Picture the scene: A stage and three podiums at which three contestants line up to face a studio audience. A charismatic host materializes from backstage and asks the guests to share the typical autobiographical facts: first name, college, outstanding student loan burden. The crowd greets each precise figure (“$8,480 in debt … $12,583 in debt … $28,587 in debt”) with an ohhh pitched halfway between sadness and shock. Then, the three contenders face off over several rounds of trivia, until one of them wins the right to pay down the balance.
Ladies and gentlemen: It’s debt relief, the game show.
This is not a joke. Nor is it a Black Mirror episode. It’s Paid Off, a new program on the channel TruTV. And at a time when politics and television have become hopelessly entangled, here television that feels like a highly concentrated, mildly nauseating encapsulation of the zeitgeist.
“It’s a show that shouldn’t exist,” the host, Michael Torpey, told me on the phone. “When people see this as the best avenue for paying off their debt, it’s crazy.”
The show’s conceit comes from Torpey, an actor who has appeared in several films and the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” After graduating from Colgate College debt-free, Torpey met his wife, who owed more than $40,000 in student loans for degrees at Barnard College and New York University. He booked an ad for Hanes, then used the cash to wipe out her loan balance. “The reason I was able to pay off my wife’s debt was because of an underpants commercial,” he said. “The whole thing just felt ridiculous.”
Mounting a gameshow with winners and losers to highlight the inequities of education economics is “a weird space,” Torpey said. And he milks the weirdness for all its worth. In the season’s second episode, the runner-up says goodbye to the audience by putting a green oven mitt on his right hand and following instructions to flick off Congress. The young man obliges and holds up the mitt. “You know what he’s doing under there!” Topey says, as the audience laughs and applauds. “You know what he’s doing!”
In the last decade, total student loans have more than doubled from about $600 billion to nearly $1.4 trillion. It is a uniquely American problem. In several European countries—including Germany, Finland, and Norway—public institutions offer free tuition. In Canada and Japan, the annual cost of a year’s education …
Source:: The Atlantic – Culture