Back in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s I used to watch the PBS TV show called “Nature” almost every week. The only reason I didn’t watch it would be something like the cable was out, or I had to go to the emergency room.
The reason that this was so was that “Nature” could present an episode on almost any subject within the scope of its purview, and - often with the help of the charismatic Sir David Attenborough - make it very interesting, and also entertaining.
Now, for most of my life I have had, at best, a fuzzy notion of current events. This is partly because I don’t care about them, as in the case of the progress of Brad Pitt’s romantic life, or the latest faux pas committed by any number of pop stars. But there are other, more weighty matters, many of which affect me either directly or tangentially, which I don’t know about because news media is so execrable at talking about them, or doesn’t cover them at all. (Because they use up all their broadcast time babbling about the most recent sighting or Justin Bieber’s penis, or showing me picture of some genetic train-wreck that has just won the “world’s Ugliest Dog Contest.”) When I finally do find someone or “some-site,” that does intelligently discuss things I feel I ought to know about, they are talked about so dryly, that I lapse into a coma after less than ten minutes.
I have felt alternately embarrassed and guilty about my inability to discuss rationally, many of the important issues of our times. But luckily for me, two things have made it possible to expand the horizons of my knowledge of many weighty issues. One is the fact that I have a blog, and the other is John Oliver and his monologues on the “Last Week Tonight” show.
The blog helps me by making it necessary for me to research the things that I want to post about. It is often hard, tedious work. But I feel that I should have something to back up the statements I make, (or quote), and that means I have to dig into piles of words that are clumped about the Internet and try to get a sense of how much of them are true, and how much are baseless clap-trap.
John Oliver helps by offering talk about important issues which brightly illuminate his subjects and entertain me at the same time. The man is funny. Really funny. But he is also well informed and has the gift of transmitting what he has learned to others in a way that is not only accessible, but makes you want to learn more.
Last Week Tonight
Oliver began hosting Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a late-night talk show that takes a satirical look at news, politics and current events, on 27 April 2014. His initial two-year contract with HBO was extended through 2017 in February 2015. Oliver says he has full creative freedom, including free rein to criticise corporations, given HBO's ad-free subscription model.
His work on the show led to Oliver being named on the list of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" in 2015.
Oliver's comedic commentary has been credited with helping influence US legislation, regulations, court rulings, and other aspects of US culture, which has been dubbed "The John Oliver Effect." This came from the show's fifth episode, which focused on net neutrality, a subject that had previously been considered obscure and technical. Oliver documented problems attributed to internet service providers and argued that the FCC could resolve these concerns with upcoming changes to internet regulation. Oliver then encouraged viewers to submit public comments through the FCC's website. The FCC's website promptly crashed. Internal FCC emails revealed the clip was being watched inside the agency. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler publicly addressed the video. The FCC was flooded with 3.7 million comments on the subject, by far the most for any issue in the agency's history. Reporters detected a shift in the FCC's stance: Before Oliver's segment, The New York Times described an FCC proposal that would leave net neutrality "all but dead," but the paper later said that chairman Wheeler showed "a steady shift toward stronger regulation." Ultimately, the FCC enacted robust net neutrality rules that classified broadband internet service as a public utility. Oliver was credited with transforming the net neutrality debate. The official YouTube video of his net neutrality segment has been viewed more than 10 million times.
A Ninth Circuit Court judge cited a Last Week Tonight segment about the lesser constitutional rights of residents of US territories in a ruling in favor of the residents of Guam.
Members of Congress credited Oliver with helping win a vote to enforce protections for chicken farmers who speak out about industry practices after a Last Week Tonight segment aired on the subject. A Washington, D.C. council member proposed a resolution in Oliver's honor after he aired a segment on the district's struggle to attain statehood.
Oliver maintains that he is not a journalist, but reporters have argued that his show does engage in journalism. The Peabody Awards honored Oliver, saying his program engages in "investigative reports that 'real' news programs would do well to emulate." One example of Oliver's investigative work is a segment on The Miss America Organization, which bills itself as "the world's largest provider of scholarships for women." Oliver's team, which includes four researchers with journalism backgrounds, collected and analyzed the organization's state and federal tax forms to find that the organization's scholarship program only distributes a small fraction of its claimed "$45 million made available annually." Oliver said that at the national level, the Miss America Organization and Miss America Foundation together spent only $482,000 in cash scholarships in 2012. Oliver found that at the state level, The Miss Alabama Pageant claimed that it had provided $2,592,000 in scholarships to Troy University despite not actually distributing any such scholarships. The pageant appeared to multiply the value of a single available scholarship by the number of contestants theoretically eligible for it, while using the term "provided" in a way that did not mean "distributed." The official YouTube video of Oliver's Miss America segment has been viewed more than 9.5 million times. The Society of Women Engineers said Oliver's mention of their scholarship in his story led to $25,000 in donations in the first two days after the episode.
Oliver has also founded and legally incorporated a church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, to demonstrate how easy it is to qualify as a church and receive tax exempt status in the United States.
The church was created in conjunction with a segment on televangelists who have tax-free mansions and private jets funded by millions of dollars in donations, which are sent in the belief that money given to televangelists can result in God rewarding donors with money, blessings, and cured diseases. The next week, Oliver showed off a mountain of donations mailed to him. The church's website stated that donations would go to Doctors Without Borders upon the church's dissolution.
Oliver's segment on presidential candidate Donald Trump is reportedly the "most watched piece of HBO content ever", and a network spokesperson said on the piece, "this is a record for any piece of HBO content."
This is pretty impressive stuff. The guy not only has a very successful, entertaining TV show; he has made a difference in this world. How many people can say that? John Oliver is my hero. I want him for president. (Although I suspect he is far too smart to want such a thing.) And he seems like a really nice person. Down-to-earth, but not stuffy.
But don’t take my word for it. Watch this segment on government surveillance - a subject so convoluted and complex that I would normally get cotton-mouth just form hearing the phrase, government surveillance.
But Oliver takes the subject and makes it vital, compelling, and funny, albeit in a scary sort of way.