February 8, 2011

Leftist Lattes

You'll forgive my lack of timeliness I hope; Howard Dean references stopped being relevant several years ago. Nonetheless, this commercial was brought to my attention, and raises an interesting point: Are lattes liberal?

Obviously, the drink itself has no political ideals. Milk, too, is probably clean. Espresso is of European extraction, and evolved to more quickly caffeinate industrial revolution era factory workers. That same era, and those same workers, led to labor laws and social movements that one could see as the beginnings of the modern political left.

But I'm dodging the point. It's not that the latte is itself liberal, but that the stereotypical drinkers thereof are. Whether this notion was ever true, I don't know -- but I doubt it. Though espresso is an Italian import, the combination of milk and coffee is hardly novel, and certainly not confined to any one geographic region. In fact, the cafe latte as we've come to know it is almost certainly an American invention, devised to sate the dual preference for weak coffee and lots of milk.

But this too dodges the issue. It's not the history of the latte that matters, but the current connotation, the context in which this specific drink now resides. In this imagined world, latte drinkers are the left leaning sort, assumed because they frequent coffee houses, long places of esoteric idea exchange. But why is it that the latte is singled out here? Those who sit and discuss their latest Kantian musings frequently do so over plain coffee (though as often, dressed with cream and sugar), as that drink is less expensive, and more likely to have a generous refill policy. But since 60% of Americans drink coffee, you can't very well single them all out as pinko bastards.

Still, in the hope that we might have better informed PAC ads in the future, I'd like to offer some help in stereotyping. If you really, really want to peg someone as a tree hugging leftist, name them as a soy chai drinker. They are, of course, vegan, and are avoiding caffeine as per their latest detox diet.

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