John Oliver: Part of the problem.
May 28, 2015 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Jacobin mag: John Oliver Should Be More Like Mad Max. [spoilers]

LorenzoAE: John Oliver isn't Mad Max: He's Part of the Problem.
"Oliver isn’t going to be Mad Max, nor will he be Howard Beale, Eugene Debs, or Spartacus. He’s going to be John Oliver—an employee of the Time Warner media empire who’s valued highly enough as a corporate asset to make millions of dollars a year. If he or any other celebrity threatened the corporate bottom line rather than serving it, he wouldn’t have his own show, he’d be stuck writing media criticism for free on a WordPress site. If that isn’t obvious, then someone needs to read more Chomsky and watch less John Oliver."
posted by anemone of the state (90 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gosh, that's us told.
posted by Artw at 9:47 PM on May 28, 2015 [26 favorites]


Oh, people who think corporations are monolithic.
posted by effugas at 9:55 PM on May 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


Well, if nothing else, the show could use more flaming guitar.

But the same could be said of everything.
posted by ckape at 10:01 PM on May 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


What!? You mean to say that a weekly one-man half-hour comedy television show might be somewhat ineffective as the entirety of a socialist revolution?

Say it ain't so!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:01 PM on May 28, 2015 [78 favorites]


But can we trust Chomsky? Surely he is compromised somehow as well! If he *really* pissed off The Man why would large book-selling corporations be making a buck off his work? How many corporate dollars have been generated for the capitalists by Chomsky's work?

TRUST NO ONE, NOT EVEN YOURSELF.
posted by edheil at 10:03 PM on May 28, 2015 [41 favorites]


TLDR:

Do you even hate capitalism, bro?
posted by ethansr at 10:04 PM on May 28, 2015 [64 favorites]


Read a Chomsky book, as published by Macmillan!
posted by Artw at 10:06 PM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


Hurf durf, who needs to actually read articles when you can just drop a snarky one-liner.
posted by anemone of the state at 10:10 PM on May 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


Man, I hate me some Chomsky and love John Oliver.

In my mind it's because the former eschews empiricism in favor of trusting in just how damn brilliant he must be, while the other is funny and regularly shows his work, even on a network tv show. But I'm probably part of the problem.

Also, Oliver has run afoul of corporate masters before, with The Bugle, but whatever.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:14 PM on May 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


You mean to say that a weekly one-man half-hour comedy television show might be somewhat ineffective as the entirety of a socialist revolution?

Clearly he must team up with Russell Brand before the proletariat can be liberated.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:16 PM on May 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hurf durf, who needs to actually read articles when you can just drop a snarky one-liner.

No one needs to read those articles. Those articles are dumb.

You know who else works for Time Warner? Mad fucking Max.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:21 PM on May 28, 2015 [35 favorites]


I would concede the point that deriving your worldview solely from topic news comedies is probably unwise.
posted by Artw at 10:24 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Maybe, but between John Oliver and LorenzoAE I think it's obvious who has had more and better influence on the world. "Burn it all down and anyone who doesn't want to burn it all down is a capitalist lackey pig-dog" isn't all that useful as an ideology.
posted by Justinian at 10:32 PM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


You know who would doubtless agree with you about flaming guitar, ckape? John Oliver.
posted by wotsac at 10:37 PM on May 28, 2015


Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them -- Lenin.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:02 PM on May 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Didn't these folks get the memo?

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

--Gil-Scott Heron
posted by Bella Donna at 11:07 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


John Oliver Should Be More Like Mad Max.

Both of those articles are asinine. Oliver is a comedian and, arguably, a journalist. What exactly does 'storming the citidel' constitute in that context, if not highlighting injustice and corruption, which is what he does extremely well and in a way that reaches millions all over the world?

But, in fairness, after watching Fury Road I do actually want to weld spikes to everything and set it on fire while screaming WITNESS ME!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:29 PM on May 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


Actually this reminds me a lot of Normon Solomon's argument that Dilbert is a palliative at best and a reinforcer of the system Adams purports to mock at worst. On the one hand, true. On the other, of course genuinely radical or subversive positions are not going to be clearly articulated in popular media, not least because they are challenging for most of the audience as well as the elite who pay for it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:42 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, let us rail against the inventor of the Fuck-You-Logy and somebody who picked a fight with all of Australia because they don't behave exactly as you want them to based on your misreading of a scene from a movie.

