Posted by: Kenn Hermann | January 28, 2006

The Classics and Credit Card Ads

Yesterday I was browsing various web sites looking for suitable summaries and notes on the primary sources that my students are reading for their Western Humanities class. I stumbled on to the popular www.sparknotes.com. They cover a large number of sources and offer fairly good summaries and analyses to get students heading in the right direction. What jarred me were the animated ads for student loans from www.myrichuncle.com and CITI credit cards that were embedded in the summaries of the resources. Here I am scrolling down the page of a summary of The Iliad, Book 1 and the next thing I know ads for these two banking institutions pop up as insets in the summary. They are both very effective attention-grabbers; even I had to look at them. I have not done an exhaustive survey of other student-oriented sites, but I can be fairly certain that all of them have pretty much the same ads.

The dissonance I felt was overpowering: banks hawking ways to entangle students in debt while reading Homer and Plato? Now, that’s a course in western thought all by itself. The ads raise so many moral and ethical questions. Banking institutions have been aggressively targeting college students in recent years as a lucrative niche market. CITI appeals to the students’ desire to ‘build up’ their credit. And how will they ‘build up’ their credit? Why, of course, by encouraging them to ‘pile up’ high debt that will take years to pay off at 15%-25% interest rate. And, oh yes, did they mention that one out of three students will default on their debt? What about Spark Notes? Have they become a mere carrier of consumer ads? Is this the only way they can generate enough revenue to offer their resources online? Is this the bargain they make with the devil? What are college students really learning in the juxtaposition of these images? Will we next see ads in textbooks with the justification that this is the only way to keep the cost of textbooks down? I still remember how proud I felt as a college senior almost 40 years ago when Mobile –and Standard and Shell — thought so much of me that they sent me oil company credit cards unsolicited. As I recall, it took me several years to pay off Mobile’s thoughtfulness.

Christians, of all people, should be deeply concerned by this aggressive marketing strategy to the vulnerable and naive in the guise of advancing their education. The truth is that far more students will be lured away from the Faith by this ‘hidden curriculum’ of consumerism than by atheist professors in the classrooms.

These ads are just begging for an Ad Busters campaign.

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