State of the American Economy: RepoGames, by Spike TV
Like many middle-aged men working on financial analysis I woke up in the middle of the night last night with heartburn. While waiting for a Tums or three to work their magic I turned on the TV and discovered a television reality show that could be as defining to our times as “Linda Green” was to foreclosure fraud, RepoGames by Spike TV.
Summarizing, a repo-man shows up with his tow-truck driver to repossess cars. Debtors are called out and asked if they’d rather play a game; answer three out of five questions correctly and the show pays off the car loan. Answer incorrectly and the human gorilla, who goes by the name Tom DeTone, screams at the tow-truck driver to take the car away. For each correct or incorrect answer they raise or lower the car on the tow truck.
Even though I work with a lot of reporters, including those who work in television, I’ll admit that I don’t normally watch TV. But it’s impossible for RepoGames to not catch one’s attention.
RepoGames is easy: the tow-truck driver and a bunch of people with video cameras show up to repossess a car. The thug in charge makes it clear this is a “legal” repossession. Ignoring that he’s ignoring a sizable portion of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, he explains to debtors he will take their car or they can try to answer three of five questions; answer three correctly and the show will pay off the car.
It’s not clear if “pay off” means pay the alleged arrears or the entire loan but at this point nobody, including your humble author, really cares; debtors always go for the game show.
Questions are mind-numbingly easy, to the point I wish I had a car loan so that I could try to qualify to default and have this show pay it off. Remember the show “Let’s make a deal?” where the top prize, which almost nobody won, was a car? Well, at 2-3AM, on this show, lots of people win cars. But more than a few lose them too — the family jalopy — with lots of cameras filming.
After each wrong answer the primary thug screams to the tow-truck driver “raise it up,” and he obliges by raising the to-be repossessed car. One has to wonder why they don’t know the answers to these questions, if if that might be the reason the repo-man is there.
I didn’t watch for long but RepoGames is one of those TV shows where a little bit is enough. One man, trying to save what looked like an old beater, pulled out a stack of $100 dollar bills and offered to repay whatever he owed. ”Here’s $5,000; leave me be.” Wearing sunglasses, at night, he answered “a little bit of this and a little bit of that .. whatever” when asked what he did for a living.
As the repo-man faced the camera and sais “that’s one shady character,” I’ll admit I agreed, especially since it looked like his stack of money was more than enough to buy a car just like the one being repossessed. In any event, the shady character, with the help of his girlfriend (understatement – she answered every question), “won” back his car. Who’d have thought being able to answer the question “What happens in ____, stays in _____” would win a free car?
The mother of seven children, who had to take them out of the van being repossessed, wasn’t so lucky. She missed two questions then went on streak by answering “Banks are closed on Dec. 25th in honor of who’s birthday?” correctly. But when she blew the fifth question off went her car, leaving her to question how she’s transport her children and me to wonder if we wouldn’t better off doing like the European’s and broadcasting soft porn, or nothing, in the middle of the night.
Any heartburn I had from whatever I’d eaten went away replaced by a different form, questioning how the world’s most prosperous country could have so quickly devolved into this type of dreck. Worse, even though I’m an outspoken consumer advocate focused on reforming predatory lending, I found it a little bit fun.
Like most in the collection industry, at least until they find their own job outsourced to India, “DeTome” is self-righteous about his work. He never stops to question whether the repossession might be the result of a double-digit interest rate, predatory lending, or stupidity by entering into auto finance loans with terms that used to be considered usurious until we all but eliminated usury laws (thanks, South Dakota).
DeTome follows the meme there’s nothing unusual about the economy and writes on Spike’s website:
God, we’re bad, as Americans. If you don’t make your payments, you have to expect that we’re going to come to your door and repossess your car. People need to live within their means. But we’re Americans, and we don’t do that. We want nicer things, and we live outside our means. People don’t really realize how badly they’re going to damage their credit rating for the next five to seven years. In high school, we need to learn about finance and not cooking or weightlifting. – Tom DeTone
Yep .. we’re bad. For treating one another like cattle and chattel, while sacrificing our humanity for cheap thrills.