Anybody who's ever heard John sing on The Bugle knows that he walks into the Last Week Tonight office every day with loyalty, hustle, and respect on his sleeve.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:44 PM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


Actually this reminds me a lot of Normon Solomon's argument that Dilbert is a palliative at best and a reinforcer of the system Adams purports to mock at worst.

OR we just aren't genius enough to understand it.
posted by maxwelton at 11:50 PM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


i_am_joe's_spleen: "On the other, of course genuinely radical or subversive positions are not going to be clearly articulated in popular media, not least because they are challenging for most of the audience as well as the elite who pay for it."

I think, more likely, that it's that people will get used to it, at which point it's no longer subversive or radical.
posted by Bugbread at 11:51 PM on May 28, 2015


John Oliver works on the principle of 'a spoonful of sugar' - he's not the cure, but he'll keep giving out the medicine under the guise of telling jokes. Plus, he's preaching to the converted, broadly, and while not changing the minds of people with entrenched views, educating people on matters like FIFA that they previously knew little about.
posted by DanCall at 11:56 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


"If he or any other celebrity threatened the corporate bottom line rather than serving it, he wouldn’t have his own show, he’d be stuck writing media criticism for free on a WordPress site."

...says the guy writing really dangerous, revolutionary stuff for free on a WordPress site, interestingly.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:18 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


"If he or any other celebrity threatened the corporate bottom line rather than serving it, he wouldn’t have his own show, he’d be stuck writing media criticism for free on a WordPress site."

I'm kinda curious...do these people really think that there are things which just by being uttered would threaten corporate bottom lines? Some big Truth that if people would just hear it would suddenly cause sales of Nike and Coca-Cola to plummet? And that the reason that Subversive Anarcho-Marxist Revolutionary Thinkers don't get their own TV shows is that if they opened their mouth and unleashed Truth then the People would all rise up and overthrow capitalism?

It's like Rik from the Young Ones or something.
posted by Bugbread at 12:38 AM on May 29, 2015 [48 favorites]


Jacobin are such contrary little scallywags.

Bless.
posted by Grangousier at 12:52 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hurf durf, who needs to actually read articles when you can just drop a snarky one-liner.

Where TDS personalities are involved, an objective, unemotional eye is difficult. These folks are very good at putting on the veneer of journalism to gain credibility with the fan base. When they get asked by more demanding viewers to act like real journalists, they demote themselves to harmless comedians just entertaining a crowd. It's tough to bite the hand that feeds you.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:14 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Actually, in my country, the most popular, successful current affairs programme in recent times, famous for its coverage of difficult, controversial issues and focus on disadvantaged people, was killed by the channel owners, even though it was their highest rating programme and had been attracting record viewership in the last month. The senior management of the channel are best buds with senior figures in the current right-wing government, which was often stung by Campbell Live. The last episode was tonight.

You don't have to stray too far off the reservation to get taken out.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:16 AM on May 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


You don't have to stray too far off the reservation to get taken out.

Also see: TV Nation.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also see: The Awful Truth

Michael Moore was doing something astounding for a few years there, and it was thrilling to witness.
posted by hippybear at 1:27 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


a lungful of dragon: "Also see: TV Nation."

hippybear: "Also see: The Awful Truth"

And that's what I don't get. These folks are saying "The networks would never broadcast The Truth, because it threatens corporations". But NBC and BBC2 co-funded TV Nation knowing full well, based on Roger & Me, who Michael Moore was and what he would do. And then Fox paid money to create a second season, knowing not only who Michael Moore was, but what he did with season one. And then Channel 4 paid Moore to come and make another series for them. And then Channel 4 paid for Moore to make a second season of that series.

Yet somehow the cancellation of shows like this is proof that the media would never put someone on the air who told The Truth, but the creation and renewal is just...ignored, for some reason?

I think the deal with Moore, and Colbert, and Stewart, and Oliver, is that people think "If only someone told The Truth on TV, it would change society!" and then someone does come on TV and tell The Truth, but society doesn't change. So instead of concluding "Maybe just telling The Truth isn't enough to bring about revolution," folks refuse to believe their initial hypothesis was wrong, and instead look for excuses why these aren't examples of really telling The Truth on TV.
posted by Bugbread at 1:40 AM on May 29, 2015 [60 favorites]


As one example, TV Nation featured highly critical coverage about General Electric — NBC's parent company at the time — in its first and only season on... NBC.

