I don’t know who this guy is, but it seems to capture how I felt today.
I walk into Ranch Market across the street with an autograph book and a camera.
“I’m a big fan of Ranch Market,” I tell the lady at Customer Service.
“Yes, we don’t sell fans here. Try Wal-Mart,” she explains.
“No, me. I like Ranch Market,” I tell her.
She nods her head and says, “I like the Ranch Market, too.”
“Can you sign for the company?”
“No, no,” she shakes her head.
* * *
Christy tries the Postal Service. She chooses the socialized mail system and not the band with the Mario-Brothers-Meets-Death-Cab-For-Cutie sound.
“Nice weather,” the lady says.
“Yeah, I’m a fan of this weather.”
“I’m a fan of the post office,” she explains.
“We don’t get that too often.” The postal worker is right. People tend to make assumptions about their service, despite the fact that they tend to run things pretty well.
* * *
I plan to stop by In-N-Out, but instead I have to settle for QT. It’s the Taj Mahal of convenience stores. Or maybe not. I suppose that would make it one part cheap fountain drinks and one part mausoleum and they’d probably lose customers if they started housing the dead bodies by the warmed-up taquitos.
“Hey, I’m a big fan of QT,” I tell the man by the counter.
“Me, too. They pay really well.” I bet they do*.
“I like the fact that you can choose between, I don’t know, seventy different flavors of soda.”
“Yeah,” he says.
“Can you sign for the company?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
“Can I take my picture with QT?”
“No, they don’t let people take pictures here.”
“Sorry,” I tell him, recognizing how ridiculous I look.
“It’s a crazy rule. They act like this is sacred ground or something.”
He rings up my order and I hang my head in dejection. Turns out it’s harder to be a fan of a company than I had thought. For all the signs I’ve been seeing where companies implore me to follow them on Twitter or become a fan of them on Facebook, I’m recognizing that the average transnational company is the equivalent of a high-paid supermodel. We want to believe we know them, because we know the image they’ve portrayed and the intimate stories through their public relations efforts. But therein lies the problem. Public relations. It’s impossible to have a relationship with an image.
As I grow older and more sophisticated, it’s easy to think that I’ve gotten past the Tony the Tiger stage. I tend to think of Target or Starbucks as a mechanical “it.” However, in subtle ways, I still to buy into the myth that I can have a relationship with the impersonal. I perk up when I see the circular green star-headed sea lady offering me a sensual experience for a couple of bucks.
Perhaps it’s because humans are designed to be relational and in a world where social media pushes us to develop an image, create a brand and market our lives, the line between business and personal continues to blur and thus we try and find meaning through identifying with external brands. At one time “corporate” was a word used for the sacred. Now we’ve taken the corporate and made it sacred.
Follow-up: I’m going to become a fan of Cartwright Elementary School Administrators tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll write some fan mail to my favorite companies. Screw you, QT and your corporate diva mentality. My first letter is going to In-N-Out. After that, I’m thinking Sprouts and maybe Heath Bars.
*My friend Quinn the Business Bohemian thinks QT might be a cult. First they give people a high salary and a graveyard shift, forcing people to abandon friends and family. They all wear matching uniforms and they hang out together. Then the company offers to pay for the workers’ health care. For my part, I think they’re colonizing the city. Ever watched what they do? They completely demolish the competition and set up their own cookie cutter stores, ruling the area with an air of effeciency. QT has picked up where Great Britain left off.
photo credit: K.Muncie on Flickr Creative Commons