Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Stagecoach That Robbed Its Passengers - Column, 9.19.16

Mack Hall, HSG

The Stagecoach That Robbed Its Passengers

A common commercial reference in western movies is the stagecoach / banking / shipping group known as, well, let us call it Snork-Ponsonby. In a good old Saturday matinee’ shoot-‘em-up the outlaws rob the train for the Snork-Ponsonby gold shipment, the Snork-Ponsonby Express Office for the farmers’ and miners’ deposits in the Snork-Ponsonby safe, and, most thrillingly of all, the Snork-Ponsonby stagecoach for its Snork-Ponsonby strongbox – so strong that a single shot from a revolver blows it open.

“Hand down that strongbox, ya capitalist lackeys, or we’ll shoot ya down off that stagecoach like flea-bitten mangy varmints throwing up the acidic remnants of busthead whiskey and prairie dog stew in the streets of Lordsburg, New Mexico after a night of carousing at the Shortbranch Saloon and Garden of Earthly delights!”

Or words to that effect.

Despite tremendous growth and changes of ownership and associations since its founding over 150 years ago, Snork-Ponsonby retains a strong commercial and cultural identification. Credit-Suisse doesn’t feature a stagecoach in its advertising or on its letterhead. As for France, the Credit Agricole-Credit Agricole Group (yes, there are two credits, two agricoles, and one group in the name, for some reason) is so title-heavy that a sign painter would have trouble fitting all that lengthy title-ness onto a wagon-lit.

Snork-Ponsonby long ago sold off its stagecoaches in order to focus on banking, but still must deal with robbers. Curiously, if the news is to be believed (and there have been no arrests or indictments), Snort-Ponsonby now robs its depositors itself, thus saving the bother and expense of the old-fashioned third-party road bandit.

Like Doc Boone and Miss Dallas in John Ford’s Stagecoach, some 5,000 Snork-Ponsonby employees have been told to be on the next stage out of town. They are victims because somebody / somebodies in the banking system secretly added credit cards and false accounts to customer’ existing portfolios, thus padding the already hard-to-understand monthly statements with all sorts of clever little charges.

The wonderful Canadian actor Berton Churchill personified the stereotype of the stuffy but corrupt banker as Gatewood in Stagecoach. As with Chaucer’s “Marchant” (merchant / businessman), Gatewood is pompous and preachy and dressed very well, but no one knows that his bank is failing due to his greed and incompetence:

     His resons he spak ful solempnely,
     Sownynge always th’encrees of his wynnyng.
     Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle,
     This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette,
     There wiste no wight that he was in dette

The modern personification of a corrupt banker might be a woman, a Snork-Ponsonby executive who cost thousands of industrious low-level banklings their livelihoods while her fellow Gatewoods on some board paid her millions to go away and, oh, spend more time with her family.

As the sun sets over the dusty trail west of Deming, let us close with one of Banker Gatewood’s speeches from Stagecoach, spoken while, as IMDB notes, he clutches to his heart the valise full of money he has stolen from the poor farmers, ranchers, miners, and workers who trusted him:

I don't know what the government is coming to….(w)hy, they're even talking now about having bank examiners. As if we bankers don't know how to run our own banks! Why, at home I have a letter from a popinjay official saying they were going to inspect my books. I have a slogan that should be blazoned on every newspaper in this country: America for the Americans! The government must not interfere with business! Reduce taxes! Our national debt is something shocking. Over one billion dollars a year! What this country needs is a businessman for president!

Amos 8:47 says it all much better, only without a stagecoach chase.


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