Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kiwi Mary Pebble

From the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island comes a pebble bearing the likeness of the Virgin Mary. According to this report from Stuff.co.nz , Lisa-Marie Corlet found this stone on Kaikoura's South Beach last year.

Since then, Corlet has had “an awesome run of luck,” which I guess has ended, because now she is trying to sell the stone on TradeMe.co.nz, for 50,000 New Zealand Dollars (approximately $37,775).

Sound steep? It is, no matter what kind of money you spend, and doubtless this accounts for why the item has yet to receive any bids. Corlet stands by her asking price, however, saying that she won’t part with it for any less, making the inevitable allusion to Diana Duyser’s famous $28,000 eBay windfall for her Virgin Mary grilled cheese.

What most people don’t seem to realize when they try to sell a random object emblazoned with an iconographic shape, justifying the asking price by citing Duyser’s sale, is the fact that all of the largest sums of money paid out for these items were from the coffers of Goldenpalace.com, an online casino. At the time, they were spending large amounts of money on these publicity stunts so they could, presumably, make HUGE amounts of money through their website. When President Bush signed the Safe Port Act in October 2006, however, online gambling was effectively shut down in the United States; tacked onto this act was an amendment that prohibited transactions between banks and online gaming websites. Guess what? Goldenpalace.com hasn’t spent a dime in the US since then (much to the dismay of Duyser).

Will anyone now spend tens of thousands of dollars for a Jesus tree, Buddha frying pan or Mary mattress stain? It’s not impossible, but I don’t think it will happen like it used to, unless the law changes. People like Lisa-Marie Corlet should learn this and reassess their financial expectations. I do believe many people would be interested in having an object like Corlet’s, for a reasonable price, commensurate to what you would pay for any bauble.

There may not be big bucks to be made on these cultural signposts, but the media gaze will forever draw the public’s attention to them, and there is value in that. For the true believers, these events bolster faith. In neighborhoods, all of the attention seems to inspire community sensibilities. Naysayers and agnostics, fear not, as these stories provide you with ample ammunition to let fly your diatribes and acerbic one-liners.

And as for me, Madonna of the Toast will soldier on, encouraging one and all to consider these events as they exist on the surface and between the lines, because the fact that so many of us know about them makes them important, no matter what you see.

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