Landscapes of Global Capital
tv globe icon link to home The dark side of capital eclipsed
"You enter the financial world in search of a secure future.
Instead you find chaos and confusion.
9,000 companies to invest in."
A barker in the backgrounds calls out "Market Mania!"
"10,000 mutual funds to choose from.
Bonds, t-bills, commodities, and precious metals.
With new and unfamiliar choices emerging everyday,
the possibilities are overwhelming.
Fortunately there is a beacon in this complex world
An expert partner who for half a century
has helped tens of thousand of individuals and families find comfort instead of confusion.
Come to the mountain called First Union
or if you prefer, the mountain will come to you."

First Union's "Market mania" ad depicts the financial world as not only dark and dissonant, it also moves much faster. Market mania becomes a metaphor for rapid fluctuation and change, and a coercive sense of urgency that sweeps one along. In this foreboding world of jacked-up markets, everything is built out of signs. Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs - buy, sell, currency swaps, hot stocks, advances, naked options, synthetic derivatives. The ad has a vague feel of dystopian science fiction about it - in part because it has borrowed cinema devices from films like Bladerunner, in part because of the futuristic feel of flying vehicles.

First Union03-99 First Union03-99 First Union03-99 First Union03-99

Market mania" is surely a reaction to the late 1990's market boom, deregulation and the rise of Internet based investing. These forces intensified the 'street' level chaos among the nickel and dime players where fraud and deception are rampant, while the 'big boys' race to outbid and outmaneuver one another. As we have subsequently experienced, this market mania generated a "value bubble" of major proportions.A vast wall of flickering monitors represents the way too many choices that daily bombarded consumers -- clutter, chaos, noise (both visual and aural). The wall of television screens represent total media saturation -- semiotic overload.

First Union03-99 First Union03-99 First Union03-99

But it also represents television hype - "Wall St. Go!" and "HIGH" "HIGH" "HIGH." This is a world without substance, a world where sales pitches have been fully abstracted and disconnected from what is being pitched. Welcome to the carnival of the simulacrum where rational discourse has been pushed aside. While the simulacrum may have initially been subject to the laws of the market, it is the market that is now driven by the structural forces of the simulacrum. Especially interesting here is the bricolage-like electronic midway monstrosity that apparently corresponds to synthetic commodity instruments that comprise junk markets. To be sure the fast-moving representations create confusion about what might be meant by this narrative.

Though flickering neon is usually associated with the more lurid aspects of commerce, the monster built out of electronic signs and lights could be interpreted as commodification run rampant, or it could represent that other devil that corrupts our world - the media. Whatever interpretation we choose, the resolution is itself electronic, as the wall of monitors shorts out, leaving the world suddenly still and dark. The darkness gives way to the soft light of First Union, standing above the fray - a beacon, calm and serene, a place where sensible, rational choices can be made away from the hype and noise. Whereas risk is correlated with the world of noise and confusion, where too many possibilities screaming for attention can disorient, First Union represents security, safety and profit.

New Economic Formations
Social Relations of Production
Information Economy

Dark side of capital < Previous

Next > Institutional decay and renewal

© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey