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Late-Stage Capitalism: There's A Game Show That Pays Off Your Student Debt

By Emily Cutler | Late Night TV | June 19, 2019 |

By Emily Cutler | Late Night TV | June 19, 2019 |


You know how most of 2019 headlines often feel like Mad Libs written by a madman? It’s not just headlines. As it turns out, TV shows want in on the stupid-crazy action that our current time affords. Specifically, the truTV game show Paid Off where contestants try to win money to pay off their student debt. No, for real.


And it’s a real thing where real people sometimes get their real student debt wiped out.

Although sometimes it’s only fifty percent of their debt.

Also, there’s something so wrong with me that my reaction to finding out someone has only $20,000 in student debt was, “Oh, you sweet summer child.”

I was actually slightly aware of the show because I’d seen commercials for it while watching I’m Sorry (everyone is watching I’m Sorry, right? It’s amazing). My first reaction was, “Well, that’s gross.” And it is. Sort of. But host Michael Torpey stopped by Late Night with Seth Meyers to explain why it isn’t gross for the reasons we think.

OK, so they’re both aware of and highlighting how gross it is that people saddled with student loan debt are in such a precarious financial situation that their best course of action is to go on a game show to find relief. Which makes it better than the onslaught of “feel good” stories where we hear about people sacrificing their time or money or paid time off in order to help someone close to them through a difficult period. The show isn’t pretending they’re a good thing; they’re intentionally highlighting that the very necessity of them is a bad, bad sign. Much like every GoFundMe page set up to help someone pay for medical treatment is an indictment of our criminally ineffective current system. (Speaking of, have you seen the “I can’t believe this nonsense happens in a supposedly advanced society, this is why we burn it all down” GoFundMe page for Overlord Sarah Carlson’s mom? Yes, it is heartbreaking, but don’t forget how horrific it is that someone could be so easily failed by our current safety net. (Also, please, please donate if you can. If you do, send me an email, and I’ll write you a personalized, profanity-laden thank you note. If you can’t donate, please support a candidate who’s for single-payer.)) The point is, does knowing how bad this show’s existence is make the show less bad?

I’m not convinced yet. Specifically, (as Petr’s next t-shirt will tell you) I don’t trust capitalism to solve this problem. Capitalism has an awesomely terrible way of co-opting movements in order to appear on the side of change-makers while still upholding the status-quo. Michael Torpey might genuinely believe that the emerging student debt crisis is a serious problem worthy of addressing, but truTV is still making money off of that belief. I’m not saying anyone on the show is a bad guy. I’m saying this form of redress doesn’t actually push for the change needed to solve the student debt problem, and by working within the current framework (individuals work hard and are rewarded), it actually supports the same capitalist system that created the problem in the first place. Like how any Green movement that focuses on individuals rather than the global system is garbage and should be treated as such. Basically, buying a Pride hat at Target isn’t actually going to solve gay rights issues, and in the meantime, Target is getting rich off of exploiting workers. If we can’t consume our way out of our problems, why would anyone trust capitalism to help solve them?

Also, because I saw that one episode of The Good Wife, I’m not actually encouraging every single person in the country with student loan debt to stop paying it next month, and just letting the whole system collapse in on itself, but I am saying, that’d be a rad f*cking idea.

Header Image Source: truTV