Are Disposable Coffee Cups Making Adults Become Children?

Twitter yields many things, not all of them good or useful or trustworthy, but it can be relied upon to entertain and occasionally to inform. There’s a particular account which posts pictures of footballers from yesteryear – mostly English and many from the Black & White era – and it’s a lot of fun to see these men, with their extraordinary hairstyles and senses of fashion and the behaviour they display, all of which can be different from what we see today. The moustaches and cut of the shorts and what the managers wear all stand out to a twenty-first century viewer. Much of it is innocent and quaint and charming, even when the implications of what we are seeing are somewhat sinister: so many people smoke when they aren’t playing, and injuries are seldom seen to be taken very seriously, and in quite a few pictures they are drinking tea. Drinking tea from tea cups – there is even an image which shows a player drinking tea from a cup, the kind of cup you find in a cheap motel room, on the field as he talks to his manager prior to extra time being played in a match.

It looks so odd. Tea cups belong in the domestic sphere now, and have for some time, but this strangeness – and the past is always strange[1] – began a thought process which led to a consideration of the way we drink, in the public sphere, and what it might mean to drink things that way.

Here goes.

In 1992 a 79 year-old woman named Stella Liebeck was awarded damages which are said to have been around $2.9 million, by McDonald’s, for being badly scalded by a cup of their coffee. At some point since then the anti-spill coffee lid took off as an idea, until a point in the recent past when it became ubiquitous. (Yes, this will be short on detail: there are so many things I don’t know about coffee cups.)

This is the only way coffee is sold now, when you buy it “to go”, and a good thing too. The lid prevents spilling, of course, and keeps the contents relatively insulated, and getting your drink (not just coffee, of course) to the place where you wish to drink it is now quite an easy matter. But people also drink through the opening. The small slit for sipping. In fact that’s the only way some people drink their hot drink now – sucked through a small aperture sitting on a disposable receptacle. It would seem that something of the experience of really savouring a drink is lost in these circumstances, but most people seem not to mind. If they know the difference they don’t think it’s very important, or they’re just drinking their coffee quickly while getting some work done at their desk and they drink occasionally from proper cups at home, or they are too young to know that there is an alternative.

A related development has come from the area of professional sport, and training, and the adoption of technology used in that training by ordinary people. It’s the rise of the water bottle with a squeeze nozzle to get water out. You squirt the water into your mouth with one of these things and they are pretty much the only type of water bottle you can buy at the moment. Again, it is impossible to argue with the purpose of this product: it won’t spill, liquid only comes out when the device is squeezed, and a precise measure of water (or other liquid) can also be delivered to the mouth of the athlete, with a quick squirt, as a result.

But it means that people suck on their water bottle and they suck on their coffee cup and the behaviour is so loud and attention-drawing and childlike, as if one day the adults will let us use proper cups and saucers and glasses and mugs, one day, if we’re lucky, when our period of practice with the training wheels is over and we can be trusted to graduate to adult things.

That’s it: it’s not adult. The whole experience is infantilising. Grown humans behave like small children, and I mean toddlers, as they suck and squeeze and slurp, and it’s not possible to truly stand apart from all this behaviour as everyone seems to be doing it and it makes an unavoidable collection of slurpy noises as it goes on.

Could this have a Freudian dimension? Are people stuck in the oral stage of psychosexual development? Or do they wish they were?

Is it some kind of cry for help, or is this the natural outcome of adults retreating into childish things in other ways?

I’m not here to answer the questions. I just ask them.


[1] Here’s an opportunity to cite the oft-quoted line from L.P. Hartley, “The Past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” (The Go-Between)

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Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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