Starbucks has been producing holiday coffee cups for 20 years (check them out here in this New York Times recap of the designs). This year, Starbucks launched its cup campaign with the note: “The holidays mean something different to everyone.”
Also this year, the concerns apparently surrounds hands.
There are two gender-neutral hands on the side of the color-your-own coffee cup. And there are two women holding hands at the 21-second mark of this short video Starbucks used to launch its holiday marketing season:
The video shows a diverse cast in diverse activities. The cup was created like an adult coloring book, and Starbucks’ marketing campaign invited consumers to color in their own vision — including whatever they wanted to do with the gender-neutral joined hands, probably.
Then BuzzFeed published an article on the hands and called the cup “totally gay.”
“While people who follow both Starbucks holiday cup news and L.G.B.T. issues celebrated the video, the ordinary Starbucks customer probably didn’t realize the cup might have a gay agenda,” BuzzFeed said.
Buzzfeed asked Starbucks for comment, and the company didn’t confirm or deny to whom the hands belong.
“Each year during the holidays we aim to bring our customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season, and we will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world,” Starbucks said in an emailed statement.
“This year’s hand-drawn cup features scenes of celebrating with loved ones — whoever they may be,” said Sanja Gould, a company spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “We intentionally designed the cup so our customers can interpret it in their own way, adding their own color and illustrations.”
Fox News reported on the “androgynous” cartoon hands, mostly culling tweets both for and against the idea that the pair of hands belong to a lesbian couple, like in the video. Apparently, the controversy had been going around on Twitter for a bit.
But this isn’t the first holiday cup controversy. The holiday season is ripe for a culture war over the role of religion and secularism in the celebration of the holiday season, which stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day and which includes those holidays plus Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas. Retail hours, consumerism, the use of “happy holidays” over “merry Christmas” and the Starbucks cups have all been a part of the ongoing controversy.
In 2015, Starbucks went without any symbols on the holiday cups, going instead with a plain red cup, saying the cups invite “customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way, with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas.”
The internet lost its mind, including a Facebook video by conservative Christian activist Joshua Feuerstein — viewed more than 17 million times — urging a boycott of the company.
There was also controversy around the mermaid logo, which started out in the early 1970s as a topless siren for the Seattle coffee. By 2011, the mermaid became a stylized princess with a crown, Forbes reported in a story tracking the mermaid’s evolution.
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