In honor of the Superbowl, I’m going to talk about commercials. A particular series from the Discover It Card has been appearing on the boob tube for over a year now, with the slogan, “We treat you like you’d treat you.” I’m sure many of you readers have seen them. I’ve probably seen them about ten thousand times watching hockey games.

They advertise late-payment forgiveness and credit monitoring services, claiming the Golden Rule¹ for their trademarked slogan. Seems mighty magnanimous, doesn’t it? But Beelzebub is in the background….

These services are probably not all that helpful, contrary to some opinions.  For late-payment forgiveness, they grant you a one-time fee cancelation. Then it costs $35 for every other late payment. They also won’t hike up your interest rate for this one-time slip-up. Every time after that, they’re just like any other credit card, apparently, only more so. So you’re still pretty likely to go into debt and repay the principal amount several times over in interest alone.

With the FICO credit score service, you have the added comfort of a once-a-month gander at you credit score. These services, too, require a good credit score to begin with—676 / 800. So if you suffered from a foreclosure in the recent economic malaise, or if you couldn’t find a job that paid enough for you to keep up with your student loans, you are S.O.L.

Discover claims this service is meant to help you “avoid surprises” with your credit score. If we made accounting a compulsory class for every high school student—you know, teach them math that is useful and applicable to daily life, unlike algebra—then few would really be surprised when their credit score took a nose-dive. Maybe they wouldn’t have the trouble to begin with, because they’d be educated enough to see through the deception.

And it seems to me that all of this is meant to lull people into a false sense of financial security. They say, “Hey, we’re just like you! You can trust us.” And how do we know they’re just like us? Well, the person in the call center always looks like the caller.

But beyond that, you have to look in the background to see how they’ve transmogrified the second person pronoun, “you,” into the third person, “it.” The people offering you their immaterial labor also have a whole lot of stuff that’s just like yours: Coffee cups, polished rocks, sports preferences, sartorial proclivities, little yellow toy bulldozers (Seriously?—how old are they—five?), and so on.

The underlying message: You are what you buy.

(Obey. Consume. Reproduce. Repeat.)

So here I’d like to counter with a quote from Oscar Wilde, from his essay, “The Soul of Man under Socialism” (1895), in which he makes a key inference from the same source as the Golden Rule:

The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is.

Well said, Oscar, as always.

So let me be clear: Credit card companies are not your friends.

In other commercial news, this just in… Did Bob Dylan really just sell out for Chrysler? Bob, I thought you were only ever going to sell out for lingerie!

1. The Silver Rule comes from Confucius, who sez, “Don’t impose upon anybody what you wouldn’t impose upon yourself.” The negative of Jesus’ Golden Rule, perhaps the credit card companies could, you know, actually follow that advice instead of paying no heed to it.

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