“Sallie Mae Back” by Rapper Dee-1: How Student Loan Debt Is Influencing Pop Culture

Posted By Eliana Osborn on February 23, 2016 at 3:19 pm
“Sallie Mae Back” by Rapper Dee-1: How Student Loan Debt Is Influencing Pop Culture

It isn’t just senators or college presidents talking about student loan debt these days. Sallie Mae Back is a new music video release from rapper Dee-1. Sallie Mae is not Dee’s girlfriend, of course, but his student loan company. In the song and music video, he addresses the difficulty of student loan repayment when you are barely getting by at an entry level job, and for him, only getting on top of things by earning a record contract. While not everyone can relate to that happy ending, nearly all of his fans can connect to the worry about loans.

In fact, everywhere you look, media outlets are talking about borrowing and repayment issues.  Sometimes there’s a serious take on this trillion dollar industry, like Rolling Stone’s recent coverage. But humor can go a long way in easing tension. President Obama dropped a student loan bomb on Oprah, long before he got into the White House. Despite success as a lawyer and time as a senator, he wasn’t able to pay off his student loans until publishing his memoir Dreams from My Father in 2004.  He talked about the issue in a roundtable for VICE News in 2015.

HBO host John Oliver spent almost an entire episode of his show Last Week Tonight on the student loan crisis.  Yes, he’s a comedian, but his sharp analysis of predatory lending and the untenable paradox of rising tuition and rising aid, makes Oliver’s perspective compelling.

The sometimes off-color website College Humor handles student loan debt frequently, no surprise given their target audience. Think videos like Student Loan STDs where debt follows you around, much like a hard-to-cure infection.  Or something like Don’t Pay Your Student Loans where a shoulder devil tempts a young man to do other things with his money—strangely including historical facts about the industry.

Millennial actor Miles Teller has been featured in all kinds of big movies, including the Divergent franchise and the explosive musical drama Whiplash.  In 2015, he openly discussed how he hasn’t paid back his student loans, even though he’s financially able.  The reason? Low interest rates, according to his business manager who’s steering Teller’s money choices.

What’s behind the new attention to student loans?  The burden this debt has on the economy is staggering; research finds problems for retirement, home ownership, and myriad other factors for those with outstanding loan balances.  Talking about student loans is a way to relate to others in your peer group, as nearly everyone can relate to worries about debt and repayment.

A popular website about money, The Billfold, frequently covers personal essays involving student loans. The posts have solid readership, get lots of comments, and share tips on making ends meet.

And yes, legislators and politicians are looking to discuss the issue in a way that people can relate to as well. The group of Democratic Senators pushing for #InTheRed legislation have recently called on everyday people to share their personal stories about student loan debt. For policy makers, students, or families, keeping an eye on the student loan zeitgeist can reveal a lot about its far-reaching impact.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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