|By David Paulin|
Originally published at The American Thinker
Here's a brain teaser for you: what weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead? If you're still thinking, you've got something in common with more than a few of the contestants on a reality-television show called Repo Games. In case you've missed it, the Spike TV series follows veteran "repo men" Tom DeTone and Josh Lewis, who double as engaging game show hosts. Showing up to repossess a vehicle, they offer the debtor a way out as cameras roll: answer three out of five trivia questions correctly, and the vehicle loan will be paid off. Otherwise, the vehicle will be towed away.
"F--k you! You're not taking my car" is how more than a few contestants respond, before being coaxed into playing "Repo Games." Others initially threaten violence -- flailing arms, screaming profanities, and even producing kitchen knives and pots to ward off the repo man. One hot-tempered man with a pickup menacingly pointed an assault rifle at DeTone.
"I'm a crazy mother-----r. Somebody will get hurt!" he warned. Later, DeTone recalled seeing his life flash before his eyes.
Interestingly, some contestants who you'd assume would be winners are utter losers, as was reflected in a segment in which a fourth-grade teacher was asked: "What South American country has over 2,700 miles of coast but is only 150 miles wide?"
"Cuba?" she replied , tentatively. She flubbed the other two questions, too.
Repo Games isn't all about laughing at dumb and ill-mannered people, however. It also lets viewers root for contestants who seem nice and perhaps have had some bad luck (and there are of course lots of those types of folks in the miserable economy). Some of the more sympathetic contestants are single moms. You also can't help but feel sorry for the contestant who loses a Corvette or BMW parked in the driveway of his nice-looking home.
As for that silly question: what weighs more -- a pound of feathers or a pound of lead? Yes, it was asked of a "Repo Games" contestant. He said he didn't know.
Ultimately, it's the numerous stupid and vulgar contestants who are the most memorable -- and in the segments featuring them, Repo Games inadvertently veers from goofy entertainment into trenchant social commentary. Indeed, in the low-income neighborhoods seen in many Repo Games segments, the residents are what socialist writer Michael Harrington sympathetically called inhabitants of the "other America" -- poor America. This is where food stamps and welfare have hit record levels over the past four years, reflecting stubbornly high unemployment rates and the Obama administration's efforts (including through radio ads) to get as many people on the dole as possible. Yet, as Repo Games reveals, these folks are definitely not poor in the conventional meaning of the word. Their neighborhoods in fact seem rather nice -- suggesting they don't, as liberals would suggest, suffer from a deficit of social justice.
And besides living in decent houses and apartments, they own late-model cars -- albeit on which they're not making regular payments.
The poverty in which these folks exist needs to be viewed from a certain perspective -- something a Heritage Foundation report did not long ago when observing that "most of the persons whom the government defines as 'in poverty' are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term. The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care."
From another perspective, the real problem many of these folks have is not poverty, but a deficit of middle-class values and social skills.
Consider, for instance, the volatile reactions many contestants display after being told their car is being repossessed. Flailing arms, vulgarities, and threats of violence -- it's the same manic behavior found in high-crime areas where mundane disputes quickly escalate into physical violence. This is related to a lack of interpersonal skills and self-control -- an inability to negotiate a nonviolent solution after (in their minds) being "disrespected." This behavior is constantly on display on Repo Games.
Intriguingly, once the repo man calms down these contestants, they seem like perfectly nice people, albeit without the social skills and manners that exist among the middle class -- a term that in this sense describes certain cultural values and manners rather than a particular income bracket.
In Las Vegas, the Repo Games crew may have thought they were in a decent neighborhood, but it's where they had their most dangerous encounter: a middle-school special-education teacher started firing a handgun in their direction. He was reportedly upset that a Repo Games vehicle had parked on the street outside his house. Police charged him with attempted murder.
Bad behavior aside, there's that interesting sense of entitlement that more than a few contestants reveal with their initial remarks: "F--k you, you're not taking my car!"
Presumably, most of the contestants on Repo Games are Democrats and ardent Obama supporters, though one shouldn't presume they bother to vote -- and why should they? Entitlements are now written in stone, and they're unlikely to change much with a Democrat or Republican in the White House.
It's hardly a coincidence that Repo Games, now going strong in its second season, also comes amid a terrible economy in which the mortgage crisis has festered -- as the Obama administration has bent over backwards to enable people to remain in houses they never should have purchased.
All in all, the Obama years have been profitable for the car repossession business -- and for Repo Games.