Landscapes of Global Capital
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Our study of the landscapes of Capital continues with the most self-conscious effort to construct a symbolic landscape of finance capital in an ad campaign. The First Union Bank campaign aired in 1998, easily the most artistically ambitious campaign we have examined for this study. The campaign aimed to "brand" a former regional bank that had emerged from relative obscurity to national stature through stock merger and acquisition. Despite its sudden surge in size, First Union remained an unknown with the public. The campaign consisted of five elaborately executed ads, all of which opened with a scene of the rising sun's glare peeking around the curved horizon of planet earth. As the camera zooms in on the Earth, we see a bold dollar sign imprinted on the planet as if marking a continent. This device signals that we are entering the topographic world of Capital.

Two of the ads construct a messy, turbulent, visually distracting world of financial exchanges in the big city. These ads are at once surreal and visually fantastic, juxtaposed against a voiceover that describes the real political-economic transformations taking place. Still, in these ads the artistry of the visual scenes commands our attention more than the voiceover. This truly is a world of hypercommodification, the densely filled urban space saturated by imperatives to BUY and SELL.

First Union03-09 First Union03-09 First Union03-09

The First Union "Launch" commercial depicted a complicated and turbulent financial world with elaborate scenes that include surreal mechanical heads, false idols of golden bulls, a dirigible-sized floating piggy bank, an executive who seems to fall off a building but has something resembling a golden parachute, a giant coin that rolls through the densely packed financial district, and a carnival-like money market full of hucksters and freaks ready to sell their snake-oil to gullible patrons. This looks like what Susan Strange calls "Casino Capitalism," where betting replaces investing.

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey