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July 25th, 2005

The Commonwealth Starbucks Bank.






Found down near the Quay is a tiny building that signals the marriage between banking practices and the global franchise.

With a pair of black bars between each brand, it looks as if the link--an equals sign--between the two is a tag, a bored piece of street graffiti applied as a personal joke at the expense of Banks, Starbucks, and maybe even Globalisation. But it's not. The equal sign is part of the brand, a join made by whoever designed the building, by whoever decided that what a bank really needed was a Starbucks Coffee right next to it. Repeat the Global monoculture saying: We are one. We are one. We are one.

At night, Starbucks the only one of the pair open, and you walk in to be greeted by a scraggly Uni student who has problems spelling names with more than one syllable, and who takes your order and allows the straight shirt, silent manager type to serve you while talking to the prettier of your companions. Still, you can't help but wonder who buys CDs and coffee pots and all that other junk that they sell in there, but then, perhaps, you once wondered who walked into Starbucks at eleven in the evening because it was joined to a bank and that appealed to you, touched your cynicism and its humour. Then you think: Maybe I do need that Coldplay album?

We are one. We are one. Even music has formed a monoculture in the West, and moves to the rest of the world, defying the language barrier. How else do you explain Linkin Park in China?

Music and music companies aside, Starbucks is right there with McDonalds, with its law suits against anything resembling a golden arc, and KFC, with it's Southern Colonel as a mascot of down home racism and bad chicken. It's part of the new Global menace, the practice of the rich expanding into the globally rich, and it does this now by spotting the landscape of Sydney with it's brand, leaving it's mark in the pattern of your thoughts. How many years ago was it that it arrived? Five, six? Less, more? Whatever it is, it's intimate now, but there's very little hate towards Starbucks or the other global franchises, not like the hate that Commonwealth Bank receives. Bank hate, caught up in our money, is personal. You can't not watch the Commonwealth Bank (and the other banks in Australia) record profits in the billions while downsizing its staff and outlets and charging fees on accounts without feeling it. Especially when, in the case of the Commonwealth accounts, they were made while we were children and the bank was owned by the Government, and our working class parents dutifully opened for us because they believed the governments would look after us. Put in a dollar every week, they said. Give it to your teacher, watch them put it in the zippered yellow satchel. You felt like you were doing good. Saving for the future. The Government and you. You felt like a tiny six year old citizen and you would ask your friends who had accounts in different banks what they were doing, and why they were different. Fuck being black or asian. We're all too young to notice the difference, to have been tapped into the divisions that emerge when culture begins being fought over with religion and patriotism... fuck that. When you're in the 1st Grade, you look funny at the kid with a St. George Bank Account.

It's different now. On the TV so called news programs find the most extreme figures of Muslim culture and give them a voice that, in the white wash of the cultural landscape, allows them to speak incorrectly for an entire culture. And banks... banks fuck you over while laughing. The joining of the Commonwealth Bank here, at the mouth of Sydney, where the Opera House is five minutes away, and the Harbour Bridge stretches out with its broken, metal smile... here the Commonwealth Bank allows itself to show its new face. The face of business. Of profit. Of keeping the customer happy with coffee and hot apple cider and CDs and shiny metal kettle pots, while inside, skeleton staff sit at the counters, dreaming of vacations and nights where they can be anywhere else. Paid in wages the equal dirt they're flesh that, in the future, will be filled by casual employees filling in the hours between study for a work force that doesn't want them while the heads of the company--and ask yourself when a bank became a company--still pulls in profits in numbers that most of the working class kids who put their dollar into the yellow satchel can't properly comprehend.

The Commonwealth Starbucks Bank. Open an account, get a coffee, buy a CD. We are one.