Authoritarianism: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

John Oliver discusses the growing number of authoritarian leaders around the world, their common characteristics, and whether or not one of them is currently our president.

  1. Projecting Strength
  2. Demonizing Enemies
  3. Dismantling Institutions: The Press, Courts

I Think I’m Going to Kathmandu, Say the Chinese

If things go as planned, one day soon Chinese trains will pull into Kathmandu, Nepal, on a new railroad built to lessen the landlocked Himalayan country’s dependence on India.

.. It’s time to acknowledge that in raw economic terms China has comprehensively outpaced India. If winning regional influence depends on building ports and railroads abroad, or dazzling visitors with skyscrapers and broad boulevards at home, then India’s prospects look bleak.

Compared with China, however, India remains a bastion of free speech, minority rights and judicial independence. New Delhi ought to play to these traditional strengths by deepening them.

..  On Monday, China blocked after comedian John Oliver ran a segment that discussed Mr. Xi’s alleged touchiness about his purported resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.

..  it wasn’t always a certainty that China would pull ahead. According to the World Bank, as recently as 1990 India’s per capita income ($364) was higher than China’s ($318). Paradoxically, China’s communists unleashed market forces more effectively than their democratically elected counterparts in India.

.. Four years ago, Mr. Modi looked set to enact the sweeping reforms India needs to eradicate poverty and catch up with China. But despite a few successes, such as a national goods and services tax and a bankruptcy law that makes it easier to exit a failed business, the Indian prime minister disappointed. He more resembles his lackluster socialist predecessors than a market-friendly East Asian leader.

.. India’s archaic labor laws suppress job growth by making it extremely hard to fire workers during a downturn.

.. With a per capita income of $8,100, the average Chinese is nearly five times as rich as the average Indian. The gap has widened over the past 10 years.

..  48 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings are in China. None are in India.

.. the ruling Bharatiya has earned a reputation for intimidating reporters with massive lawsuits, pressuring media barons to sack unfriendly editors, and using lap-dog television channels and a vicious troll army to smear political opponents.

.. India’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but Mr. Modi often remains distressingly silent when Hindu mobs lynch innocent Muslims on suspicion of killing a cow.
..  But the government has taken to stalling the appointment of senior judges it does not approve of, raising fears that it will chip away at judicial autonomy.


How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump

Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values ..

.. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps.

.. When John Oliver told viewers that if they opposed abortion they had to change the channel until the last minute of the program, when they would be shown “an adorable bucket of sloths,” he perfectly encapsulated the tone of these shows: one imbued with the conviction that they and their fans are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right.

.. When Republicans see these harsh jokes—which echo down through the morning news shows and the chattering day’s worth of viral clips, along with those of Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers—they don’t just see a handful of comics mocking them. They see HBO, Comedy Central, TBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC. In other words, they see exactly what Donald Trump has taught them: that the entire media landscape loathes them, their values, their family, and their religion.

.. Jon Lovett, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, was representative: “This photo will be in history books and the caption will not be about how Jimmy Fallon is such a fun nice guy”), and rightly so.

.. getting a noogie from a comic on late-night television is now considered a “normalizing” activity for a presidential candidate. The implication is that you’re not fit for executive office unless you can clown for us on the tube when we’re half awake.

.. Paar invites audience members to ask their own questions of the senator. “Let’s have, you know, responsible questions from responsible people,” Paar says, and I waited for the laugh, but it didn’t come. It wasn’t a joke.

.. This was a chance to interview someone who wanted to be the president, and Paar asked his audience members to act accordingly—which they did.

.. The new age officially began with Bill Clinton’s 1992 appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, playing his saxophone.

.. This was the president as entertainer, the president as a guy so young and so cool that he could slide right onto the set of the most with-it late-night show and sit in with the band.

Who couldn’t love this guy? Well, possibly the family of Ricky Ray Rector, the retarded man on Arkansas’s death row, whom Clinton had cruelly allowed to be executed just five months earlier to prove he was tough on crime.

