Occasionally Saturday Night Live or other comedy shows (remember MILF Island from 30 Rock?) will spoof a reality or game show that spotlights an underlying truth about our society, and leaves you doing some deep thinking in between the laughs.
At first glance, a new game show on TruTV is one of these parodies. But this time it's all too real. Paid Off is a trivia game show where contestants compete to get their student loans paid off in full. You know your least favorite time of the month, when you have to write a check to Sallie Mae? It's a game now!
Over 45 million Americans are in debt from their education, and now that bleak reality is being gamified for all the world (or TruTV viewers) to see. The channel has already received substantial backlash from people accusing them of making light of the very real debt crisis paralyzing young Americans. In an article for Paste Magazine, Seth Simons writes of the show: "It treats student loan debt more as the theme of a party than a public crisis that exists for identifiable reasons, can be solved with identifiable actions, and is actively keeping millions of people from living lives of dignity and security—people like its own contestants, whom it asks to stake their futures on questions like, 'What late night talk show host’s fan base is known as Team Coco?'"
Michael Torpey, the host of the show and an actor on Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, acknowledges the disconnect. “We're playing in a weird space of dark comedy,” he told NBC News. “As a comedian, I think a common approach to a serious topic is to try to laugh at it first." The network also maintains that the show hopes to highlight the “ridiculous crisis" of student loan debt.
The show definitely highlights the ridiculousness of our debt crisis, but it's standing on the wrong side of the joke. What it does highlight is that the ability to pay off student is often just a case of good luck rather than the oft-purported "hard work."