No. 37: Alec Foege’s “Right of the Dial” and Taylor Clark’s “Starbucked”
It doesn’t much matter that Alec Foege’s Right of the Dial: the Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio (Faber and Faber) concerns a right-leaning Dallas-based company that thrived via surreptitiousness and guile, and that Taylor Clarke’s Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture (Little, Brown and Company) regards one that at least affects a left-ish posture and that slings products that have become conspicuous sacraments for the bourgeois.
What matters is that Clear Channel and Starbucks both rose in the mid-’90s via crushing competition and promoting uniformity in the radio and beverage-retail rackets, respectively. And while Foege’s narrative style is sober and moralistic where Clarke’s is playful and amused, both books depict how what used to be understood as provincial, mom and pop-style business models could be transformed into Exhibit A and B of an American tendency to flatten difference and a sense of place.
Wherever you are in America, Clear Channel and Starbucks are nearby and available to make you secure that the songs you hear and the coffee you drink are eternal and not subject to cultural and geographic differences. And the downturn that has affected the two companies since the publication of these books will not change that. If, as has seemed likely for the last month or so, we will be wearing loincloths and carrying spears this time next year, we will be listening to “Free Bird” and sipping a venti nonfat iced latte before we storm the warlord’s village.