Why is it that Comedy Shows are More Educational Than News Shows?

John Oliver offers an epic (and NSFW) rant on behalf of net neutrality so ordinary people can see how crony capitalism and our ruling class mean to screw us this time:

Oh, by the way, the answer to my question is: “Because the task of MSM is to sell beer and shampoo–and to get invited to the right parties–not to tell you what’s going on.”

And all brought to you by Obama.

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  • quasimodo

    High-larious! But I am confused by the boring parts of this debate. Every time I have paid attention to “net neutrality” it has seemed to me that the parties to the debate that want to proceed with differing speeds (i.e. the cable companies) have labelled their proposal “net neutrality.” Was I wrong?

  • masterhibb

    It’s dangerous to assume that simply because it’s more cogent than a panel of windbags on a 24-hour news network, a comedy show is actually educational. The purpose of the comedy show is also to sell beer and shampoo, and just because they may wear their agenda closer to their sleeves, it doesn’t make their information immune from being driven by agenda.

    John Oliver delivers a good rant, and his arguments are both humorous and persuasive (the former does often serve the latter well). But it is craft, and any facts (or fact-like statements) serve the craft first. The example of Comcast throttling Netflix is perfect. The Netflix speed graph is thrown out quickly, used as air-tight proof of Comcast’s petty money-grubbing wrongdoing, then quickly discarded and the anti-corporate sentiment driven home with a humorous mob shakedown analogy. It exemplifies the argument, and meshes well with the populist theme of the rant.

    But there are two important things to note here: First, the factoid–the data supposedly proving Comcast’s malfeasance–is given only a few short seconds to make an impression in the viewer’s mind. Much more time is given the mob bit afterward, but while it has the effect of reinforcing the supposedly data-driven point, it appeals entirely to emotion. This is standard procedure on topical comedy shows like this, The Daily Show, and Colbert Report, and with good reason: it is funny. But it is far more meager information than it appears.

    Secondly, it’s not actually true. I’ve seen that same graph somewhere else recently:


    This is a community for techies, and delves much more deeply (and more objectively) into what that graph really means. The article does an excellent job of explaining what went on behind the scenes to cause Neflix’s quality degradation for Comcast subscribers, and I recommend it to anyone with a few minutes to spare and a passing interest in Net Neutrality (or Internet architecture), although to be fair, I don’t know where they sourced their information either. The gist, though, is that the real world is complicated, and in it, most corporations aren’t actually run by Captain Planet villains for whom sticking it to the little guy isn’t just the means, it’s the end.

    Net Neutrality is also complicated, and yes, there’s a danger to the open and ad-hoc nature of the Internet. But this isn’t just power abhorring a vacuum, there are real technical issues that spring organically from hundreds of millions of people all wanting to watch a different movie in HD at the same time. These problems need to be resolved somehow, and since it’s huge corporations who are the backbone of the internet and the media empires driving and meeting the desire for multimedia content that is straining this backbone, it’s these same huge corporations who are going to be looking for solutions to these issues. And as someone who recognizes the need for government regulation of large corporations, I’d expect Mark can understand why the FCC would necessarily get involved as well.

    Unlike the populist tenor of the rant might have you believe, this isn’t a war being declared on the common folk; This is a new set of problems that didn’t exist a decade ago that we need to figure out. Yes, maybe this new proposal is a bad idea, and maybe there are a lot of cronies involved, and maybe cable company monopolies are bad for consumers, but doing nothing is hardly a solution either. By all means, if we have the chance to speak against bad regulation, let’s do it. But let’s understand what battle we’re fighting and why, and let’s not confuse being not wholly ignorant with being informed.

    But I really didn’t mean to go on about Net Neutrality (I’m not terribly informed myself–I just happened to have stumbled upon a much more detailed explanation of this particular affair only a few hours ago). My point is that comedy doesn’t like complicated, so when your primary interest is entertainment, turning your opponents into Looten Plunder is a convenient abstraction. Comedy is entertaining, and politics are entertaining. But if we’re really interested in Truth, we’re going to have to be prepared to sacrifice being entertained in its pursuit. That usually means remembering the clowns are still clowns, even if they’re sharper than the talking heads.

  • KM

    Love it when he says at the end: “Focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction.” Yep.