This is a season of throwbacks: Economists claim the U.S. is experiencing the biggest downturn since the 1930s and now there’s art to match that comparison. A new Web site launched by the Independent Community Bankers of America hearkens to pre-war caricatures of greedy big bankers in its quest to promote the virtues of community banks.
Mycommunitymybank.org urges consumers to get behind their local banks. It offers video testimonials of satisfied community bank customers along with a map of community banks in the U.S. And it uses the images and language of old-fashioned populist histrionics to make its case against large institutions.
“Too Big To Fail Hurts Us All,” says one headline on a page devoted to describing the evils of big banks. “When giant corporations are propped up by taxpayer dollars, this preferential treatment hurts us all through lack of competition, fewer services, higher prices and slower economic growth.” Accompanying the text is a painted illustration—something Norman Rockwell might have conceived—of a fleshy, frowning banker pouring money through his fingers, a top hat shading his brow. He looks aloof and menacing; he’s clearly ignoring the little people.
The Web site’s tone represents a kind of cultural recession, a risk-aversion that prevents the propagators of public discourse from trying to find a new way to depict the events that befell America this past year. The ICBA’s old-fashioned framing of the issue isn’t unique. It reflects the general trend backward toward the familiar, even if that familiarity is mixed with fear. It’s a powerful combination, and one that didn’t take much creativity to revive. Images like these have already proved their potency once; they’re a safe bet