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How to Properly Enjoy Fall in Our Basic, Post-Pumpkin Spice Latte Society

By Katie Hoffman @katienotholmes

"Oh you can bet your bottom dollar that im gonna be basic as hell tomorrow and roll up to school with a pumpkin spice latte in my hand," tweets Hailey, one avid PSL fan. If you type "basic pumpkin spice latte" into Twitter's search, you'll be flooded with hundreds of tweets like this (though few unwittingly combine a lyric from "Tomorrow," a song about being a poor-yet-hopeful orphan in the musical Annie, with buying a fancy coffee drink. Annie hoped for sun; Hailey hopes her barista remembers she asked for extra whip). Every September those unafraid to post in all-caps on social media divide themselves into two camps: People that love pumpkin spice lattes as much as they love telling everyone they love pumpkin spice lattes, and people who find PSLs so bankrupt of originality and appealing flavor that writing Facebook screeds about the drink and its consumers feels like the lazy, Netflix-subscriber vigilante's way of tipping the scales of justice.

The pumpkin spice cynics have an advantage, though, because they've claimed a strategic prisoner of war: the entire autumn season. It's not just pumpkin spice latte fans who are deserving of ridicule, it's anyone who likes fall, still enjoys hayrides, or owns a pair of black leggings. Pumpkin spice lattes became the official mascot for Everything That Happens In Fall That Some People May Not Personally Like, and no one even bothered to tally the votes for the scarecrow or candy corn. With fall represented by something as polarizing as a limited time offer beverage, how can a person properly enjoy fall in this post-pumpkin spice latte society, and have novelty latte drinkers earned the seasonal character assassination they endure?

Starbucks first introduced the pumpkin spice latte in fall 2003 to 100 stores in Vancouver and Washington, D.C. Mother Nature, on the other hand, introduced autumn as a temperate season well before the Roman era. Despite their similarly humble origins, fall has become synonymous with the arrival of pumpkin spice lattes. If not for the calendar, the leaves, the shorter days, and the cooler temperatures, would we even know fall had arrived without pumpkin spice lattes on Instagram to remind us? Conflating fall with PSLs isn't unreasonable, but what is unreasonable is connecting all things fall to the most annoying behavior of select beverage drinkers, and more broadly, using a trendy latte as one of the harbingers of Basic Fall.

The general consensus is that drinking pumpkin spice lattes is, above all things, basic. I've never exactly understood what "basic" means, but from what the Internet has taught me about being a "basic bitch," it's a generic (dare I say, basic?) condemnation used almost exclusively toward women who do things that are "obvious" or "common." Who decides what makes a thing basic isn't apparent to me - though it seems like the kind of petty designation that could only come out of New York - but it's pretty weak, even for a vague stereotype. Of more concern is that fall-a truly innocent season, unlike winter-now bears the same negative connotation as pumpkin spice lattes. In 2015 enjoying fall in the ways you always have means that you're "basic," prone to a closet full of infinity scarves and memes made in your likeness. Speaking as someone who has felt strongly about the fall season since well before the advent of both pumpkin spice and "basic," it speaks to the negativity of our culture that simply enjoying something, something that may make you feel things are far from basic, can become a magnet for so much misdirected criticism.

My fall historically includes taking a trip to the pumpkin patch and getting the same pleasure from crunching leaves on the sidewalk as inhaling the fresh aroma of a recently mowed lawn. It's pulling my sleeves over my hands and disappearing into a bulky sweater. It's going apple picking and making the best of raking. It's about feeling a sense of clarity as the seasons shift, like the summer sun was too blinding to truly focus on anything for three months, and now that my summer freckles are fading, I can retreat to the indoors and get to know myself again. Those all sound like pretty autumn clichés, and pumpkin spice lattes are somehow to blame. Come to think of it, perhaps they have played a part in sullying fall's reputation, but it's not because they're basic, they taste bad, or they're the coffee beverage of choice for Caucasian girls wearing UGG boots.

We're holding PSLs (and their devotees) accountable for spoiling fall for the most superficial reasons, but if there's anything to be outraged about, it's that Starbucks took the beauty of fall and turned it into a commodity that didn't even include real pumpkin until 2015. Pumpkin spice lattes are essentially the Black Friday of fall: a manifestation of the capitalism that manages to disguise itself as a welcome guest among our most enjoyable traditions like a popcorn ball in a pillowcase filled with otherwise delicious Halloween candy. A recent report from Nielsen shows that while sales of pumpkin-flavored products are on the rise, sales of actual fresh pumpkins have declined, accounting for 8.6 million fewer pumpkins sold. Yeah, that means people would rather wait in line at Starbucks for lattes than push a wheelbarrow through a pumpkin patch, pick out an adorable pumpkin (king among squash!), and carve it surrounded by friends and family at newspaper-clad table. If anything enrages you about pumpkin spice lattes, it should be the visual of all the unbought and unloved pumpkins that are going to waste. Imagine all those round lil' punkins on their way to the incinerator from Toy Story 3 to grasp the full impact of what PSLs have wrought.

Pumpkin spice lattes aren't part of my fall experience because I don't like coffee, but if they were, would that really be such a bad thing? Should we just let pumpkin spice lattes besmirch fall's mystique? Arguably, Starbucks profits from fall in a way that feels more like Capitalism 101 than Butterball peddling those 15-pound turkeys for Thanksgiving, but for many people, pumpkin spice lattes have become as much a part of their fall traditions as making caramel apples or watching 13 Nights of Halloween on ABC Family. Even though there'ssomething unmistakably hollow about how the popularity of pumpkin spice lattes has been instrumental in the spread of other pumpkin flavored products like English muffins, coffee creamer, Hershey's Kisses, etc., is it so wrong to make new traditions? To enjoy things that may be cherished differently than the memory of your grandmother rolling out a pie crust? To like something just because? To be part of a community that might just really like infinity scarves?

Perhaps we're so skeptical of pumpkin spice lattes and their fans because we're afraid they take something away from us, something that was-but still can be-free and pure. Our criticisms of fall and how some choose to enjoy it is really an expression of our nostalgia for the way things were, a time before we had the means to even be aware that fall was also special to other people. Of all the seasons, fall is the most personal, holding its own significance to every person who's felt it. In a world where so much is shared and so little is savored, perhaps we can all agree that enjoying the autumn season is different for everyone, and despite our tendency to lambaste corporations as often as we criticize people for things as inconsequential as their coffee order, we could try harder to let people indulge in the little things that get them excited, because happiness - even the kind that comes across too strong on social media or comes in a cup with the wrong name on it - is far from basic.

How to Properly Enjoy Fall in Our Basic, Post-Pumpkin Spice Latte Society

Katie Hoffman is a writer living in the suburbs of Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @bykatiehoffman.


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