Still, it's interesting that a television series getting cancelled twice and refused a broadcast outlet on a major US network — despite its production being paid for by a third party — is somehow paradoxically some kind of proof that US-based media outlets are actually accepting of this sort of programming, even though they are evidently not so tolerant.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:51 AM on May 29, 2015


If one wants a more modern example, one could perhaps look at the difficulties that Al-Jazeera has faced in getting its English-speaking service distributed via cable providers in the United States. The Constitution assures one of a free press, until one has to work with the handful of people who own the paper, the ink, the electricity to run the presses, etc.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:57 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well, the thing is, really, that telling The Truth takes a lot of forms. And what Moore was doing was much more directly threatening to the parent companies of the networks and their business partners and advertising when it was being aired during its various runs than the political and social stuff that Colbert and Stewart and Oliver are mostly doing.

But the thing is that telling The Truth on TV is important and it will change society. You have to keep telling it over and over and over. Norman Lear knew this, and he spread his message of social change across so many shows that were so highly acclaimed it's legendary. But, again, he wasn't attacking corporate policy regularly.

AJE is an interesting case. I can get it on DISH, but my impression is that most cable subscribers cannot.
posted by hippybear at 2:04 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


How does Marxist thought persist in the face of constantly... not being right?
posted by pixelrevolt at 2:44 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Some big Truth that if people would just hear it would suddenly cause [...]

hahaha a couple years ago I took a shitload of Ketamine and maybe some 2c-something and in the midst of it all suddenly felt like I'd stumbled across a literally revolution-causing truth which all I'd need to do is post some youtube videos (I'd be assasinated of course).
posted by yoHighness at 3:35 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Objective Journalism is a hard thing to come by these days. We all yearn for it, but who can point the way? As for mine...well, my doctor says it swole up and busted about ten years ago. The only thing I ever saw that came close to Objective Journalism was a closed-circuit TV setup that watched shoplifters in the General Store at Woody Creek, Colorado. I always admired that machine, but I noticed that nobody paid much attention to it until one of those known, heavy, out-front shoplifters came into the place...but when that happened, everybody got so excited that the thief had to do something quick, like buy a green popsicle or a can of Coors and get out of the place immediately. So much for Objective Journalism. Don't bother to look for it here - not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms."

-- Hunter S. Thompson
posted by valkane at 3:40 AM on May 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


Weren't people saying the same damn things about Jon Stewart?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:49 AM on May 29, 2015


Weren't people saying the same damn things about Jon Stewart?

Yes, but Stewart always made clear his was a "fake news" program and he was a comedian.

"Like everything that we do, the march is merely a construct," (Stewart) says. "It's merely a format, in the way the book is a format, a show is a format ... to be filled with the type of material that Stephen and I do and the point of view [that we have]. People have said, 'It's a rally to counter Glenn Beck.' It's not. What it is was, we saw that and thought, 'What a beautiful outline. What a beautiful structure to fill with what we want to express in live form, festival form."

Oliver doesn't seem as comfortable in those big clown shoes. Or maybe he's too comfortable, or maybe it's the British passport, but he's not John Stewart.
posted by three blind mice at 4:19 AM on May 29, 2015


...deriving your worldview solely from topic news comedies is probably unwise.

You can easily do a lot worse, and millions do.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:36 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jon Stewart may have always claimed to be a comedy show, but Oliver isn't pretending to be otherwise either. It was also always other people that were projecting these expectations onto Stewart the way they are onto Oliver now..
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Compare the impact on policy by Chomsky and Oliver over the last year. Who has successfully impacted the court of public opinion to deliver a meaningful positive change in government policies? Tldr Chomsky's style doesnt deliver results.
posted by humanfont at 4:54 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


> ...deriving your worldview solely from topic news comedies is probably unwise.

You can easily do a lot worse, and millions do.
Researchers asked 1,185 random nationwide respondents what news sources they had consumed in the past week and then asked them questions about events in the U.S. and abroad. On average, people correctly answered 1.6 of five questions about domestic affairs.

...

They found that someone who watched only Fox News would be expected to answer 1.04 domestic questions correctly compared to 1.22 for those who watched no news at all. Those watching only The Daily Show with Jon Stewart answered 1.42 questions correctly, and people who only listened to NPR or only watched Sunday morning political talk shows answered 1.51 questions correctly. In terms of international news, people correctly answered an average of 1.8 of four questions.

With all else being equal, people who watched no news were expected to answer 1.28 correctly, those watching only Sunday morning shows figured at 1.52, those watching only The Daily Show figured at 1.60, and those just listening to NPR were expected to correctly answer 1.97 international questions.

