The most iconic scene of American Psycho features the lead character Patrick Bateman investigating the business card of rival investment banker Paul Allen and boiling in barely contained envy and rage. “Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it.” In Bateman’s world of tailored suits, brand-name eyeglasses, and meticulously trimmed haircuts, the infinitesimally small differences in design between his business card and Allen’s are crushingly decisive. He is of a lower status because his peers all marvel at the refinement of the other man’s card.
Apple’s newly announced Apple Card credit card seems to have taken inspiration from that scene.
We all have a little of whatever bedeviled Patrick Bateman in us. It’s that superficial gremlin that drives us to make choices about functional items in our lives on the basis of their form and aesthetics. Because owning pretty things makes us look good. Because owning exclusionary things makes us look wealthy, which many people substitute for a measure of success in life.
Apple’s new Apple Card is going to cash in on that base human craving for devices that signal status. Because it’s made out of titanium and stripped of all functional numbers, it immediately looks different. People around you at the supermarket or restaurant don’t need to know the particular credit rating requirements you had to pass to get an Apple Card, they just see the debossed Apple logo and the minimalist design and immediately recognize that you’re a person with disposable income. At the very least, you have enough to buy the iPhone that an Apple Card would be managed with. You are a card-carrying member of the Apple consumer club.
Or, maybe, you only give off the appearance of wealth. This being a credit card, the Apple Card is also a symbol for the United States’ addiction to debt, both at the national and personal level. Acquiring and using one may sink you deeper into debt, and any bank that issues a credit card relies on its users’ financial tardiness or illiteracy to generate exploitative interest on unpaid balances. There’s something fundamentally un-Apple-like about trying to profit from people’s weaknesses.
Yes, Apple has always been in the status symbol business, but the function of the status symbols it usually sells to people is to help with self-improvement, as the “Better You” Apple Watch ad suggests. The same company that urges us to monitor our phone screen time, make healthier choices, and live better lives is now getting into the icky business of debt, incentivizing spending by giving users cashback on their purchases.
I like to think I’m financially responsible, but looking at that gorgeous, off-white card, I just want it. And the trouble with credit cards starts right about the time you get your first one. It’s the height of irony that Apple, on a quest to digitize the credit card and reduce it to a piece of software running on an iPhone, has created the most desirable and striking credit card I’ve yet come across.
It’s the Paul Allen card of the banking world, and the only thing that could improve it is if it was a debit card, so it wouldn’t encourage me to spend money I don’t have.