Special Issue on Debt (August-September 2011)


Six Pictures of Our Insolvency (photo essay)

Daniel Marcus






Instituted by President Johnson as part of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the federally subsidized student loan program was renamed in honor of Senator Robert Stafford in 1988. Each recipient of a Stafford Loan is required to complete an exit interview upon graduating or departing early from a degree program. As of July 1st, 2012, the government will no longer offer subsidized loans for graduate education.







Picture of two ducks (mallards) found while searching for images related to Stafford loans. Below the photo was a short blog post written by Julio Trujillo exhorting would-be students to take out as many loans as possible:

«A student loan is a great idea if you do it right. If one is good, more are even better. With the help of the student consolidation loan or the direct loan consolidation (if you have federal loans made) programs you will be the one that wins from the situation. Good luck!»

Julio Trujillo is almost certainly a made-up name; the website where I found his article, educationtranslation.org, directs viewers to for-profit online education websites—institutions commonly known as «diploma mills.»

Mallards range across temperate North America, Europe, Asia, parts of Africa and Australia, and are currently considered an invasive species in New Zealand.







Later, as I was watching Werner Herzog’s film Stroszek on YouTube, this ad for ITT Educational Services, the nation’s largest online diploma mill, appeared at the bottom of the video player:



The appearance of the ad was probably due to the fact that I’d been looking up ITT earlier that day: UC Regent Richard Blum owns a majority of ITT’s shares through his firm Blum Capital Partners—evidence
of a conflict of interest, according to journalist Peter Byrne. Still, it seems appropriate that YouTube’s algorithm brought up the ITT ad during Stroszek; the plot of the film centers around debt, repayment, and the souring of the American dream in the late 1970s.







Painting by Bartolomeo Manfredi, Apollo and Marsyas, ca. 1616-20. Oil on canvas. Marsyas, a satyr, challenged the god Apollo to a contest—predictably, Marsyas lost, and so Apollo flayed him for his hubris, punishing the satyr for challenging a deity.







German Playmobil Debtor’s Prison (Schuldturm). The toy seems to have been modeled after the Nuremberg Schuldturm, a prison tower located on what was once the city’s outer wall. Today the Nuremberg Schuldturm houses a restaurant.







Project for a Debtor Detention Area at UC Berkeley, Memorial Glade. Designed by contemporary artist Dan Graham, the UC Berkeley detention area—the «debtor’s dorm,» as its detractors have named it—would contain insolvent students inside a state-of-the-art mirrored glass structure, visible
from the outside but opaque from within. Commissioned by UC Executive Vice President for Business Operations, Nathan Brostrom, the Debtor Detention Area will run as a pilot project at UC Berkeley starting spring semester 2012. Brostrom has touted the detention area as a countermeasure against tuition strikes planned by student organizers for the following academic year.





Daniel Marcus is a graduate student in Art History at UC Berkeley.