Landscapes of Global Capital
tv globe icon link to home ...the most elusive commodity of all - an idea
No matter where you look, the financial world is brimming with capital-generating tools.
There are mutual funds. bonds, and stock options for individuals, IPO's, M&A adviser, and leverage, finance for companies, with new opportunities around every corner.
Yet in the entire financial world there is but a single desire, to possess the most elusive commodity of all [pause] - an Idea.
For nearly 50 years a surprising number have
been found in a place of experience and
imagination. For insight into your financial needs come to the Mountain called First Union Securities.
Yet another way for the Mountain to come to you.

This First Union ad says states that today's fundamental law of capitalist competition is that "there is but a single desire, to possess the most elusive commodity of all [pause] -- an Idea." This is the law of capitalism in the information age. Ideas have not only become commodities, the good Ideas, the really hot ones as they say in the biz, represent the most valuable commodities of all - because the Idea (intellectual property) is the only commodity that generates further commodity values. In a sense, First Union turns around the classic labor theory of value which stated that the source of all value lies in the exercise of labor. Following Smith and Ricardo, Marx observed that labor is the unique commodity that can generate further commodities, and hence further value. Perhaps, Hegel could feel smugly vindicated that even in the materialist world of Capital, that in this higher stage of historical development the Idea is vindicated as being the true source of value.

First Union06-99
Drones, the regimented, gloomy movement of capitalism's footsoldiers. They stand opposite the butterfly and what it stands for - the fluidity of flight, light and airy, and reaching new heights.

Of course, the role of Labor as toil and muscle in producing value has long since been more or less relegated to the margins of advertising narratives, and in this ad, Labor it would seem has disappeared altogether. If it has disappeared then what has taken its place as sources of value? Well, the IDEA, of course! Today's Capital seeks value in Ideas, Innovation and thinking outside the box. In this apocryphal story businessmen vainly chase after the elusive butterfly with wings money (aka "the most elusive commodity of them all - an Idea"), trying to capture it by any means possible, but failing. First Union reminds us that without possessing an Idea that sets above the others, we are destined to compete in the predictable ways often referred to as "the grind."

The poorly lit dark greens that color the ontology of this world, thus convey a sense of overdetermined fate that encodes this story. We read this as drawn (mimicked) from the cinematography of Brazil, a movie about an over-bureaucratized world in which everything about people's lives is overdetermined?

First Union06-99
First Union06-99

Like other First Union ads in this campaign there is a subordinate narrative that creeps in here and there. Perhaps it is less a narrative than the hint of one - a religious feel or tone. We have already spoken of the golden aura of light that surrounds First Union. We might also consider this ad in terms of Emile Durkheim's categories of the sacred and profane. We've selected two visual frames from the commercial to highlight the contrast. Durkheim, you will recall, saw this pair of oppositional categories as the defining feature of all religions. Historically, money has often been portrayed in the role of the profane, and it is here, but with a twist that we need to keep in sight. The top frame vividly captures the precarious, risky and failed quest to capture the most desired (coveted) commodity as businessmen chase from one coin to the next, off-balance and nearly comic in their futile attempts to possess the butterfly. In the bottom frame, a butterfly with monetized wings lights on the outstretched glowing hand of First Union Bank (Capital). In this scene one might sense a nearly-zenlike aura about First Union Bank. First Union acquires the most desired commodity of all because it doesn't try so hard, because it is calmly at one with the Nature of today's capitalist world. Perhaps this is because elite Capital works here far above the hubbub of the crowd, the clutching and clawing world of competition found below.

New Economic Formations
Social Relations of Production
Information Economy

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