Advertising, banks, and Salome of the Seven Veils

We all have our own “If I ruled the world, this is how I’d fix it” fantasies. They don’t need to be reasonable, or part of a comprehensive strategy, so they’re self-indulgent and fun. I’d ban advertising as one of my first moves, or at least restrict it to words only: no pictures, no music or jingles, just cortex stuff. Miles per gallon, nutritional content, ease of installation, peppermint flavor. Well, the advertiser could wax poetic about how his product would transform your love life, turn commuting into a Le Mans experience, and make sadness and boredom as extinct as the dodo, but if the pitch is just in words printed in black and white, how many of our fellow citizens these days would bother to read it? And if they did, how convincing would it be?

Here’s an example of what vexes me about ads:

Ads and Banks.jpg

I photographed this ad in one of those gargantuan one-stop-shopping stores which also has a house bank. In fact, their bank used to be Washington Mutual, distinguished for being “the United States’ largest savings and loan association until it became the largest bank failure in U.S. history.” [Wikipedia]

As I recall, it was a WaMu ad way back in the early 90’s that told me all was not well with the American banking industry: it showed a car racing through one of those cones-in-a-line tests of driving skill, and posting a smoking-hot speed by the simple expedient of running over most of the cones. The voice-over and text said, “We break the rules for you”. Gives you a glow of confidence, like the surgeon rushing into your operating room bloody to the elbow, saying, “I didn’t bother washing up after that bowel resection, more important to get here in a hurry for your case!” It seemed obvious to me that this was not a good philosophy for a bank. But what did I know, since it actually worked great for all the big banks, until suddenly the bottom fell out. Who could have known? Then we bailed them out, so no harm done.

Take another look at the ad. Its ostensible purpose is to encourage us to put our money in savings accounts. Seriously? How likely is that? With savings interest rates running between 1.14% and 1.44%, and annual inflation at 2.63% (or more, if you are a living person rather than a statistical construct), we’ll all be rushing to get that deal. “Lose money while you save”, what a terrific idea. No, the real intent here is to convince us rubes that the bank is a serious trustworthy institution that cares about our welfare. The face of the woman is carefully chosen to be seductive yet serious. We don’t need the financial system reform bills that the administration has asked for, we can just rely upon the banks to do the right thing. The House bill barely passed back in December, on a party-line 223-to-202 vote, and the Senate is still trying to figure out how to get it past the Republicans.

Nor should we resent the past and present behavior of the banks and investment companies. Don’t be bothered that

The nation’s six largest banks — all committed to this balls-out, I drink your milkshake! strategy of flagrantly gorging themselves as America goes hungry — set aside a whopping $140 billion for executive compensation last year, a sum only slightly less than the $164 billion they paid themselves in the pre-crash year of 2007.

Those are the words of Matt Taibbi, who has done his homework, and reports in Rolling Stone on just how the big money guys managed to: make tons of money through dishonest dealing; leave us all holding the bag of devalued real estate, foreclosures, and lost jobs; get bailed out by our tax money; and then start the same process over again, generating new excessive profits from unsound and possibly illegal investment practices. Taibbi systematically details the various con games utilized by the financial institutions.

Maybe counter-ads are the answer. I could create ads instead of longing to ban them.


[painting by Laura Givens, entitled ‘Wild Abandon’]

Or, for consumers who like authority figures,


[if you’re not up on old James Bond villains, that’s Donald Pleasance as Ernst Blofeld, SPECTRE leader who has sensibly turned international banker after the Cold War ended]

Or this,


On a more positive note, remember that there is an alternative to doing business with Scrooge, Blofeld, and Salome of the Seven Veils. Visit your local credit union. Ours offers overdraft protection (no $35 fees), various kinds of accounts, loans, and debit cards. Credit unions used to restrict membership to certain groups (teachers, employees of a certain company or industry, etc.) but now many exist to serve all the residents of a certain area. Executives don’t get million-dollar bonuses, and the emphasis is on local service and steady management.

A credit union is a cooperative financial institution that is owned and controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at reasonable rates, and providing other financial services to its members. Many credit unions exist to further community development or sustainable international development on a local level… Credit unions are “not-for-profit” because they operate to serve their members rather than to maximize profits. [Wikipedia]

Find a credit union in your area in the phone book, or use this directory.

Even credit unions have to advertise. But I won’t quibble with this ad.


Post-election rumor and divisiveness


Springfield Fire Department Photo by Dennis Leger

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch site carries news of a black church being set ablaze yesterday, the day after the election. Not in Mississippi or Georgia, but in Massachusetts.

