Credit Card Cover-Up
As the insightful cultural critic Rob Walker notes in today's New York Times, "[M]aybe there's something inevitable about converting the credit card from a tool for acquiring expressive objects into one of those objects."
Of course, this shift has been occurring for some time -- "affinity cards" advertise anything from the bearer's alma mater to her favorite sport, and the alchemy that transformed plastic from silver to gold to platinum in quick succession has culminated in the coveted, by-invitation-only American Express black card. Today's "Consumed" column, however, reports on a new twist: CreditCovers, essentially a line of stickers that allows consumers to personalize their credit cards.
Rob is duly skeptical of the creators' claim that these credit card "skins" are somehow "subversive" or rebellious -- just how radical is it to spend $4.99 on a design in order to adorn the means by which we borrow and spend money?
Perhaps an even greater irony is that the two current top-selling designs, "Louis the XIV" (above) and "Burs & Berries" (below), strongly resemble the LV Multicolore toile and the Burberry Nova Check, respectively. Better still, both designs are attributed to "The Truth," actually one of the company's founders. In other words, CreditCovers invites customers to display their individuality and escape the corporate uniformity of financial tools by purchasing presumably unauthorized versions of other corporate symbols. The resulting semiotic haze nearly obscures issues relating to trademark law -- not to mention the comedic complications that might ensue if one were to "personalize" a Main Street Bank card and then present it to a store clerk at Vuitton or Burberry.
Nevertheless, CreditCovers has managed to both capture and capitalize upon a founding principle of self-definition within modern consumer culture, perhaps best expressed by artist Barbara Kruger:
Until the trademark counterfeiting claims are filed, that is.