by josh orter
(a link for the metric version will be up soon)
It's with immediate nostalgia and a sense of betrayal that I learned of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s decision to kill its metal button. "Iconic" may be a word thrown around to describe more things than it should, but anyone who's visited the museum will agree that the Met's button is to admission tags as Coca-Cola is to cans.
The main reason offered by the museum’s senior vice president for public affairs, and one wonders if he could say this with a straight face, is the rising price of metal. "It just became too expensive."
Damn. I really wanted the next calculation to be full of puppies, sugar, and sunshine positivity. But then I stumbled across this "expensive" claim and a skeptical wave washed me dangerously close to ranting waters. Maybe it’s better then to just present the numbers and leave it to others to draw their own conclusions.
Given this talk of rising metal prices and all, the first thing you'll undoubtedly want to know is the cost of the item in question. Brace yourself...
The Met bought 6.4 million buttons last year for a total of $192,000, however, the paper stickers that’ll charmlessly replace them come at a cost as well: about a penny. Subtract that $64,000 expense from the previous one and we’re left with a net savings of $128,000/year.
Yes, yes, it’s certainly wise and responsible for any organization to keep costs down where they can, but this ain’t a fruit stand selling bananas at a razor-thin margin. We’re talking about one of the world’s largest and most lavishly-funded museums, one with an operating budget of a quarter billion dollars a year. So let’s put that three-cent piece of tin into perspective.
$128,000 out of $250,000,000 is an almost undetectable 0.051%. They are killing the beloved for 5/100ths of a percent. Say it out loud: five hundredths of a percent.
If that was a percentage of the Met’s suggested admission fee of $25, it would amount to little more than a penny.
If a thousand dollar bills were fanned out across your king-size bed, it wouldn’t even make it to paper currency; you'd have to reach for a couple of quarters. If it was represented by a portion of the 86,400 seconds that make up each day, it'd be a 45-second blip.
To those who prefer to think along the lines of food, we turn to spaghetti.
It was disconcerting to find no authoritative source on the seemingly important matter of how many strands are in a standard 1 lb (454 g) box. I had to resort instead to dining table methodology, laying out and measuring the width of fifty strands at 3.5", then measuring the width of the entire package contents at 38". 38/3.5=10.875 units of 50 each for a total of 543.
But Googling turned up many statement-of-fact-like claims of 1 gm/strand, leading me to seriously second guess the count (since it should then be 454 grams). And so, wanting to remove any doubt about my commitment to such matters, I spread 'em all out and proceeded to count by hand. 539! Such sweet validation.
So forget about a single package. We'd need to buy 3.7 pounds of spaghetti in order to get the single strand in 2000 that represents what the button cost is to the Met.
Now let’s return to Coca-Cola cans for the sake of metallic/iconic comparison. Although one's made of tin and the other aluminum, both are cheap enough that the expense is contextually negligible. At any rate, this is about giving a sense of size.
A standard 12 FL oz can stands 4.5" high with a diameter of 2.5". Ripping it apart and including the top and bottom gives a surface area of approximately 44 square inches. The front of the Met button is a 1" diameter circle with an area of 0.7857 sq inches. The segment that folds behind to clip appears to be about a fifth the size of the circle for .157 sq inches. Total size: .942 sq inches.
44 divided by .942 is 46.7. So if a can of Coke was made of tin, one could stamp out enough buttons to admit and memento-ize 46 museum-goers, each of whom has been asked to pay a suggested admission of $25. That's a total of $1150, but then who's counting?