[MA] Post-Election Church Arson Investigated As Hate Crime
The Republican / November 5, 2008
The torching of a black church a few hours after Barack Obama was elected president is considered a probable hate crime by federal investigators. [Read full article]

The second comment on this article (on the Hatewatch site) was notable:

ManchurianC said,

ON NOVEMBER 6TH, 2008 AT 12:04 PM

Gee, what a surprise. Way too many Obama supporters were threathing [sic] riots in the streets if their god lost the election so to me this is tame even if it is an anti-Obama burn.

I don’t recall there being Republicans hanging at voting places in this country with clubs threatening voters on the 4th as occurred in Philly by Black Panters [sic] dudes.

Payback can be quite rough, folks. Welcome to America. I am sure it will get much worse before it gets better. And that’s an optimistic view of things.

When I investigated this person’s claims I found much mention on partisan websites, but the factual basis was small or nonexistent. No one else had yet replied to ManchurianC, so I did, and reproduce it here in an effort to help defuse this sort of counterproductive discourse.


These are dramatic charges. Can you provide some links to news coverage of these threats? Such comments can provide a basis for susceptible people to engage in counter-violence of their own, pre-emptive violence, or just harden their demonization of the other party. Without substantiation, these are just dangerous rumors.

In searching for the Black Panther news I found an account: 2 guys threatened voters, cops came, end of story. Bad, criminal, but not some kind of major movement. And, based on our observation of the Obama campaign all through this long time, the candidate and his staff would have condemned such actions (and may have done so, if asked, I don’t know). If 2 skinheads showed up at a polling place and tried to intimidate some group of voters, would we assume it was planned or condoned by McCain or the Republican Party? I hope not.

When I googled the threats of riots I found one article
where a blogger used a comment by James Carville and led it off with a “riot” headline that did not represent what Carville said. Carville said he thought the election was going to go to Obama, based on polls, then added:
“But you stop and contemplate this country if Obama goes in and he has a consistent five point lead and loses the election, it would be very, very, very dramatic out there.” No mention of riot. Had the lead belonged to McCain, and a Republican talking head had said the same thing, would we be accusing McCain and his party of encouraging riots?

Another blogger cites an AP article with the headline “Obama warns of ‘quiet riot’ among blacks” but goes on to give Obama’s actual words, which were as follows:

Many of the folks in this room know just where they were when the riot in Los Angeles started and tragedy struck the corner of Florence and Normandy. And most of the ministers here know that those riots didn’t erupt over night; there had been a “quiet riot” building up in Los Angeles and across this country for years.
If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Hampton — you would have found the same young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge — the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities.

Those “quiet riots” that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better. You tell yourself, my school will always be second rate. You tell yourself, there will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at. You tell yourself, I will never be able to afford a place that I can be proud of and call my home. That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, “Not guilty” — or a hurricane hits New Orleans — and that despair is revealed for the world to see. [end quote from Obama]

The blogger who quoted Obama’s speech goes on to say,

Obama is actually making a subtle and interesting point. He’s not saying that “quiet riots” are actual riots or that the quiet riots inevitably produce the actual ones. By contrast, he’s saying that “quiet riots” aren’t riots — they are things that devastate communities, such as crime, joblessness, localized violence, and inner-city despair. He’s saying that we shouldn’t need high-profile events like Katrina or the Los Angeles riots to alert us to the “quiet riots” that have been going on in the background for years and years.

Nor is Obama saying, as the AP claims, that the quiet riot currently “threatens to erupt” into new riots comparable to the ones in Los Angeles. That idea simply isn’t in the speech. The AP just dreamed it up. As a result, Obama suddenly sounds like he’s trafficking in the sort of rhetoric that conservatives love to get outraged about: That we’d best minister to inner city problems lest we have another big riot on our hands. Obama just didn’t say this at all.

Shameful, profoundly incompetent garbage. Just awful.

Please, everyone, our country has more than enough problems without putting a vicious meaning onto innocuous words. And it is highly irresponsible to write words that seem to accept arson of a church as not so bad, because the other side had (allegedly) threatened or done worse things. It’s easy to hold yourself aloof and be condemnatory, with or without facts to back you up, but at this point the election is over and the best American tradition is to come together and work together for the mutual good, not try to stir up anger and thereby undercut positive action that benefits us all as a nation.

President Bush’s approval ratings, and the results of “Do you think the country is on the right track?” polls, indicate that most Americans think our country is not doing well and not on the right track. We had an election, it was nowhere near as close as the last two, and now it’s time for positive action. Help shape the actions that are taken by making your thoughts known but don’t try to paralyze us with rumors and divisiveness. Don’t be Nero, fiddling while Rome burns: you’ll have to live in the charred ruins just like the rest of us.