Selling our individuality

We are all beginning to look more and more alike. We wear the same clothes, sold to us under the same brand names, eat the same food, listen to the same music and rely on the same media conglomerates to inform us. For a country that puts so much emphasis on the “American Dream” and the quest for individuality that comes along with it, this seems a bit odd, to say the least.

Browsing the stores at the Newark, New Jersey, airport this weekend while waiting for my delayed flight to take me back to Tampa, I quickly noticed how unoriginal most stores were. Most of the vendors that could be found in Newark could also be found in Tampa. Since it was dark outside I doubt I could have told which state I was in just by looking at the items sold at the airport, let alone which city.

The USF campus is also increasingly falling victim to this trend. The Tampa campus alone now has three Starbucks, all selling the same products sold in countless other locations worldwide. For those students who do not want to spend the little money they have at those corporate-owned coffee vendors, the only other choices are vendors that are owned by other corporations, such as Einstein Bros. Bagels. The rights to sell food to students have been sold by the university. USF has sold out — literally.

And even if one leaves the cozy comfort of campus, it is getting harder and harder to buy a cup of coffee that is not sold by a corporate entity.

“So what?” the astute reader may now ask. “Isn’t that also what the American Dream is about? Coming up with a profitable business model and running with it?” It may be, but at what cost?

Our living standard may be improving as manufactured goods become cheaper, but our individuality is going out the window in the process. I find it quite disturbing that I can fly a thousand miles in the United States and still be offered identical products. Others may find it comforting to know that everywhere they go they can get a venti triple-shot mocha that will taste exactly the same and come in that familiar Starbucks cup, but I do not.

Naturally, this brings along problems other than monotonous homogeneity.

Large corporations are now wielding more power than some nations. The corporations have the same rights an individual would have, but do not have the same civic duties. If, for example, Wal-Mart wished to open stores in Europe and prohibit its employees from joining a union — a practice they have been pursuing in the United States — they can do that. Wal-Mart does, after all, employ more individuals than the U.S. Army.

But not only do such corporations stand above the law — as they can move shop whenever they see fit — they also have the power to do good. Starbucks, for example, recently started to offer “fair-trade” coffee. With such coffee comes the promise that the growers and workers on the coffee plantations get a fair share of the profit rather than the pennies they usually receive while corporations rake in most of the profit. Sadly, though, Starbucks does not offer such fair-trade coffee across the board, but only in some instances. But if it did, it would instantly mean more profit for the average coffee grower, as other corporations would be forced to match the price Starbucks was offering. It would instantly improve the living conditions of such growers, who often can barely make ends meet while their product is sold with an astronomical markup. But why would Starbucks do this if it meant they would lose profits?

Corporations are not necessarily all bad, but they have the potential to be quite destructive if left unchecked. Since the U.S. government is not likely to step up to the plate and keep corporations from gaining monopolies, it will be up to the consumer to vote with their money.

Just something to consider when you order that next venti triple-shot mocha, whether you do so in Tampa, Newark or Paris.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and is the Oracle’s Opinion Editor.