Those watching only MSNBC were expected to correctly answer only 1.23 out of four, while viewers of only Fox News figured at 1.08. The study noted that the effects of Fox News, MSNBC, and talk radio depended on the ideology of the consumer.
...I'm not quite clear how all of those individual categories of respondent on the domestic questions ended up being lower than the average. The higher-scoring respondents who pulled the average up watched a combination of multiple sources, I'm guessing?
posted by XMLicious at 5:05 AM on May 29, 2015


Compare the impact on policy by Chomsky and Oliver over the last year. Who has successfully impacted the court of public opinion to deliver a meaningful positive change in government policies? Tldr Chomsky's style doesnt deliver results.

Oliver and Stewart don't even come close to existence with Chomsky or Nader for that matter. There are originators and facilitators in this world and both are necessary. The problem most of us have had with Stewart over the years is that he has had all the tools at his disposal to be a facilitator and chose not to do so to protect a job he will no longer have at the end of the year - so good on him, he reached his goal without getting fired and made millions in the process. I'd love for someone to pose that William Wallace question to him on the day he retires and see how he responds.
posted by any major dude at 5:26 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


It never fails to amaze me how brilliant people on the left seem to be at the task of undermining everyone who is working towards the same goals they are out of some insane fidelity to the moral purity we're supposed to have, in contrast to that of The Enemy™. If we're making any progress at all, it's largely because The Enemy™ has finally fallen to the infighting virus, too, and are wasting their energy arguing over the kind of stupid niggly bullshit that we love above nearly all things.

Yeah, you're our "ally," but do you meet our standard of ally purity?

Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 6:11 AM on May 29, 2015 [42 favorites]


It never fails to amaze me how brilliant people on the left seem to be at the task of undermining everyone who is working towards the same goals they are out of some insane fidelity to the moral purity we're supposed to have, in contrast to that of The Enemy™.

Judean People's Front versus The People's Front of Judea.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:40 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I want you all to imagine me frantically jumping up and down and tapping my nose and pointing at sonascope and screaming THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:40 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am imagining it, but I added some clown shoes.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:51 AM on May 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


Lighten up, Francis Lorenzo.
posted by tommasz at 6:53 AM on May 29, 2015


How does Marxist thought persist in the face of constantly... not being right?

Oh for a week going by without some horrible news that underlines the bits where Marx was right.
posted by Artw at 6:56 AM on May 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


> TRUST NO ONE, NOT EVEN YOURSELF.

ESPECIALLY not yourself. I mean, do you know where you've BEEN?
posted by davelog at 7:03 AM on May 29, 2015


Oliver and Stewart don't even come close to existence with Chomsky or Nader for that matter.
any major dude

That's true, Nader did bring us the Bush administration.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:03 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hahahahaha.
No.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:05 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


It never fails to amaze me how brilliant people on the left seem to be at the task of undermining everyone who is working towards the same goals

John Stewart is part of "The Left?"

There is plenty of what you describe going on. But Stewart is a mainstream centrist whose main lefty appeal is criticizing Fox news and somehow gets mentally pigeonholed as standardbearer for the left. This makes me more sympathetic to the holier-than-thou types. It's one thing to compromise when you vote, I'm not sure you need to apply that level of political pragmatism to your comedians.

(For the record, I think Oliver is hilarious.)
posted by mark k at 7:12 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Personally, I really loved the nice comedy men's rally to tell everyone to be nice to each other and get along. It was a political statement for the ages. I'll never forget it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:29 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nadar pretends to be a leftist agitator,but when his employees tried to unionize he fired them. When Stewart's writers went on strike he paid the crew out of his own pocket and only came back under extrene duress.

Chomsky and Nadar sell books and give speeches to their tiny bubble of true beleivers. They are nothing more than cults of personality and excommunicate anyone who dare outshine them or criticize their views.
posted by humanfont at 8:06 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


The problem most of us have had with Stewart over the years is that he has had all the tools at his disposal to be a facilitator and chose not to do so to protect a job he will no longer have at the end of the year - so good on him, he reached his goal without getting fired and made millions in the process.

Stewart has said many times that he does not want to be a facilitator. He wants to be an entertainer. He wants to make jokes and crack wise, not make the decisions that affect the lives of people.

He's like Brian. He's not the messiah. He's a very naughty boy.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:20 AM on May 29, 2015


Hit the nail on the head, sonascope. It seems you have to believe in THE REVOLUTION to get the nod from some people. This may be because of the original Marxist dogma that improvement in the circumstances of the proletariat is impossible without revolution. Therefore, every example of that actually happening needs to be denied, or reinterpreted as pernicious in some way.

