Indebted to the Federal Government

when it comes to debt, the federal government remains a valued brand.

You wouldn’t think companies would want to be associated with the federal government in any way these days. But when it comes to debt, the state remains viable as a commodified brand. Images of the White House and Capitol predominate in advertisements for private, for-profit debt settlement companies. These ads are presented in mock newscast style, as if they were public service announcements. It’s as if the state, declared dead, cursed for its tax collecting and other infringements, now returns, zombie-like.

Only now it’s a puppet government. Corporate CEOs pull the strings. Dollar signs appear in the eye holes of the masks. Interest accumulates on stage. This phantasmagorical entity dances across the proscenium, casting a mere shadow of actual state power on the backdrop. Nonetheless, the lingering power of even the commodified image of the federal government reminds us that we may yet have witnessed the final curtain for state power.

The debt settlement companies in these advertisements imitate New Deal alphabet soup federal programs in their names. And they echo the Obamanian call for the continued role of government in their slogans. The NMHC—the National Mortgage Help Center—declares, “Let’s get through this together!” after showing an image of President Obama himself and mentioning the federal stimulus act of 2009. Notice, however, if you log on to the group’s website, an important disclaimer: “The ‘National Mortgage Help Center’ is not affiliated in any way with any government program. The National Mortgage Help Center is a for profit business that educates the general public and works with attorneys and brokers to reduce monthly mortgage payments through loan modifications.”

How American it is, then, to see the federal government at once so trivialized and yet so crucial. The public interest, corporate interests, and plain old interest collide in debt collection. But there remain bills to be settled yet.

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