haven’t seen a viral product sell out online in a mere minute then reposted on eBay for ten times the retail price.
Again and again, we chase these trends believing they will allow us to more convincingly maintain a pretense of wealth and status, but the primary beneficiaries of these trends are the multibillion dollar corporations producing these products and encouraging overconsumption, thus keeping the rich richer and the poor poorer. We’ve allowed a damn WATER BOTTLE to turn into an elite status symbol that has kindergarteners recognizing and enforcing socioeconomic hierarchies on playgrounds before they can even read a full sentence.
So, please, I’m begging you: put that extra Stanley back on the shelf. Dig deep and rediscover your human morality. We need not always be so beholden to American capitalism and its spoils.