Artw: Sure, if you're willing to go looking to prove a theory right, you can do so. That's why some people still believe in astrology. Don't get me wrong, Marx's analysis of the flaws of unrestrained capitalism was insightful and necessary. Apart from that, every aspect of Marxism specific enough to be refuted, has been.
posted by pixelrevolt at 8:28 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


And I get that that was what Stewart said but sadly, a lot of folks really do forget he is a comedian and not a news anchor.
posted by Kitteh at 8:29 AM on May 29, 2015


Those watching only The Daily Show with Jon Stewart answered 1.42 questions correctly, and people who only listened to NPR or only watched Sunday morning political talk shows answered 1.51 questions correctly.
Hmmm. So, they polled 1200 people in a single week, then broke that group up into much smaller categories, asked them groups of 5 yes/no recent news related questions, and claim to be measuring differences at the level of 1/10 of a question?

According to the first hit in an arbitrary google search, the total All Things Considered audience was less than 4% of the US a few years ago. Assuming the total "NPR" audience is a few times larger than that, and the total "NPR Only" audience is smaller than the total by a factor of a few, let's guess they talked to 50 people.

If you assume 50 people answer the question with a Poisson distribution with a true mean of 1.5, the 1-sigma error on the observed mean is around 0.17. (This isn't actually the right statistics to use in this case, but it's not a terrible guess and has the advantage that it can be done in minutes while waiting for a meeting to start.)

Even before you take into account that the true distribution of answers is likely to be a lot more broad than a Poisson distribution, and the huge influence associated with the coincidence of one particular question with major coverage by a particular news outlet in a given week, this smells like bunk.

The press release doesn't try very hard to make the case that they're measuring something other than noise. If there's a more complete analysis published elsewhere, I'd love to see it.
posted by eotvos at 8:30 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


John Stewart is part of "The Left?"

There is plenty of what you describe going on. But Stewart is a mainstream centrist whose main lefty appeal is criticizing Fox news and somehow gets mentally pigeonholed as standardbearer for the left


Yeah, you're our "ally," but do you meet our standard of ally purity?

This is a classic metafilter move. Saying that someone isn't part of the capital L left. NPR becomes nice polite republicans, even as the Republican party would like nothing so much as to destroy it. At least the Left didn't coin the term LINO.

Part of this is a belief among people, like the ones in Jacobin, that if you aren't agitating for the destruction of capitalism, you aren't part of the Left. Common as anything, and is usually the cause of articles like this. Anything that could be seen as a palliative against the ills of capitalism is spat upon, because it eases the pain of the alienation of capitalism, without destroying the source. See this article about Kickstarter.

On preview, what pixelrevolt said.
posted by zabuni at 8:32 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


That's true, Nader did bring us the Bush administration.

Mathematically, Florida Gore voters who switched their votes to Bush on Election Day brought us the Bush administration.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:57 AM on May 29, 2015


But that's a good example of the kind of myth that comedian-journalists make their millions off of promulgating and reinforcing, even at the cost of hurting democracy.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:59 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a classic metafilter move. Saying that someone isn't part of the capital L left.

I wouldn't say it's a "metafilter" move so much as it's an "extremist/zealot" move. There are "No True Scotsman" types among every group.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:02 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Apart from that, every aspect of Marxism specific enough to be refuted, has been.

Did someone say no true Scotsman?
posted by TypographicalError at 9:08 AM on May 29, 2015


That's true, Nader did bring us the Bush administration.

Mathematically, Florida Gore voters who switched their votes to Bush on Election Day brought us the Bush administration.


I'm pretty sure it was the Gore campaign, which asked for recounts only in specific Florida counties rather than recounting the entire state (I think this was supposed to be a money-saving measure, if I recall correctly) which opened the door to allow the SCOTUS to issue their decision handing the election to Bush.
posted by hippybear at 9:30 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


*shrug* The flaws of capitalism have long since been acknowledged by mainstream thought, so I was speaking rather of every aspect of Marxist thought that is still unique to it - including the entire explanatory structure through which those flaws were interpreted.
posted by pixelrevolt at 9:49 AM on May 29, 2015


Nadar pretends to be a leftist agitator...

