What I’m Watching: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a satirical and serious show that looks at current events issues. Every week, Oliver focuses on an important issue from the news. In two episodes, he focused on the refugee crisis. In one video, he parses the hateful language used by European governments, especially in The Netherlands, Hungary and Denmark. He softens the language with jokes, as when he calls a Polish minister who calls the refugees ‘human garbage’ “the Polish six flags guy” (Oliver 2015a). He backs up every joke with a bit of research, including research about how helpful refugees and immigrants actually are to an economy, especially ones in Europe with a slow birthrate (Oliver 2015a). The end of the video is a tribute to Noujain Mustaffa, whom he especially highlights in the clip. Unlike short clips on the evening news, this first segment from John Oliver places the crisis in some historical context. However he neglects to mention the full context of the crisis itself; that is, the attack on dissidents in Syria and the civil war there.

In the second clip, released after the 13 November 2015 attacks, Oliver updates the situation and adds to it the US response. One of the attackers was rumoured to have posed as a refugee, setting off fears of refugees coming into America on the same pretenses. After the attack, 31 state governors banned refugees from coming into their state, a pointless bit of grandstanding as Oliver points out they have no legal right to do so, and that refugees can just go to more accepting states (2015b). He also debunks a fear-mongering video from Fox News showing a group of Muslim men calling out Allahuakbar whilst riding the metro; the video had been uploaded five years previously (Oliver 2015).

Oliver places the crisis in context for the American audience in the second clip; he points out that Americans have been slow to accept refugees, even sending a boat with Jewish refugees back to Belgium in 1939, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two (2015). With the recent news that the United States is lowering its threshold of refugees it will accept, there is a certain sense of déjà vu.

Oliver’s sarcastic take on the hyperbolic language used by politicians and the media is a less scholarly, but still important, way to explain how media influences policy, and why it is added to my bibliographic resources for my thesis.

photo: geralt

#weekendcoffeeshare: Of Rituals

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When I visited my best friend in Cleveland in 2014, I found a tea shop in the 5th Street Arcades on Euclid Avenue. It was a tiny shop in the arcade, and I bought a few ounces of tea. I kept them in tight containers and nursed them carefully, but I was running very, very low. So I left a message on their Facebook page and the admin answered a few minutes later, giving me a number to call to place a phone order. I immediately called them the next day, and yesterday (Friday), I received my package of teas. Four ounces (113g) each French Breakfast,  Rooibos and Wild Cherry and two ounces (56g) of Lapsang Souchong. I am in absolute heaven. The French breakfast smells like all the mornings I spent in France, all three years of them, and instantly sends me back there. I have never had Lapsang Souchong, but it smells like a smoky barbecue pit and I am excited to try it. Wild Cherry has actual dried cherries in it; it smells like a summer’s day. Rooibos is something I first tried in London at a tea shop in Islington, and it has been a favourite of mine ever since. So if were having tea, I would be offering you one of my new teas (well…perhaps not the French Breakfast).

I tend to do the same things at the weekend during the school year: wake up lateish, do some chores and basically be a lazy bum. I have a cleaner (a small luxury), but I do my own laundry and occupy myself with my own bedroom. However, I think often of rituals; not the religious ones, but the ones that we do daily, the habits that make up our life. As a tea drinker, I realise the history of the tea ritual, though my tea routine is very far removed from the Chinese ritual of centuries past. There are small things I do every morning when I get ready for work, like slid a pen into my bun, or take things to my car as my tea is brewing so I don’t have too much to carry. And when I return home, my keys go into the bucket next to the door so I never forget where they are. It’s soccer season so lately I’ve been getting home very late…just enough time to drop the keys where they belong and head to bed. Were we having tea I would ask you about your daily rituals and perhaps what they tell you about your life.

Were we having tea, we’d probably discuss a little about the Donald Trump rally that was cancelled and exploded in Chicago. The word ‘rally’ has always made me nervous: it is not a press conference, it’s not a town hall meeting; hell, it’s not even an interview. It’s a concentrated group of fervent supporters and a speech meant to warm the blood and get you inspired. Trump’s speeches are always full of hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric that make his supporters see red. He makes me so, so anxious, and I wonder why and how he has gotten so far.

On a final note, I downloaded the Chrome extension from a recent episode of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight that changes any mention of Donald Trump’s name to Donald Drumpf, the original spelling of his last name. It startles me sometimes and then it makes me smile. It’s a little satirical flourish that reminds me that, for now, this sort of speech is well-protected. Were we having tea, I’d love to hear about your favourite bits of satire, or even if we just chat about civil rights, I’m sure it would be a good conversation.

Until next week, then? – SDM

NB: Read the other #weekendcoffeeshare links here!

Photo by Stefan Schweihofer