Yesterday, Starbucks revealed a product which they hope will foster community in an increasingly fractured world. No, it’s not liquid MDMA, flavored with gingerbread and topped whipped cream (although come to think of it…). The product is a cup. 13 cups, to be more precise. These cups had been hotly rumored ever since the chain’s green cup was released a week ago. Some people loved the green, others hated it, but one thing became epically clear: As a nation, we really give a f*ck about the kinds of cups our corporate coffee overlords use to signify Christmastime.
Both the crowdsourced red cups and the artist-drawn green cup were direct responses to the media-driven cup firestorm of 2015. Remember it? There was faux panic, a lot of pageantry, and at least a few real live people who thought that their religion was being attacked. All because Starbucks — a multinational, multi-billion dollar corporation whose sole intent is to make money off drinks which are more sugar than bean water — didn’t slap Jesus Christ on their beverage receptacles. (Or, you know, at least Santa).
But how did the whole “red cup” debacle actually happen? How does a story like that take hold of the national consciousness? And was anyone really outraged in the first place?
The whole saga seems to have been driven by two major forces:
I. As Vox points out, for some people the holiday cup from Starbucks doesn’t just represent another empty piece of merchandising, it represents the fact that Christian values are being upheld during one of the most treasured of all holidays. When you take that away, even if what’s being taken away is a snowflake or a reindeer (clearly important biblical figures), it implies that a group’s fundamental beliefs are somehow being desecrated. And that’s been known to get people scared.
These people see a lack of prominent Christian symbology on a paper cup as an attack on the Christian values that built our nation. So for a certain breed of evangelicals, it was a Big Deal (and played into a long-simmering martyr syndrome).
II. Like any movement, this java-based rebellion needed a charismatic leader to speak to the people about the slings and arrows they were suffering. In this case, the mantle was taken up by Joshua Feuerstein — a former pastor and internet celebrity (?) with a checkered past. It’s endless fun to unpack Feuerstein’s career, but the quick highlights include harassing a bakery that wouldn’t fill a troll request for an anti-gay cake, taking money from his followers without accounting for it, and suggesting we solve all the things we don’t like with guns. According to The Daily Kos — and an entire website created just to expose the pastor’s scheming ways — Feuerstein is a rich guy with a persecution complex, who gets off on crying discrimination (anti-religious, anti-heterosexual, anti-white, etc.) when he doesn’t get his way.
Based on the man’s YouTube page, he is discriminated against pretty often. But no braying was louder than the ugly-crying he did in 2015, when he made his most popular video to date. On November 5th, 2015, Feuerstein went viral after he could not bear the injustice of both an ombre red cup and not being wished a “Merry Christmas” as he completed his purchase at Starbucks. Feuerstein took this to mean that chain’s employees could not even mention the name of the holiday (not true, Starbucks even sells a Christmas blend right in their stores) and had no choice but to don a backwards baseball cap and make a video claiming that he’d “tricked” the store by telling them that his name was “Merry Christmas” and forcing them into showing fealty to him and his lord.
Meanwhile in reality: Some bored barista just thought “Ugh, this dude” and called him “Merry Christmas” to get the transaction over with. Because when a loud dude in a Jesus shirt walks in and demands you wish them the holliest jolliest Christmas while also packing a weapon (yep, he proudly brought his gun into Starbucks!) you kind of just do what he says and hope for the best.