I am not familiar with this Nadar person you refer to, but to prevent anyone's confusing that person with Ralph Nader, let me point out that Nader does not pretend to be any such thing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:51 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a fan of Chomsky (me and my husband's second date was to go see Manufacturing Consent), I'm a fan of Stewart, I'm a fan of Oliver. They all do different things. One of the great decisions TDS made was to specifically cover not just current events, but the media coverage of current events, sort of a "watching the watchers" thing. That opened a lot of people's eyes to the fact that the 24-hour news cycle distorts reality in an effort to deliver a Story, and that frequently the point of that story isn't to deliver the truth or even to further a political agenda but is just to keep people glued to their TV screens and the advertisements they contain.

Oliver does something different. He does long-form investigative pieces where he looks at institutions and situations vertically, laying out how decisions at the top affect those at the bottom and vice versa. He follows things back to original sources and documents those connections as part of the story. And then, he almost always ends the piece with a specific call to action -- not necessarily something earthshaking, usually something you can do from a smartphone without getting up off the couch, but something you can DO. It feels very different from The Daily Show and the Colbert Report to me.
posted by KathrynT at 10:04 AM on May 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


deriving your worldview solely from topic news comedies is probably unwise.

Yet Fox News remains popular nonetheless.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:07 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Excusing Nader because he may have failed to spoil the 2000 election is kind of perverse.
posted by ethansr at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2015




Excusing Nader because he may have failed to spoil the 2000 election is kind of perverse.

Blaming Nader for something he did not do is also a kind of perverse, doubleplusungood mythology.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:16 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Where TDS personalities are involved, an objective, unemotional eye is difficult. These folks are very good at putting on the veneer of journalism to gain credibility with the fan base. When they get asked by more demanding viewers to act like real journalists, they demote themselves to harmless comedians just entertaining a crowd.

This seems completely wrong. TDS didn't gain credibility with some veneer of professionalism or whatever. They gained credibility because, in general, the things they pointed and laughed at were, in fact, actually dumb, outrageous, and laughable.

These supposedly "demanding viewers" apparently know so little about journalism that they think The Daily Show is actual journalism rather than a cartoon mocking journalists for failing to do their job. When The Daily Show isn't directly mocking Fox News or some other outlet, when they are commenting directly on the news of the day, they aren't doing any original reporting. They're holding up the reporting of actual journalists and saying, "This is clearly outrageous. Why aren't the real news outlets pointing out how outrageous this is?"

When they would call out a politician by contrasting what he said today with what he said last week, that's not reporting. That's showing CNN how they ought be using their own footage.
posted by straight at 11:36 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Nader specifically campaigned in swing states with the goal of acting as a spoiler candidate. Later he rewrote the history to make it so he wouldnt have to accept any responsibility.
posted by humanfont at 11:41 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Part of this is a belief among people, like the ones in Jacobin, that if you aren't agitating for the destruction of capitalism, you aren't part of the Left.

I mean, whether someone is "left" or "left of center" or "center" is relative to your own politics, but it's not extraordinarily controversial that "further left" means more socialist, more anti-capitalist, more revolutionary.

I feel like Jacobin has run a number of articles along these lines. "[xxx]'s reformism seems appealing but don't be fooled - capitalism is inherently exploitative and must be overthrown." But they seem to be writing not for people who are generally angry about exploitation and might be convinced of the desirability of ending capitalism but for people who already accept that as a foregone conclusion. So I don't really get the point.
posted by atoxyl at 12:09 PM on May 29, 2015


It's tough to bite the hand that feeds you.

So no more chicken for John?

It never fails to amaze me how brilliant people on the left seem to be at the task of undermining everyone who is working towards the same goals they are out of some insane fidelity to the moral purity we're supposed to have, in contrast to that of The Enemy™

Indeed. A recent discussion about The Wire had many concluding it was basically shit, just another procedural, and didn't cover the entire history of why the lives depicted in the show were what they were, and my god, a white guy or two were also heavily involved so it's really not that good at all.

How does Marxist thought persist in the face of constantly... not being right?

Almost certainly like all the others ists and isms and so forth no? We also regulary hear about deregulation and small government and trickle down. I've heard that shit all my life. Most of the time what is said and what is done has very little to with the concepts or reality of the isms and ists.
posted by juiceCake at 12:11 PM on May 29, 2015


Part of this is a belief among people, like the ones in Jacobin, that if you aren't agitating for the destruction of capitalism, you aren't part of the Left.

Another, maybe larger, problem is that, at least as it's used in the US (and as it seems to be used in the nonspace of the internet), "the Left" can describe anything from the Democratic Party to the abolition of capitalism. Naturally then, every invocation of the phrase is going to be followed by circular arguments over who or what is "left" or not "left."

