Sunday, December 30, 2007



During the holidays, Visa or MasterCard (I can’t remember which; one might attribute my inability to recall to the ineffectiveness of the ad, but, given my failure to notice things, that probably is not the case.) incessantly ran an ad in which legions of young faux-prosperous people proceed, as if directed by some sort of guiding power, to various “cash” registers and present their form of payment, the ubiquitous piece of plastic that has, since it has found its way into many of the wrong hands, helped transform our society into the addle-brained consumption giant that it is. In the ad, some miscreant interrupts the process by actually paying in (Are you sitting down?) cash! Oh, the temerity! The whole process winds down; everyone frowns or otherwise expresses their disapproval of the rube who pays cash. What a fool!

When my brother-in-law, who has an attitude toward saving and spending that is much like mine, first pointed this ad, and how much he hated the message it delivers, out to me, I had a hard time sharing his outrage. Why? Because, initially, the ad was for a debit card, and stressed that it was for a debit card. I have no problem with debit cards (I also have no problems with credit cards as long as a balance is NEVER carried, but that is another issue.); using a debit card is far preferable to holding up a long line by writing a check in a busy store. Whenever this happens, I feel like telling the check writer “This is why they invented debit cards!”, but, like most people, I don’t. Perhaps there is a new year’s resolution here. But I digress.

The commercial then, some might say subtly, but not really, changed. The ad was no longer for a debit card, but for a MasterCARD or a Visa CARD. The “debit” was somehow dropped. So now I share my brother-in-law’s outrage, but not his surprise. The message of the newly debit-less ad is now clear: If you pay cash, you’re a chump. Put it on the card (Borrow from the Chinese, they may as well say, but I digress again, at least this time parenthetically.), get what you want, don’t even think of saving for it. Buy it now…pay, or, more likely, refinance your credit card balance, later. Delay gratification? Why do you hate America? Spend, spend, spend! Even, perhaps especially, when you can’t afford what you’re buying. Why, it’s the new America’s role in the world!

Great insight can be gained from a specious commercial.

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