.. soon President Bubba .. would be telling an MTV crowd whether he wore boxers or briefs

.. We are a country with the greatest creed in all of history—the Constitution of the United States—yet we are looking more and more like a banana republic.

New York Mag: John Oliver

It didn’t occur to me until recently actually that my son is going to have an American accent. Because I guess in my head that’s never how I’ve heard my child speak, and I think it’ll be odd that I’m going to sound different from him. And he’ll hear me have to change my voice for automated machines. You probably don’t have to do that. On the automated phone lines, all the time — “No. 4.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.” “No. 4.” “I don’t understand that,” and I have to say “No. 4” like a kind of a sedated John Wayne. And it feels like such a defeat. There’s almost a smugness in there: “Ohhh, No. 4.”

.. The lack of religion in British politics is a polar opposite. I don’t know how many people in Congress are openly without religion3; I would imagine potentially zero. Whereas in England, politicians cannot talk openly about faith. Remember that Tony Blair was a committed Catholic, and there was real concern about that. He tried to not be photographed going to church. The question that made him squirm4 the most leading up to the Iraq War was “Do you and George Bush pray together?” That was like pulling a pin out of a grenade, handing it to him, and saying, “What are you going to do with that?”

.. By taking out what seems like the funniest joke, everything else would get funnier and make more sense, because that funny joke was a digression

.. Saying someone watches the show for news is like saying to a musician, “A lot of people use your music to work out. Do you make workout music?”

.. The funny stuff is easier. You should be able to write jokes pretty quickly. The jokes are kind of the window dressing, but you need to make sure that they’re hanging on something solid, because if that story falls apart, all the jokes fall apart, too.

Dan Harmon of Community.10 He’s a good example of just, like, killing himself to make something 3 percent better.

.. From that point, it’s a lot of sweat and a lot of pain to make a piece barely perceptibly better. But if you can do that six times, make it incrementally better, all of a sudden it’s 10 percent better, and that’s actually a big deal. But it’s like athletes: If you’re running a 10.3-second hundred meters, with all the pain and not eating the most flavorsome foods to get to that level, is it worth working even harder to get to 10.2? You’re already running pretty fast.

.. You had a line I liked about falling in love with America, in all its beauty and awfulness, and how that was like falling in love with a girl while you’re holding back her hair as she’s vomiting. Do you still feel that way?

.. Then you get here and you realize it is slightly misplaced but that it’s also a more complicated country than anyone gives it credit for. America is viewed overseas as this coherent mass of people who are proud to be American and thus agree with each other on everything, and of course nothing could be further from the truth. This is as fractured a country as you’re likely to find, but that’s what’s great about it.

.. There is a power in a candidate openly saying, “Of course I gave to both parties in the past. I’m a businessman, that’s what you do.” He’s like the Wizard of Oz, pulling back the curtain, and there is something interesting in that.

.. Given that campaign news — and news in general — moves so fast — did you know when you started the show that Last Week Tonight would stay off the day-to-day news cycle?
If the news had been dominated by something all week, there’s a pretty good chance we’re not going to be doing that.

.. “You’re never truly free if you’re without any kind of risk.”

..You’ve said before that punching down isn’t funny.
Satire works best when it is punching up, when it’s anti-Establishment.

Is that why you think there isn’t a right-wing version of your show13 or The Daily Show?

.. I think the concept behind your question is a little problematic — as if to say I’m coming at something just from a liberal point of view, and not from a comedian’s, which is to point out bullshit. If you become too partisan in your way of thinking, you get less funny.

.. It’s almost inevitable that in however many more years I’ll say I can’t deal with this toxic shit anymore. But it’s still an interesting level of despair at the moment.

.. if there are three statistics on a screen at one time, you can be fairly sure at least one of those is wrong. Which is pretty scary. You think, How on Earth can ABC News put these numbers up on screen? And then you think, Well, ABC News has cut back on staff to a dramatic extent. They’re spread pretty thin, and this is what happens.

.. Some of the stuff that we’re most proud of is not those long stories but the spectacle.