On their own, neither of these pieces seem wrong, exactly. Take away the silly "TV show host should be a revolutionary Mad Max" dressing and the point of the Jacobin piece seems simply that news reporting in the US mostly sucks, which it does. And on its own, Mr. Lorenzo's protest, that TV show guy isn't going to call for the abolition of capitalism because he's, like, part of the system, man, seems self-evidently true as well. Now, neither of these observations seem particularly insightful, but they aren't untrue.

And speaking of not insightful, I can't think of many things more pointless than arguing over Ralph Nader's role in the '00 election in 2015. (Except maybe the man himself, who seems even to have abandoned his role as national finger-wagger-in-chief. What is he doing these days?)

You know, if I were a powerful Fox News exec, I'd hire a real fire-breathing lefty—not a grinning Alan Colmes, not even a polished wonk like Chris Hayes—but an honest-to-God hang-the-bankers-from-the-posts communist and give him (or her) an hour and a budget and say "Go to town. We won't interfere." Talk about ratings. The Fox audience would tune in to hatewatch; the left would tune in out of interest or duty or to counter-hatewatch and "Fair and Balanced" would get a whole new meaning.

Of course it's possible that no one would watch at all and then I'd be out of a job. Prey in the Most Dangerous Game of All.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:31 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


"But can we trust Chomsky? Surely he is compromised somehow as well!"

Is it any coincidence that Noam Chomsky makes books, while the Koch brothers make paper?

How much money has Noam Chomsky funneled to radical rightwing causes?!
posted by markkraft at 4:02 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's kind of interesting to me that people are comparing Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, who both have long careers in public advocacy and activism stretching back to the 1960s, with John Stewart and John Oliver, who emerged into public (entertainment, in their case) life in the 1990s. Is this some sort of weird generational thing? Maybe for people under 30, Nader is just that guy they remember hearing mentioned on TV in 2000, and Chomsky is the ancient gnome who occasionally appears on YouTube to talk about stuff which happened in Latin America and Vietnam in days of yore?

Chomsky and Nader have both done tremendous things, but they're both a bit long in the tooth to be comparing them with guys who are mid-career, with the spare years and energy to fight to stay in the limelight. The latter may well be more influential for, again, folks younger than 30, who started to become aware of stuff in the 2000s. But it might be worth stopping and getting a bit of historical perspective.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:36 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


The other interesting thing about Chomsky to me is that I sat next to him on a trans-continental flight from Boston to Seattle back in the mid-nineties, and I had no idea who he was. (I saw the IPA on the paper he was proofing and asked what he did for a living, and he said "I'm a linguist.") I has picked up a copy of Wired in the airport to read, and he and I had a really interesting discussion about it, about how difficult it was to tell the articles from the advertising, about how Wired had made color choices (silver text on safety orange background, frex) that made things actively difficult to read, why would they make those choices? what does the form of this magazine tell you about what its aims are? etc. I was almost nineteen, and it was one of the best, most interesting flights I'd ever been on, we spent six hours in really animated in-depth conversation.

It wasn't until about eighteen months later, when we went to see Manufacturing Consent, that I figured it out. "Oh hey! I sat next to that guy on an airplane!" I mean I had known who Noam Chomsky was, but I never learned the name of the linguist sitting next to me. I've never met him since, but I dearly wish I had gotten him to autograph that copy of Wired.
posted by KathrynT at 5:02 PM on May 29, 2015 [27 favorites]


John Oliver isn't the revolutionary icon of our times. He's the Walter Cronkite David Frost of our times.
posted by Apocryphon at 7:24 PM on May 29, 2015


humanfont: Tldr Chomsky's style doesnt deliver results.

What? Chomsky has been hugely influential on generations of activists. He doesn't have a weekly TV show, but a world without him would be significantly grimmer.

As to the (to paraphrase) "What do you expect of the show, it's just comedy?" and "Look at the good he gets done, what did Noam Chomsky or Ralph Nader ever do for anybody?" arguments: It can't go both ways.

The "I'm just a comedian" line was always John Stewart's little dodge- clearly (per the "look at what he's gotten done" angle) John Oliver's show is supposed to be more than just comedy, so of course it's fair to criticize him on the political content of his show.

