I’m ashamed to say that I have trouble keeping up with the news. I try to get it online, but am too easily distracted by the endless procrastination possibilities that the Internet offers. I may be deeply interested in an article about ebola, but soon I see an advertisement for an article on Jennifer Lawrence and I immediately switch off of the important article. Then I may try to watch on television, but I become quickly frustrated with the newscasters’ squabbling and the frequent commercials. But now, once a week, I am able to catch up on the world’s pressing news and have the opportunity to watch unique stories that examine serious problems in our country, all while laughing more than I would at any other late night program. HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver never fails to both inform and entertain.
There have been other shows like this; the Colbert Report, or Late Night with Bill Maher. However, John Oliver’s program approaches news differently than its competitors. Unlike the Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight is on premium television. This means that it gets its funding from its viewers, and not its sponsors. This means that John Oliver has the ability to say whatever he wants about any company if it is relevant to the news. Let’s just say that the CEO of CocaCola was involved in a major scandal. A station sponsored by CocaCola would most likely release a biased statement about the incident in order to retain their funding. This is not an issue for news broadcasted on premium channels. Another HBO series, Late Night with Bill Maher, has been very successful for a number of years. However, in HBO’s neighborhood, Bill Maher may have been the hot shot, but John Oliver is the new kid on the block getting more than his share of respect. This is not just because he is the shiny new host, but because he is bringing something new to the table. Instead of wasting time on biased rants and discussions with (non-relevant) celebrities, Oliver calls attention to stories that much of mainstream media does not cover, even though they could be detrimental to the well-being of others in our world.
Much like any news station, Oliver discusses subjects that can make one go into a melancholic, pessimistic stupor. However when I watch these episodes, I am not depressed but elated. While providing us factual information on subjects like nuclear weaponry, the death penalty, ISIS, and human rights violations, Oliver does the impossible: he shows us something that we can laugh at. This takes away the pessimism of the news because seeing the foolishness of a situation makes it become less of a monster and more of a relatable problem. For example, John Oliver did a piece on Syria’s tyrannical leader, Assad. Here, he explained that Assad was never really into politics. His true dream was to become an optometrist. In fact, Oliver said, Assad went to a university in England to realize this dream. As Assad was overseas studying his optometry textbooks, his brother (in line to rule) had passed away. His mother, wanting one of her sons to rule, had nearly forced Assad out of school and back to Syria. To the world’s dismay, he then took his brother’s place. After learning all of this, I felt that Assad no longer appeared as an unconquerable threat, but as a nerd who is afraid of his mother. Of course, this man’s rule and treatment of his people is still to be feared, but we are reminded that this is all he is: a man.
This is the way news should be done. We need to be educated on a wide variety of topics. We need to make sure that the interests of the sponsors are not warping the story. But most of all we need to be able to laugh at the things troubling our world. If not, we internalize more fear and inhibit our ability to rationally deal with these issues. By laughing, we can remain hopeful. Last Week Tonight embodies this.
Check Out Oliver’s Interview With Stephen Hawking: