Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Great Iconoclast

It amazes me sometimes what a poor judge of my own tastes and opinions I am.

The most egregious example I can think of is my relationship to Starbucks. Whenever I have some studying or reading to get done or a conversation to have, I think to myself, You know, a great place to do this would be Starbucks. The atmosphere, the coffee...

Of course, five minutes or less at the actual Starbucks completely disabuses me of these romantic notions. The whirring of cappuccino machines, the hipsters, the loud preening of teenage baristas trying to be cool for the other teenage baristas--none of this is conducive to the kind of thing I feel I should want to do at Starbucks. And by the time I've figured this out, I've already purchased the right to sit in that not-so-comfy chair, so I will sit there out of spite. On my way out, I will vow, Never again. This only lasts until the next time I need to study, read, or converse, and then the cycle begins anew. Starbucks must have excellent branding because despite my experiences to the contrary, the image they've painted of themselves takes precedence in my mind to my variegated negative experiences there. 

And unfortunately, my deception about Starbucks is not an isolated occurrence.

When Abby and I moved into our house in September, we were slowly (s-l-o-w-l-y) working toward decorating, furnishing, and unpacking. One of the early places we went to outfit the house was IKEA. What we learned after the trip is that we hate IKEA. What was discouraging about learning this is that we've been to IKEA before, many times, and we have never left IKEA in a good mood. We always leave hungry, grumpy, with hurting feet, and with the sounds of crying children echoing in our minds. And we usually leave empty-handed, or at least without what we went there for, a jeering we have to endure for the half hour car ride home.

I'd like to think that even this is an isolated example, but there are many, many other times when my prejudice for or against something has blocked my true opinion from being known to me. Cosmic Encounter, The Phantom Menace, J.M. Coetzee, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, ABBA: the list is longer (and more embarrassing) than I'd like.

So, the question remains, why did (do?) I have such a positive disposition toward IKEA, or the earlier example of Starbucks, when all personal experience runs contrary to the positive image? For some places--say, the Walmart by our house--the bad impression sticks. We know it's awful, and we know we never want to go back. Simple. But why does my good opinion of some places persist despite a heap of evidence to the contrary? Why are there some locations that, even though I hate being there, I can't bring myself to think ill of them when it matters most?

C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed expressed a similar idea. After his wife's death, he admits to building up in his mind a pseudo Joy who was in all likelihood very little like the real, vibrant Joy when she was alive. He called her "the great iconoclast," saying that five minutes with the genuine article would dispel all false ideas he had of her, much the way that five minutes with an old friend over coffee (Starbucks?) will destroy the image cultivated while that person was away.

What I'm saying is, I'm open to any ideas (or commiserations) in the comments.


  1. So Cosmic is another example of a thing you think you like but don't actually like? Say it ain't so!

    Every few years I try Radiohead again, only to rediscover how grating they are.

  2. Loved this piece, but I was sad it ended so abruptly. And I too am surprised (but also not) that you dislike Cosmic.

    "the kind of thing I feel I should want to do at Starbucks." Man, that sounds like Lewis.