May 1, 2014 / From the Editor, Uncategorized
Each Friday we compile a list of interesting links and articles our editors find from …
October 7, 2014
From the Theology Editor, Zac Settle.
I have been watching a lot of John Oliver lately. And by that I mean to say: I have spent all of my free time soaking in every bit of content that John Oliver has put out in recent months.
There is something seemingly unnamable and spectacular about John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. I am quite aware that there can be no John Oliver without Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but I think there is something utterly unique going on in Last Week Tonight. Perhaps it is the 18-plus-minute segments in which he meticulously builds a delicate argument, one point on top of the next. Perhaps it is the way in which he builds such delicate arguments in such a fascinating and entertaining way. Perhaps it is the fact that it is satirical news show that shows up on HBO once a week.
John Oliver has touched on everything from the horror of the prison system and the inherent injustice of payday loan companies to the dishonesty of the Miss America Organization and the centrality of Obama’s drone program. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that the force of John Oliver’s show rests in his unique (and apparently abnormal) ability to tell the truth.
The method and the content are unmatched. Satirical as it may be, Oliver does not hide behind his jokes. Rather, his jokes serve to illustrate and further his main project: telling the truth. Whether it be convincing us of the importance of a particular issue or forcing us to ask the uncomfortable questions, Oliver is bringing the most central issues of the American conscience into view once more. And he is redeeming the news for me as he does so.
A good friend of mind once passed on a tremendous clip of Jon Stewart being interviewed by Rachel Maddow. Like usual, Jon Stewart, was on about a number of issues. As far as I am concerned, Stewart single handedly took down the machine of the 24-hour news cycle in that interview. But towards the end, Maddow began to press him more and more; she was troubled by the idea of Stewart not identifying on the side of the news.
The more I have thought about that interview, the more confident I have become that the two were just missing each other. Jon Stewart is a comedian. His show airs on Comedy Central. His show is a satirical take on the news; the actual form itself exists to critique the news. That much is obvious. But I actually tend to agree with Maddow as well. As far as she was concerned, he was the head of a media team whose primary goal was to dispense their own interpretation of the unfolding of current events. Doesn’t sound ltoo unfamiliar, does it? The Daily Show relays the news just like any other news show does. They just do it, as Colbert might say, with a more truthy slant.
John Oliver, then, is busy at work. Contrary to what Jon Stewart may believe about how own role, John Oliver is telling the news. He is forcing us to ask hard questions, and he is bringing peripheral issues to the forefront of our consciousness. And in doing so, he is bearing witness to another way of doing things. He is shedding light on the gap between the way things are and the way things should be.
And in hopes of being a part of that sort of project, I will keep watching.
Zachary Thomas Settle
Zachary Thomas Settle is currently a PhD student in the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt, where he is working in the areas of theology and economy. He is the theology editor for The Other Journal, and he has written for numerous publications, including the Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory and The Other Journal. He is also the coeditor of Dreams, Doubt and Dread: The Spiritual in Film.