Brouhaha over Starbucks red cups more of a joke than a controversy

The online masses are in a tizzy this week over holiday-themed Starbucks cups that don't have any snowflakes, ornaments or reindeer on them.

The minimalist, red holiday cups debuted by Starbucks this week aren't actually offending most Christians

The #StarbucksRedCup hashtag is now largely filled with jokes, creative DIY designs, and mockery of Christians who were allegedly offended by the coffee company's 2015 holiday cup. This creation by Jamilah Lemieux features U.S. Republican candidate Ben Carson with his pal, Jesus. (Twitter/@JamilahLemieux)

The online masses are in a tizzy this week over holiday-themed Starbucks cups that don't have any snowflakes, ornaments or reindeer on them.

So many people are allegedly outraged over the coffee company's minimalist 2015 "red cup" design that U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump felt compelled to suggest people actually boycott Starbucks during a rally Monday evening.

His reason? Their cups aren't Christmassy enough this year, which automatically makes Starbucks "anti-Christmas" in the eyes of Trump – and for at least one conservative Christian video blogger who now believes the company "hates Jesus."

Most people engaged in the red cup debate at this point, however, seem more upset over religious criticism of the cup than over its actual design (unless they find the entire controversy hilariously ridiculous, which many do.)

The #StarbucksRedCup hashtag and others related to it have largely devolved into mockery of any Christians who may believe the cups – which have featured wintery scenes in previous years – are offensive.

But this mockery may be completely unjustified, according to Christians who've been speaking out on the topic to say, essentially, that few of them even care about the cup at all.

'One guy got mad'

Joshua Feuerstein, a former television evangelist and self-described "social media personality" is behind much of the frantically reported-on red cup controversy you may have read about in recent days.

A video he posted to Facebook on Nov. 5, just a few days after Starbucks unveiled its annual holiday cup design, has racked up more than 15 million views thus far.

"Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus," reads the caption of the video, in which Feuerstein visits a local Starbucks carrying a gun and wearing a Jesus shirt. "SO I PRANKED THEM ... and they HATE IT!!!!"

The Arizona resident encouraged his followers to tell baristas that their names are "Merry Christmas" in order to get the words onto cups, and then to share pictures using the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks.

Starbucks issued a statement after the video started going viral on Nov. 8 to explain its 2015 holiday design, saying that the red cup was meant to serve as a "blank canvas" for customers to "create their own stories" about the holidays.

This spawned a torrent of newsarticlesaboutthe alleged "social media controversy" brewing between Starbucks and Christians.

"None of the articles decrying some amorphous group of 'Christians' for hating on Starbucks took into account that this whole thing was actually about one guy who makes his living creating outrageous content," wrote Laura Turner for The Religion News Service Monday in a piece called Starbucks red cups and the outrage machine.

"There are a very tiny group of people out there who want to have 'Merry Christmas' written on their Starbucks cups, and more power to them," she continued. "We don't need to shed more ink or anguish over why those Christians are doing a ridiculous thing, especially not if the whole point is to separate ourselves and our evolved faith from other people and their immature faith."

Dozens of blog postsexpressing similar sentiments have been filedin recent days, and many Christians are also sharing their personal thoughts about red cup outrage on Twitter.

"Just to be clear, the long-haired, chill-looking person on Starbucks's cups isn't Jesus—she's 'a 16th century Norse woodcut of a twin-tailed mermaid, or Siren.'," writes The Atlantic's Emma Green of Feuerstein's assertion that Starbucks "wanted to take Christ" off its cups. 

"Political correctness, as Feuerstein calls it in his video, is a straw-man enemy," she continues after noting that Starbucks has never actually featured Christian imagery in its holiday cup designs. "Starbucks's decision to make plain red cups is less an erasure of Christian values than a neutral design choice that also happens to reflect a solid understanding of the company's diverse audience."

Subverting #MerryChristmasStarbucks with Satan

Despite the amount of backlash to his video, there is evidence online of some people siding with Feuerstein.

The #MerryChristmasStarbucks tag reveals a bit of authentic activity, particularly near the beginning of Feurstein's campaign.

More recently, however, jokesters have been using the hashtag subversively.

Most of the photos now tagged with #MerryChristmasStarbucks, in fact, show red cups covered with Satanic or otherwise anti-Christian imagery.

And yet, in true internet fashion, the majority of posts about the cup controversy on Twitter as of Monday night were humorous in nature.

If "inviting customers to create their own stories with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas" was truly Starbucks' goal, it appears as though the 2015 holiday cup campaign is one of its most successful yet.


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