Pride and Scorn

The main office of Riggs National Bank is located just one short block from the White House and right across the street from the Department of Treasury. Riggs prides itself on being Washington, D.C.'s largest bank and one of the biggest worldwide. A mid-1980s advertising campaign of theirs boasted as much and more. The ads ran in the airport, on the subway and buses, in newspapers, and on the radio and television. They were hard to miss.

The first time I saw one I was riding the subway back to the office from downtown. I usually don't notice the ads on the subway, but this one was so different, so astonishing, that it fully captivated me. I was not surprised to see Riggs National Bank making an appeal to the many lawyers, lobbyists, political aides, and bureaucrats riding the subway. What struck me most was the way the appeal was made. Alongside a drawing of the bank was the following jingle:

The most important bank in the most important city in the world thinks you're important too.

I was startled. The ad disturbed and disquieted me. At first I was rankled by the genteel arrogance and pretentious pride of the rich and the powerful, flaunting their might before an entire city: the most important bank in the most important city in the world.

But I felt something more, something stirring discontent deep within me, playing upon insecurity and desire. It tried to lure me into its game, to play by its rules; it tried to seduce me into believing that I am valued for the dollar I make and the power I possess: You're important too.

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