The central critique of both articles, silly Mad Max name-dropping aside, was that John Oliver appears to carefully examine issues, but even as he's about to get to the root problem- which the writers view as capitalist oligarchy- he drops the ball. LorenzoAE, however, goes further:
By my count, this [Jacobin] piece demonstrates total cluelessness about 1) the difference between liberalism and radicalism 2) the basic function of the culture industry & 3) how the establishment media operates. The piece is so clueless that it’s necessary to recapitulate these basic points, if only because Oliver’s popularity makes him a typically good example of what purpose liberal media celebrities serve.

What Crowley is describing, evidently having never encountered one before, is a liberal. Though there’s some difference between liberals—some are avid war-mongers, for example, but some are more anguished—liberals seek to maintain the capitalist system, while occasionally stemming some of its worst excesses with minor course-corrections. Someone who advocates for the abolition of the wage-system and private property has politics substantially opposed to someone who just wants corporate taxes restored to 35%. Oliver, like his old boss Stewart, will never call for the overthrow of capitalism for the simple reason that he doesn’t seek the overthrow of capitalism.

None of this is terribly out-there from a leftist perspective. Unlike what was somewhat obtusely suggested upthread, nobody is expecting one TV show speaking "the truth" to spark a revolution, however it's perfectly fair for leftists to criticize a liberal show- particularly one that's often seen as being "left"- for not being terribly leftist at all. Last Week Tonight is a sad shadow of what could actually be done with the format, were it anchored by a host willing to actually do a home run.

If you think capitalism is great, you're probably going to jeer at all this, which is OK- but at very least, don't consider yourself to be "on the Left".
posted by anemone of the state at 11:22 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you think capitalism is great, you're probably going to jeer at all this, which is OK- but at very least, don't consider yourself to be "on the Left".

I'm well aware of the distinction between "liberal" and "leftist" (and the sort of person to be annoyed when they are used interchangeably) but it seems like a big part of the argument here is just whether it's appropriate to refer to, say, liberal socialists as "left-of-center," which is, like, whatever.
posted by atoxyl at 12:51 AM on May 30, 2015


And who has ever thought John Oliver is a leftist except perhaps the far right? - but whether you agree with LorenzoAE's politics he did already take apart the pointlessness of the Jacobin piece.
posted by atoxyl at 12:55 AM on May 30, 2015


Last Week Tonight is a sad shadow of what could actually be done with the format, were it anchored by a host willing to actually do a home run.

Are ball games won by nothing but a series of home runs, or is it possible to win a game with a variety of different kinds of hits, all sending us around the bases in the right direction?
posted by sonascope at 5:14 AM on May 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


The whole baseball metaphor strikes out, unless you think that everyone is aiming to reach the same home plate. Which, as everybody here seems to realize, they aren't.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:30 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The "I'm just a comedian" line was always John Stewart's little dodge-

Just because a comedian tells jokes that punch up instead of down doesn't mean he's not a comedian. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Louis C.K. were/are not activists or journalists, and neither is Jon Stewart. Anyone who says otherwise has a pathetic definition of journalism and activism.
posted by straight at 8:44 AM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can criticize a comedian for punching below their weight.

All creative endeavors can be looked at in a political context, and they can also be criticized from one, particularly when they put their crosshairs on society and politics. "I'm just a comedian" states a fact, but it fails to address the issue that what comedians say can be politically significant.

Saying that any of the above critiques of John Oliver (or Jon Stewart, for that matter) are irrelevant because "they're not leftists" is like Republicans putting down criticisms of George W. Bush because "he's not a Democrat/Green/Socialist, what did you expect".
posted by anemone of the state at 10:04 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Quite a bit of the jeering is not even about whether capitalism is great. It's about reflexively thinking that capitalism is a something, that it is coordinating the root causes of violence in the modern world, that its violent overthrow is necessarily the only way to improve the human condition, and therefore attempting to improve people's lives incrementally is actually treason because you are betraying them to the (singular) oppressor by making them less likely to want a revolution against it.

Political discourse is reduced to flexing one's hatred for capitalism, and rumination is dismissed as indicative of a liberally small hatred of capitalism. This is about thinking below one's weight; you only can exercise one idea so much before you start getting diminishing returns.
posted by ethansr at 11:04 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


therefore attempting to improve people's lives incrementally is actually treason because you are betraying them to the (singular) oppressor by making them less likely to want a revolution against it.

This. I actually find it morally repugnant when armchair warriors and academics talk about "pushing the edge" in this sense. Even Chomsky was pretty damn clear (sorry folks, he most certainly was) in his support for Pol Pot relative to the US because well, one has the crack a few eggs to make an libertarian omelette. These people believe in ideas more than humanity, and are dangerous to us all.
posted by smidgen at 12:37 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


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