The Autumn of our Discontent

Six weeks ago, at the beginning of September, I was doing what a lot of people do, which is convince themselves that they are excited for autumn. That the long, sunny days and warmer temperatures of summer would no longer interest me because sandals and shorts are the wardrobe of a boy; men, or at least the handsome ones, wear pants and a jacket, possibly even a dashing hoodie.

In autumn, I told myself, even the women become more attractive, more nuanced. It becomes less about skin and more about scarves; it’s eye color, it’s how they hold a hot chocolate, it’s how the palms of their hands interact with sweater sleeves. Summer? Summer’s just a superficial sex market where everyone’s wearing skirts and there are sundresses and people are tan and curvy and everyone’s drinking and wow I just realized that living in Miami would make me unstable and I would never use commas.

Natalie Portman, all bundled up and sexy

Natalie Portman, all bundled up and sexy

Alas, today, it is autumn, and more importantly, the precise middle of it. Today is not September–the excitement of school and pro football and network television returning has decompressed. Nor is today November, when ‘cool outside’ can become ‘straight-up cold’ and we start complaining about shorter days and Thanksgiving grabs you by the forearm and spins you toward December with reckless holiday abandon.

Today, in the belly of October, is autumn.  So two things:

(1) I am going to keep calling it ‘autumn’ instead of ‘fall,’ no matter how hopelessly dandy it sounds by comparison. I am tired of this autumnal season having an American alias, especially one as lazy, literal, and depressing as ‘fall.’

(2)  You, and your newfound cynicism for pumpkin-flavored treats, have ruined autumn for me.

oh memes! you always know the score!

And I’m not wrong about this. There is a very real and palpable ire in this country right now directed towards pumpkin spice lattés and pumpkin beer and pumpkin whatever-the-fuck-can-we-can-infuse-with-pumpkin. As someone that watches public opinion very closely and is always on the prowl for something to hate, I am still baffled by this development. Of all the abhorrent things in this world that fatigue us, why go after a harmless, delicious, seasonal flavor? Is it just the boredom of cultural cannibals?  Has it been that long since Miley Cyrus, the federal government, or Kanye West did something detestable?

Let’s examine, as far as I can guess, why we have decided to channel all of our nameless, jaded energies unto the inanimate, innocent bystander known as ‘pumpkin-flavored shit.’

It’s new and it’s everywhere. 

Completely fair.  It’s been ten years since Starbucks, an evil Seattle corporation, decided to introduce the Pumpkin Spice Latté as a ‘Fall Favorite’ (all rights reserved) to their menu. Soon, every other chain and neighborhood coffee shop was forced to offer similar drinks just to compete.  And now, even McDonald’s sells it, which is another evil corporation who peddles limited-time items such as the McRib and the Shamrock Shake.

Things would probably be fine if it was just limited to coffee, but I, like you, have noticed that pumpkin is popping up everywhere.  For 20 A.D. centuries, it was just resigned to pies, but now it’s in pastries, alcohol, ravioli, bars of soap — the list need not continue because it should be pretty self-explanatory that once the demand is there, a supply will follow.  Is it all too-much-too-soon?

the enemy

the enemy

Personally, as someone that was probably a wee lad of 20 before he had anything pumpkin-flavored, it is not too-much-too-soon. I drink a lot of coffee, and I remember the first time I tried a pumpkin spice latté, and I was hella INTO it, y’all.  Since then, someone offers me something with that flavor, my brain’s all “YEAH, why not, I think I like pumpkin, put in mouth.”  Thanks to the magic of trial and error, I now understand that not every food or drink with the word ‘pumpkin’ included is created equal, which is fine. Neither is every MGMT album.

So why the velvet rope, culinary world? Are we really at standing-room-only when it comes to flavor options? Where does this sense of entitlement, as drone consumers, come from? Do we really want to start putting every taste under the microscope? Are you ready for that kind of scrutiny, cinnamon?  How about you, peppermint?

Because it’s new and it’s everywhere, it’s also trendy. 

And you do not want to be trendy. Or trending. Or any derivation that means ‘temporarily fashionable.’  The internet will find you and it will destroy you.

I’m not going to lie, pumpkin is having a great decade. So is brunch. And yoga. And avocado. And apparently kale. You should probably sell immediately, meaning high, if you have stock in any of these things. The market will certainly catch up, but right now, pumpkin and kale are an IPO goldmine!

