by Mark Simpson (Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2008)
Do you wish your wealth were so massive, your purchasing power so dense that no light could escape from your credit card? Do you wish that, instead of just impressively wealthy, you were that singular commodity, a celebrity? That your wealth bought you the riches of creation and other’s admiration without having to be, actually, tiresomely spent? That airlines, hotels and spas simply recognised your implicit worth and the priority of your desires and promptly upgraded you, while bunging you glittering free designer gifts?
That you never ever heard the word ‘no’?
Yes, I thought so. Well, all your impossible princess wishes can come true with the American Express Centurion Card, the famously ‘black’ credit card of celebs that is also itself a celeb among credit cards. Forget Platinum and Gold Cards, debased by the cheap credit years: the Black Card is the card of moneyed money – and its sturdy titanium design means it will survive the pressures of the Credit Crunch. Even if you don’t.
For an annual fee of £650 ($2,500 US + one time joining fee of $5,000) you will receive numerous ‘privileges’ which you and I know should be yours by rights. Including: a ‘dedicated concierge’ and travel agent, personal shoppers at stores like Gucci and Escada (you’ll need them to carry all those bags), first class flight upgrades, and free luxury travel insurance which, oh joy, includes a twenty-eight wastrel days of winter sports – always annoyingly excluded from proley credit card travel insurance.
And that’s in addition to a welcome aboard gift of a Canon PowerShot SD850 digital camera, or a $2000 Judith Ripka gift card, complete with a grovelling note from the CEO of Amex telling you how lucky he is to serve you, and would you like your shoes tongue-cleaned or just buffed with my silk tie, Sir?
Best of all, you’ll be the possessor of a card that most people have only seen fetishised on TV in shows such as ‘Entourage’ or ‘Newlyweds, Nick and Jessica’ or heard praised in RnB songs, such as Nelly Furtado’s ‘Promiscuous Girl’: ‘I smoke purple, my car white/credit card black, girl I’m alright‘. Black cards are the new black, and they’re anything but square. Nouveau is the new cool. Again. Likewise, Obama is clearly the black card of American Democratic politics – able to outspend Gold Hillary several times over.
There is but one small, teensy-weeny grey cloud on the horizon of your blackspiration. In the UK, the Centurion Card is by invitation only. If your fame or wealth (probably at least half a million in liquid assets) hasn’t put you on Amex’s radar, you can’t have one. If it has, you probably already do.
If not, be patient, Madam, please. That list, like the ones they used to use for Platinum and Gold, is lengthening, along with the competition. Since Amex Black Card’s introduction in 1999 several other prestige credit cards with similar benefits, similar privileges, similar appearances – and similar names – have materialised, including Nat West’s ‘Black Card’ launched in 2002, and ‘Carbon’ from Halifax. Even Barclaycard’s ‘Infinite’ seems to suggest ‘black’ space/singularity. They tend to have less world-shattering financial requirements than Amex’s Deathstar Card.
The most serious rival to Amex is probably MasterCard’s Signia, which includes an engraving of the owner’s signature on the front – like the signature of the Manager of the Bank of England on our banknotes, though more impressive. Perhaps this is why in the UK Coutts & Co., the bankers for that Elizabeth woman whose image appears on our notes, are the Signia agents with their ‘World Card’ (note the Global dominion).
Which brings us to the blue heart of the black matter: being treated as international royalty – in an age in which money has done away with rank. All the black cards make much of their 24hr ‘concierge’, ‘secretary’ and ‘personal assistant’ services. Amex claims it has arranged for ‘a brass band to play outside a London flat on Valentine’s Day’, for European Cup football tickets to be picked up outside the stadium in Spain by their forgetful English owner, and ‘arranged access to the Oscar’s after-party’. In other words, get one of these cards and you will be indulged by a retinue of flunkeys.
The black card and its dark alchemy give your wants and whims the power to create and destroy worlds. As one cultural commentator recently put it:
‘If I long for a particular dish or want to take a taxi because I am not strong enough to go by foot, Black Card fetches me the dish and the taxi: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or desired existence into their sensuous, actual existence – from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, the Black Card is the truly creative power.’
Actually, that was Karl Marx writing 144 years ago about money. Black cards embody all the creative/managerial power of money, squared. And with none of the physical vulgarity of cash. Even better, you’re saved the perspiring vulgarity of desire itself. Possessing a black card means that your whims will be attended to before you’ve even had time to whim. Your spending power and trend-forming coolness means that corporate culture will work out what it is you want and deliver it to you before you even knew you wanted it.
The black card is the Party Card of Celeb Consumerism. It proves your membership of the Global Elite who now rule the world.
Or at least act like they do.
I’ve always thought it silly how people scoff at the notion of presenting one’s status to others; especially when we all do it! We all HAVE to do it; better yet; we all WANT to do it. It starts by wanting a house at least as good as your neighbors. The black card is just an extension of that; so don’t fight it – give in to the hedonism lol!
It’s not about your income, it’s about your spending. You’ve got to spend $250K a year for a black card. In the last 12 months I charged about $85K on my credit cards. Therefore, even if I consolidated everything onto my Amex card I couldn’t be eligible for a black card.
I think I did the platinum card because people in my company were using it. I let myself get sucked into the whole image thing, which is dumber than dirt. I’ve generally been a stealth wealth sort of guy, and this was one of my few departures.
How about: oh my god is that a black card? I replied: why yes, but I prefer the term African-American Express.
(I think I heard it in a Kanye West song…)
I forgive you. Especially if you have the kind income that makes you eligible for a Black Card.
Seriously though, thanks for your informative feedback – even if it deflates somewhat the illusion of prestige credit cards. As for the annual minimum spend on the Centurion Card, I think that was waived in the UK.
A couple of years ago I got a Platinum Card. They charge an annual fee of $400, and you get free companion airfare on international business-class and first-class tickets. The catch is that you pay the published rate for the first ticket, which is considerably more than twice the discounted fare commonly available.
It was a weak moment. I fell prey to the desire to flash my status. How stupid is this? Here I am, paying $400 for a different color credit card. Oh, they’ll make restaurant reservations for you, and claim that they’ll get you a table that otherwise wouldn’t be available. It’s never worked for me.
So, do I go for a black card? I think not. For one thing, I beieve you missed one of the conditions, which is that you have to spend a certain minimum per year, which I believe is $250,000. I don’t meet that target.
But, more importantly, I think I’m over the whole concept of a “prestige” credit card. In fact, it’s a bit embarrassing that I ever succumbed to such a ridiculous idea to begin with. The high living that it implies, well, some of those goods are services are pretty nice. Oddly enough, I’ve had a much healthier attitude about that: I buy the stuff for its value to me, which genuinely does not include the “prestige” of it.
My credit card was the only manifestation of my status consciousness. It was my original sin in that realm, so to speak. Come next year when it expires, I will downgrade to a regular card, and cringe at the memory.