The Commodification of Moments


Reflections on the appropriation of intimacy, affectivity, of moments as commodity, from a friend of Autonomies, danny champion …

In the fall of 1997, the commodification of moments was made explicit through a facsimile of picturesque procession of a boy and his father at an alter of Americana: namely a baseball game.  Releasing all the forces of nostalgia of an eternal yesterday (filled with hot dogs, popcorn, and soda pop) MasterCard launched its priceless campaign.  Priceless, in this case, defined in patriarchal purity as  ‘real conversation’ between a generic white father and his eleven-year-old son.  The hook is simple yet eloquent, with a whimsical soundtrack to match:

“Two tickets: $46.  Two hotdogs, two popcorns, two sodas: $27.  One autographed baseball: $50.  Real conversation with eleven-year-old son: Priceless.  There are some things money can’t buy.  For everything else there’s MasterCard.  Accepted at ballparks coast to coast.”

The priceless ad-campaign has gone on to be a fixture in pop-culture for nearly twenty years; producing many reiterations of itself, inspiring parodies, and transversing the globe with replications in many different languages. Priceless has been called a billion dollar ad-campaign, and has been seen as the catalyst that closed the gap between MasterCard and the juggernaut VISA.  So, why has this technique been so effective/affective?

By employing and overlaying an aesthetic of the sentimental and the nostalgic, MasterCard eventually arrives at the aesthetic of the priceless moment.  The irony is that, upon deconstruction, the main argument of the commercial is the opposite of priceless.  The commercial follows a linear procession of cause and effect: a step-by-step manual for the consumption of a moment. First, you buy the tickets. Then you buy the snacks.  Lastly, you butter up the child with some memorabilia, and voila the stage is set for an authentic moment with your son.  Moments are for sale.  This is the commodification of moments.

The median hourly wage in the US in 1997 was $8.75.  In other words, it would take the average father fourteen labor hours, roughly two days of work, in order to have the total monetary capital of $123 that would pay for the procession of moments that lead to the priceless moment of ‘real conversation with eleven-year-old son’.  Who knew ‘real conversation’ with children was so expensive?  And what does this ‘real conversation’ entail?  Did they talk about how privileged they are to be at the game?  Did they talk about the absurd spectacle of baseball and sports in general?  And what of politics?  I’ll bet you that for $123 they stood for the National Anthem…


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