First of all, I am positive that there are people out there who hate this pumpkin momentum because they quote always loved pumpkin and now it’s so popular. And Hipsters be damned, I shouldn’t have to tell you that that is an unhealthy, selfish relationship to have with a fruit, let alone a band.

Secondly, and this is where things get racial, buried beneath the pursuit of exotic coffee flavors, smoothie ingredients, or ‘a good Indian restaurant in town,’ is the suspicion amongst many critics that these trends are, primarily, just petty distractions for bored white people. Now: on the surface, yes, I totally get it. If I was writing a comedy sketch or Buzzfeed list that lampooned the blandness of white people, I would certainly include “I’ll have a venti pumpkin spice latté” as an identifying trait. But I don’t think anyone has really done the market research on who is buying all of these pumpkin drinks, so while the hypothesis that this trend is exclusive to vapid, middle-class, white existence is inviting, all of this class fear is probably just due to the fact that all of us, no matter the race, die a little inside when we say the word ‘latté.’

Speaking of death, I was informed the other day that people have started referring to pumpkin spice lattés as “PSL”s for short, which used to mean something totally different in my schoolyard days, i.e. ‘that girl’s got some real pumpkin-suckable lips.’  Anyway, this information is disturbing, but reason should prevail. Don’t hate the latté because current humans abbreviate everything.  I don’t hate laughing aloud because LOL exists. I don’t hate junior bacon cheeseburgers even though I have been the asshole at a Wendy’s drive-thru several times over asking for “3 JBC’s.”

What you SHOULD hate is that Starbucks lists “PSL” on their website as an acceptable abbreviation, which brings us to:

that hashtag is not making my life any easier

The advertising for pumpkin-flavored products is offensively transparent.

When Starbucks decided to push the concept of pumpkin upon us, and the rest of the world followed suit, it was immediately billed as “Enjoy the taste of Fall!” And as consumers, this seemed a little sketchy, but then again, the associative memories were already ingrained; in romantic autumn fantasy, pumpkins have always been major characters.

It was just the idea, the notion, that a corporation was inventing a tradition that seemed so insincere. This drink will help you cope with long, cold nights, and make you feel all cozy inside, and basically make you a happier person. It was far from subliminal, thus easy to hate, kind of like all advertising and marketing that has ever happened before. Seems like a strange time to draw the line, especially when it’s been established that pumpkin spice drinks are pretty good. We must always strive to hate the game, lest we erroneously hate the playa.

What Starbucks did, inventing a traditional seasonal flavor for the critical mass, was, from a business standpoint, pretty genius. They created a self-fulfilling prophecy where, yes, I don’t quite consider it autumn until I’ve seen ‘Pumpkin Spice!’ written across hundreds of sidewalk chalkboards in the city. It was manipulative, and I feel powerless as a result, but hey, at least I have a new tradition. There are plenty of people who need to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas because NBC decided 20 years ago that they would air it annually in primetime. Every year, on February 14th, we are reminded that Valentine’s Day was an invention of the Hallmark corporation to sell more greeting cards.  If I was Hallmark, I would be livid every time this was brought up.  Yeah, we’re sorry, everybody. We’re really sorry that we gave February a holiday that celebrates real human love. Sorry that sexual intercourse jumps up, what, like, 1000% on the holiday we invented.  Seriously, 1,000 may be low, it may be 10,000. Either way, our bad, you cantankerous virgins.


To research this article, I decided to hit up a local chain coffee shop. I walked in, shed my hoodie, headphones, and backpack at a nearby table, and approached the counter with feigned indecision.

“Uhhhh, can I get …… can I get a medium pumpkin spice latté?”

As the words left my lips, the self-loathing sat in.  Something had changed. I felt guilty and I felt embarrassed. I felt like the most pathetic, white nerd in the world. uhhh yeahh…. ummm…i saw the commercial and i…uhhh…see that you have pumpkin spice lattés here and uhhh…. i was told these will make me happy and less alone?

“That’ll be $4.50.”

“Jesus.  Uhhh, okay.”

He handed me the drink and I took a sip. It was divine. I thought to myself, ‘pumpkin spice: available, like life, for a limited time.’

I turned towards my table and heard an angel’s call from behind the counter:  “Oh sorry, sir, would you like some whipped cream on that?”

“Yes,” I said. “I really fucking do, thanks. I’m not an animal.”