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Visual Analysis – Editorial Cartoon

The student debt crisis raises an increasing concern in different segments of the USA society mainly because it places the enormous financial burden on both a distinct individual and the USA budget. The fierce debates primarily revolve around effective solutions on how to repay or reduce the debt and make the US education socially beneficial. Some experts argue that the government should forgive students’ debts, while others consider that student-loan forgiveness will not help address the debt crisis, believing that federal student-loan programs require considerable changes. Thus, this paper aims at discussing visual elements the creator used to convey the severity of the debt crisis, the place of the mythical figure in this cartoon, and an argument the cartoon makes.

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As a reaction to this controversial issue, one of the US oldest and most respectable literary magazines, Atlantic Monthly, published an illustration titled Student Debt Crisis Solution. The given cartoon shows the goddess Minerva in the image of a student chained with heavy shackles and carrying immense weight on her neck with the inscription “Student Debt.” The purpose of this caricature is to draw the attention of stakeholders, including students, officials, policymakers, academics, teachers, and other education-related persons, to development of the appropriate solution for the acute student debt crisis.

According to Roman mythology, Minerva is the ancient goddess of wisdom and war, as well as the patroness of artisans, writers, actors, poets, artists, teachers, students, and doctors. She is, therefore, the personification of divine reason, wisdom, poetry, music, medicine, weaving, crafts, and trade. Thus, the creator of the cartoon applies Minerva since her image has a direct relation to education and intellectual, creative, and artistic work overall. Besides, the author attributes Minerva’s image to the main holiday in her honor, when, according to ancient Roman mythology, students traditionally were exempted from studies, and they or their parents paid their teachers. Those days were named the Quinquatrians and celebrated annually from 19 to 23 March.

The author applied many visual elements, including parallels, comparisons, exaggeration, and allusions, that point to the complicated position of the current education system overburden by immense debt. In particular, the illustration brings ironic meaning, depicting the majestic goddess, who is part of the triad of the most important gods, in a miserable guise. This analogy with the US education industry can imply that although the number of people affording higher education due to loans has increased, the issue of the cost still remains complicated. The problem is that because of tuition grows as much as four times quicker than inflation, numerous graduates encounter a considerable amount of college debt comprising about $30,000 on average (Collier). Indeed, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, currently, federal and private student loan debt achieved about 1,68 trillion, which is over 4 percent higher than in 2019. In this respect, wrists chained with heavy prison shackles illustrate the impotence of college graduates to pay off education loans alone, without financial aid and constructive decisions from governments.

Besides, the weight hanging from her neck, with the inscription “Student Debt,” symbolizes a terrible burden that hinders the development of the education system and makes it unable to provide quality tuition. In this regard, Collier states that such trends pose an issue concerning whether the present college degree deserves money and time. Thus, using Minerva in such a pathetic way, the creator of the cartoon attempts to demonstrate the inadequacy and ineffectiveness of current policies and associated solutions regarding rapidly mounting student debts.

The cartoon can be used to spur the public and officials to review and develop student-loan programs that would meet the needs of students and could resolve the problem of the student debt. The first such programs were adopted after World War II in reply to the growing demand of society for highly educated people. It is worth noting that in 1958, the cost of a year in college accounted for $1,500–$2,000, while the median family income was around $5,000 (Best and Best 21). Hence, the objective of these loans was to increase the proportion of adult Americans who can afford higher education. However, when the federals, which mainly assume responsibility for the student-loan industry, provides a loan, the US budget deficit expands, making the government seek complementary funds from foreign investors. Thus, it is evident that the visual maintains the position that there is an urgent need to design a strategy that alleviates the student-loan burden.

In summary, the paper has examined visual elements the creator used to convey the severity of the debt crisis, the place of the mythical figure in this cartoon, and an argument the cartoon makes. The creator of the cartoon applies Minerva since her image has a direct relation to artisans, writers, actors, poets, artists, teachers, students, and doctors. In addition, the author utilizes many visual elements, including comparisons, parallels, exaggeration, and allusions, to reveal the challenging position of the current education system overburden by immense debt. For example, wrists chained with heavy prison shackles illustrate the impotence of college graduates to pay off education loans alone. The weight hanging from her neck symbolizes a terrible burden that hinders the development of the education system. Thus, the visual support the point of view, arguing that there is an acute necessity to develop relevant programs that alleviate the student-loan burden.

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References

Best, Joel and Best, Eric. The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem. University of California Press, 2014. EBSCOhost, Web.

Collier, Lorna. “College Costs: Does a Four-Year Degree Still Deliver Value?” CQ Researcher, vol. 29, no. 38, 2019, 1-61, Web.

“Student Loans Owned and Securitized, Outstanding.” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. 2020, Web.

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