Monday, November 06, 2006

Life Takes Visa? More Like The Other Way Round

People are quick to “outrage” these days. Of course the level of outrage and time it takes people to go from zero to offended increases exponentially as we grow closer to an election, (as I write this we are less than 24 hours from Election Day 2006). But I always considered myself to be a fairly level-headed person. I think people are entitled to their opinions, no matter how perverse they seem to me; I ultimately just want to leave people alone—and more importantly—be left alone. My main pet peeve is people who don’t have a sense of humor—particularly those who take themselves too seriously. But hey, that’s their problem really, right? I just don’t want to be bothered.

So it is with some surprise that I report I am outraged—outraged I say—over the latest Visa commercial that I was bombarded with during football games this weekend. It’s the one that resembles an old musical number, it features that music we all know from cartoons—I call it the “music of industry”—the music they played in Tom & Jerry cartoons when an intricate mouse-catching, or cat-smashing machine started up. (It’s probably a famous piece of music by a composer that was then taken by T&J, but whatever, I know it from the cartoon—and so do you.)

The commercial shows a clean, modern deli where everyone is moving in synch: a row of sandwich makers neatly toss meat onto sandwiches; customers march around ordering and paying; drinks are tossed from deli worker to deli worker and then placed on customers’ trays; blenders make colorful drinks that slide down the counter to waiting customers; and people pay with their Visa cards. It’s all working smoothly—a well-oiled machine humming along to that toe-tapping music…until...the unthinkable happens: some boob tries to pay with actual money.

The hero of the commercial, (antagonist to Visa and the ad agency), marches in like a good little customer. He orders with the flip of a finger, his food is bagged and tossed through the air to him, and everything is going along swimmingly until he steps up to the register and—heaven forbid—tries to pay with—gasp—cash. The machine that is the deli grinds to a halt: drinks spill, trays crash to the ground, people smash into each other—it’s a disaster, thanks to this bastard trying to use...what’s it called? Oh right, money. The guy in line behind Our Hero gives him a dirty look—and so does the cashier (check the irony in her very title—cash-ier). Our Hero sheepishly takes his change and walks out and the machine starts up again, everyone happy to be rid of the jerk with his own money. Then the announcer tells us that we shouldn’t let cash slow us down and we should use Visa.

“Slow us down?” Wait a second. This is too much, even for me—the guy who doesn’t want to be bothered. Not only is it un-American to dis our Treasury and our redesigned, almost colorful currency, but swiping a card is not always the breezy transaction depicted in the commercial. Often it goes like this: swipe a card…re-swipe…re-swipe. Wipe the card on your pants and swipe again. Swipe again. Have the clerk ask you for another card. Say “no.” Clerk rolls eyes and manually enters 15 digits. Again. And one more time. Then the computers finally talk to each other and this one starts to print something out—oops, out of paper. Hold on while the disinterested clerk slowly finds another roll. Ok, that’s done, now sign this. What, now you need a pen? Sigh. Hold on, I’ll ask my co-worker for one…right after she tells me how outraged she is that the manager asked her to do something work-related. Okay, now you’re on your way, thanks and come again.

Granted you can get behind the woman digging through her enormous purse for her slightly less enormous wallet for three pennies because she wants a quarter back rather than two dimes and two pennies…but come on, nine times out of ten, cash is faster.

But the thing that really gets me going about the commercial is the insidious nature of credit cards in general. They depict a bright cheerful world where we all use our cards like good little zombies, because…“it’s for the best.” But their claims of convenience in this utopian nightmare fall flat. They are like drug dealers giving you the first sample for free: “Use your card, it’ll be faster. Everyone’s doing it. And you know what, because I like you, you don’t even have to pay me back all at once—just give me some money now, I’ll add a little convenience fee, and then you pay me back later. Well, sure I’ll charge you an extra $34 if you’re late, and the convenience fee is just a bit over prime—let’s see, prime is 6.2%, let’s round it up and call it an even 22%. How’s that sound? What could be better?”

I think and hope there is a special circle in Hell for the credit card company muckety-mucks. “What’s in my wallet, indeed.” CASH! Cash is in my wallet! Remember cash? You know, E Pluribus Unum and all that?

But you don’t have to be a cash-loving patriot like me to hate credit card companies; there are plenty of other reasons to hate these Electronic Robber Barons: the exorbitant fees they charge their customers, the ever-climbing fees they charge businesses that accept the cards—did you know they double dip on you? Not only do they tack on a hefty fee for you to use the card, they take a cut from the store where you use the card. Which means higher prices for us, which means higher fees for them, which means they can name another stadium after themselves, from where we can watch a game being played and in between the action we can be brainwashed by their new commercials that they could afford to make because they charge us higher fees which enable them to reach out to more stores to charge them more fees—oh right, but Congress gets exercised over the price of gasoline.

You know, for a guy who doesn’t like to be bothered, I get pretty bothered. I guess I can get outraged if I try. I’d like to post this and go to lunch…but I don’t think I have any cash…uh oh.

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