For a second, I thought I was reading a tweet from the Onion. After a double take and shaking my head in disbelief, I realized what I was actually reading was a promotion for Paid Off, a new game show on TruTV. Hosted by Michael Torpey, it’s a show that lets contestants compete with one another to see who can get their student loans paid off. It’s being marketed as a show that “gives three lucky college grads–saddled with student debt–the chance to test the depth of their degrees in a fun, fast paced trivia game show.”
The more we advance as a species, the more we devolve into the abyss of indecency. We are lurching back to the days of feudalism where the aristocracy used surfs as their property and personal entertainment. At the height of the British empire, a town called Honiton used to hold a festival where the gentry would stand on balconies and throw scolding hot pennies to the peasants below. Oh how high society reveled and took delight in watching the less fortunate catch 3rd degree burns and beat each other to a pulp all to scrounge up the loose change the nobility tossed about.
I suppose it’s always been this way; too much money has a way of inverting souls and making hearts callous to the plight of the less fortunate. The high and mighty have a propensity to get drunk on power and overdosing on arrogance. Ah, but pride goeth before the fall; those who soar with hubris have a way of crashing down to earth when the people they toy with rise up and say enough. Once again, the debased are tempting fate as they let arrogance blind them to the plight of the teeming masses they ignore.
Young adults have the deck stacked against them as it is. For the first time in the history of our nation, this generation entering the workforce will be worse off than their parents. Incomes across the board—except for the top 1%—have either flat-lined or regressed. Going to college, which once guaranteed a well paying job and a modicum of financial security, now mostly guarantees onerous debts that will take a lifetime to pay off. It is on this last point that Paid Off maliciously lampoons and transforms the bleakness of low wage jobs, sky-rocketing rent and mountains of debt that is normal for too many college students and graduates into a game show. Click To Tweet
To wit, banking crooks and Wall Street fund mafias blew apart our economy in 2008; for their criminality they were rewarded with trillions in bailouts and golden parachutes were handed out like lollipops for departing CEOs. Elected to be the change president, Obama swept into power on the hopes of millions only to disappoint his believers, give trillions to the banking cabal and spend 8 years raining helicopter money on Wall Street through QE, ZIRP and economic policies that put plutocrats over people. Trump came in promising to make America great again only to continue his predecessor’s equity friendly policies that punishes consumers in order to reward the 1%.
Meanwhile, graduates who are weighed down by hundreds of thousands of dollars in college debt are told to go kick rocks. In America, it is not success that pays but station and class. Banking CEOs can literally gamble with the life savings of tens of millions of Americans and when they lose, they get rescued with our hard earned tax dollars but those who play by the rules and take the hard road to success are served long term sentences of student loan consolidations, forbearance and threats of IRS wage garnishments. America has become a tale of two countries where a few are treated like sultans while the rest are used as stage props.
On second thought, Paid Off is not such a shocking concept. This is what happens when the lives of the gentry is so disconnected from the struggles of the public—empathy is inverted as compassion is replaced with indifference. We live in the age zero accountability where the fabulously rich can do as they please and get away without paying a price for their excesses. It’s the rest of society, the vast majority of humanity, who are left to bear the burdens of the magnates’ immoral behaviors. We arrive at this juncture where hardships are used as plot lines as men and women prance and preen to have a chance to pay off their student loans only to go home with a couple of thousand dollars for their troubles.
The sad part is that this show will most likely be a hit. The same way people used to flock to watch the poor wallop each other on Maury Povich or Jerry Spring, this too will most likely garner loyal following. Perhaps it’s a way of denying our own struggles, seeing others who have it worse than us and rubber necking as their strife is satirized has a way of cauterizing our own wounds. Empathy entails acknowledging our brokenness, it is far easier to taunt others than to admit that we hurt too. The powerful know this, that is why we are constantly splintered and ghettoized through ideologies and identities—as long as we are fractured apart, we will suffer apart as well.
As we are getting swallowed up by financial anxieties and more and more are being entombed by poverty, the few who live like royalty keep finding insidious ways to monetize every facet of our lives. Education, health care, politics, prison, religion to death; at every turn we are met with expenses that ensure we will never enjoy the fruits of our labor. If they can make fortunes off our backs, they figure they might as well profit from our strife. Perhaps our grandparents were right, the TV is an idiot tube after all. They now have us laughing at ourselves as we get sedated to the malevolence of society’s upper crust.
The movie Hunger Games was not so much a fiction as it was a satire of who and what we have become. Instead of being rounded up and made to hunt one another, we are caged in by debt and being conditioned to bash one another with our words. The ruling class arm their quarry with politics, grievances and antipathy as they antagonize us to bludgeon fellow victims. They sit back and watch from the comforts of their chalets and mansions while our malice towards others is paid back with antipathy and hatred back at us. Make no mistake about it, Paid Off is another way for the neo-aristocracy to ridicule us. Instead of casting hot pennies, they are roasting us for ratings. #VulgarGames
“The rich rob the poor, and the poor rob one another.” ~ Sojourner Truth
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.