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John Oliver Just Called Out 50 Congress Members. Is He The New Face Of Political Activism?

By Emily Cutler | Videos | May 18, 2015 |

By Emily Cutler | Videos | May 18, 2015 |

This feels like it’s getting repetitive, but John Oliver did amazing stuff on his show again last night. Specifically he exposed the terrible conditions surrounding chicken farming. Not for the chickens, but for the farmers. Last Week Tonight lays out the meticulously researched case, but basically large, under-regulated corporations are wielding their money and power to screw over small chicken farmers. It’s expectedly terrible.

Luckily since this is Last Week Tonight, there’s a rally cry along with the bad news. Rep. Marcy Kaptur has tried to pass an amendment which would protect whistleblowing farmers from retaliation. An amendment which has failed to pass several times before mostly because of strong-arming done at the chicken industries behest. So Oliver does what we’ve come to expect from him, and called out the 50 Congress members voting on the amendment: either vote for the amendment or be labeled a chicken fucker for the rest of your career. It’s either hysterically appropriate or sophomorically immature depending on your viewpoint, but it will probably get shit done.

Which leads to my inspiring/ depressing question: is John Oliver the new face of political activism? Given that Oliver isn’t a politician and doesn’t consider himself to be a journalist, we might have to accept the fact that the greatest rallying power in U.S. politics right now is a British born, dick joke- making comedian with a premium cable show that roughly 4 million people watch each week. How is he able to command his audience they way that he does?

Because he understands the ways in which we are stupid. The U.S. in general is not a stupid country. Nor are its citizens apathetic to suffering and injustices. We’re just busy and overwhelmed. We don’t individually research issues, we don’t follow up with how our representatives voted, and we don’t make sure that laws are enacted the way that they should be. We need someone else to do that for us.

And Oliver gets that. It’s why he seemed so annoyed during his Snowden interview.
Snowden did exactly the opposite of what you should do with that amount of information. He dropped it in our collective laps with the expectation that we would comb through the information, form the correct opinions, and create an action plan to fix the problems. That was never going to happen, Ed. What we need is what Oliver does. He not only gives us all of the information we need, but he gives it to us in entertaining and funny packages. And then he tacks on a “now go do this easy thing to remedy the situation.”

And as much as that sounds like the U.S. is lazy when it comes to current events, that’s not actually the case. We like to follow what’s going on in the world, we just don’t have time to follow everything. We need an intermediary to sift through everything that’s happened in the past week, and pull out the really important facts. Congress is possibly acting to repeal the NSA’s wiretapping program? We need to know about that. An airplane disappeared? Not so much. Things that are fun to hear about are different from things that are important to hear about. And as a society we do need an entity to makes us eat our news vegetables in order to stay healthy. We rarely get information that’s both important and easily digestible, but it’s the only way to keep your citizenry engaged. If exhaustively researching all of the issues were the responsibility of every citizen, there wouldn’t be jobs devoted exclusively to doing it.

So it turns out Oliver is the new face of political activism because he’s doing the job that the national news media should be.

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