“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 is television that feels like a highly concentrated, mildly nauseating encapsulation of the zeitgeist.”
Regurgitating back an economic information and communications culture’s own shady underbelly to itself, presented as both entertainment product and disassembled structural embarrassment of student debt (and what else can this be but embarrassment to a nation that now hard-codes the impossibility of economic success into the methods required to obtain it ?) is simultaneously message construction, simulation, compression and deconstruction, dissimulation and decompression.
Where a farce is presented as entertainment, its true purpose and reason may not merely be lighthearted exasperation that things have come to such an absurd fact of social or educational mis-organisation and the cultivation of an economically-useful production mechanism of debt. It may be that cultural systems produce as an inevitability those sub-functions and logical mechanisms by which their own systems self-propagate. This television show is self-consciously just such an entity. The systemic disassembly of student-debt occurs synchronously with the acquisition of educational knowledge and skill-sets. This is how organisational systems self-propagate by multiplex; through simultaneously constructive and deconstructive methods.