AMERICA ~ part 1
Being this is my first post in the `America` series, I must say I’m somewhat without a clear format to follow. I must say, Baudrillard’s words speak for themselves… what little I may add is certainly secondary… so I suppose the best approach is to let Baudrillard speak first and then I’ll comment below.
At issue in this particular post is Baudrillard’s more general insight on America’s financial system… it’s capitalist system… its insistence on complete fluidity of capital, it’s dependence on credit, investment, and security. I particularly like his “parishioner/priest” analogy.
It is true that ownership of money burns your fingers, like power. We need people to take this risk for us and we should be eternally grateful to them. This is why I hesitate to deposit money in a bank. I am afraid I shall never dare to take it out again.
When you go to confession and entrust your sins to the safe-keeping of the priest, do you ever come back for them? And the yet the atmosphere in a bank is that of the confessional (there is no more kafkaesque situation): admit that you have money , confess that this is not normal. And it is true: having money is an awkward situation, from which the bank is only too happy to deliver you: ’Your money interests us‘ == the bank holds you to ransom, its greed knows no bounds. Its immodest gase reveals your private parts to you, and you are forced to hand your money over to appease it.
One day I tried to close my account, taking all the money out in cash. The teller would not let me go with such a sum on me: it was obscene, dangerous, immoral. Would I not at least take travelers’ cheques? ’No, the whole lot in case’. I was mad. In America, you are stark raving mad if, instead of believing in money an its marvelous fluidity, you want to carry it round on you in banknotes. Money is dirty; that you must admit.
Its interesting that he parallels ownership of money with a sin we must be absolved of — rather successfully using the priest and confessional example. What is more interesting is that this feeling is a universal one as near as I can tell. I wouldn’t dare think of carrying over $100 cash on me at a given time–never mind the fact that I’ve never had my wallet stolen nor have any fears that it might soon be lost. I have been conditioned to believe that the bank is the only reasonable place wherein my cash belongs – conditioned into believing that missing out on that 3% interest rate on a grand is the first mis-step in a life doomed to poverty. After all, if I don’t put that next check right into the bank… I might (gasp!) SPEND it! Save, Save, Save! and by no means, don’t trust yourself with that responsibility! The temptation will be too great to bear if you can feel those bills with your own two fingers; you MUST banish it from your presence… only by forgetting it exists can you be responsible with it. (but such is the way I was raised).
In some ways it is truly a backwards culture we live in; only by forgetting and removing something from our top-of-mind awareness can we effectively ‘use’ it.
How much more bizarre is it then, that Americans live off credit cards… charging this and that… and frequently incurring debt greater then their cash savings (and paying 20%+ in interest).
What is even more interesting to me — and not directly addressed by Baudrillard — is the systematic devaluation of cash as a means of exchange. As technology makes things more convenient, we are always turning to non-cash alternatives to procure goods and services (and pay them off for that matter). If I had my way, I wouldn’t pay with cash at all; the magical numbers residing on some bank server somewhere gratiously allowing me a modest balance seems more preferable to me –even in its abstractness — then a wadfull of cash ever would.
Is this some universal preference? or am I just the one crazy person!