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Deep Dive Review: The John Oliver Effect<
Format: Double Spac
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Deep Dive Review: The John Oliver Effect<
Format: Double Spaced, Times New Roman Font<
Length: 500-1000 words<
Over the past decade, comedy shows like the Daily Show (The original fake news), The Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, etc, have taken close comedic looks at topics that have been targets of general public misunderstanding and intentional misinformation campaigns. These shows have proven to be powerful voices and their hosts often seen as part of public discourse between conservative and liberal views on various topics of national debate. One of the more interesting cases is that of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The British comedian, who got his start as a contributor to the Daily Show, has generated a considerable following with his HBO show.<
John Oliver’s show, Last Week Tonight, has been credited with influencing US legislation, regulation changes, and public policy campaigns. This influence has been called the “John Oliver Effect” because of the host’s ability to educate his viewers and draw attention to issues that are little understood and even esoteric. Although Oliver himself denies the existence of this “effect,” some of his shows have seemingly had a real-world impact. The first example of this occurred in the first season following his in-depth discussion of net neutrality, a rather technical and poorly understood subject. Oliver asked his viewers to submit comments to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) website to oppose a proposal to remove network neutrality. The number of comments submitted quickly crashed the FCC’s website and Bloomberg and the New York Times credited John Oliver’s show with changing the FCC’s direction on the issue and helping protect net neutrality. Public Officials, Circuit Court Judges, Senators, and others have cited Oliver’s shows on numerous occasions. As Oliver’s popularity grew among viewers, public figures, and other journalists, many paid attention to the level journalistic research present in many of his segments. But, like his old boss John Stewart, Oliver has spent much time consistently denying that he is a journalist. When challenged about his bias and responsibility to fairly report on the topics he discusses, he has routinely claimed that his show is intended to entertain, not inform.<
Often he makes statements like these:<
“We are making jokes about the news and sometimes we need to research things deeply to understand them, but it’s always in service of a joke. If you make jokes about animals, that does not make you a zoologist. We certainly hold ourselves to a high standard and fact-check everything, but the correct term for what we do is “comedy.””<
Here is the issue. Oliver’s work includes significant elements of journalism and is seen by many as a truthful, even if entertaining, way to educate the public. With cheeky, often irreverent wit, Oliver’s show blends punchlines with research, often surprisingly detailed research for what you might expect from comedy and satire shows. His team consists of several research journalists, and his show has become know for its solid research. For example, their researchers were credited with exposing a huge discrepancy (using state and federal income tax returns) between the Miss America organization’s statement of being the world’s largest provider of scholarships for women and the actual number of scholarships it handed out. So, the question remains, does he have a responsibility to accurately report the news and fairly discuss these issues? I don’t know. Many journalists have called him out for not claiming the mantle of “journalist.” Time magazine wrote a whole article on the subject. But, the issue remains, that people seemingly consume the information in his show like it is journalism. Whether Oliver wants to admit that the “John Oliver Effect” exists or not, there is some evidence that it does. So, the more important question is how good is his show as accurately discussing the topics they choose?<
As Oliver himself points out, treating his show like his as journalism is problematic for many reasons. Not the least of which is that comedy and satire can interfere with our critical thinking skills, instead delivering punchlines against ideas or people we already find worthy of such ridicule. Beyond that, there are a number of concerning questions when dealing with comedy shows like these:<
Does the punchline obscure more nuanced and balanced presentation of information?<
What impact does a 20-min or less time limit have on the information presented?<
What is the impact of the host’s political bias?<
Why are the topics discussed chosen over others?<
Do they appropriately criticize all sides when it is necessary?<
Your assignment is to critically review an episode (you are only analyzing the main issue for that episode, not the other segments) of Last Week Tonight (you can find these on youtube). You MUST address the following topics in an organized essay:<
Discuss your initial impressions<
Where there any things (content wise) that surprised you?<
What did you like or dislike immediately?<
What impact did this episode on your thoughts about this issue?<
Discuss the structure of the Segment.<
How does he deliver information? (i.e. How does he build his argument).<
Fact Check his episode<
Is there anything that he got wrong?<
Any information that he used in a misleading way?<
Evaluate statement and arguments<
Were there any arguments that were unfair or not entirely balanced?<
Do some research and find out what problems opponents of this episode have with his arguments or logic? Then explain if these critiques are fair.<
Identify things that Oliver does well in discussing complex topics. (Things you might want to emulate in your own deep dive) or doesn’t do well (things you wouldn’t copy).<
Choose from the following John Oliver Segment videos (Warning: On occasion, he uses curse words or inappropriate jokes. Feel free to critique this method of delivery):<
Public Defenders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USkEzLuzmZ4<
Elected Judges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poL7l-Uk3I8<
Prisoner Reentry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJtYRxH5G2k<
Mandatory Minimums: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDVmldTurqk<
Slapp Suits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN8bJb8biZU<
Jury Selection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f2iawp0y5Y<
Death Investigations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnoMsftQPY8<
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