The Daily Show on Occupy Wall Street

This five-minute John Oliver piece really annoyed the hell out of me, until I watched it to the end. It’s basically a smug “hey look, these people use unfamiliar hand gestures and some of them have facial tattoos, ha ha ha” piece.

The badness of the piece seemingly craters at the end, when Oliver decides to talk to “normal people” in contrast to the weirdos — and all the “normal people” are white and seem middle or upper class.

But at the end, it turns out that unlike the weirdos, the “normal people” are pretty useless, because they’re unwilling to work to create change. And I think that the extremely narrow band of people considered “normal people” may be a satire of how racist and classist the media’s conception of normality is (although if so, I suspect this aspect went over many viewers’ heads).

Rather than being a clueless “look at all these stupid weirdos” piece, I think this piece is actually making fun of, and subverting, the “stupid weirdos” critique.

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5 Responses to The Daily Show on Occupy Wall Street

  1. 1
    Eytan Zweig says:

    I can’t watch that video, being outside of the US. And it’s been a while since I last watched the daily show, for the same reason. But the whole “make fun of a position by acting as if you believe in it, in the process exposing it for what it is” used to be a typical methodology they used – sometimes very overtly, sometimes more subtly.

    Based on my general familiarity with John Oliver’s political comedy outside the Daily Show, I would be very surprised if he bought into the anti-occupy hype.

  2. 2
    Denise says:

    Eytan, and anyone else who can’t watch it, basically he spent the first part of the video talking to people in costumes and looking askance at interpretive dancers with dollar bills taped over their mouths.

    Then he goes to a bar and has a bunch of white, middle class people and they all agree that Occupy Wall Street “has a point” and that “something should be done”. Then he pointedly says, “Normal people should be doing something about this.” And everyone agrees. And then there is awkward silence as everyone continues to be sitting around a booth at a bar. And then cut to all the normal white people saying “well I’ve gotta go, I’ve gotta do -insert mundane everyday activity here-” for example, “the Jets game is on”. Then he leaves the bar, walks through the protest with headphones on, and says that normal people are resolved to take to the streets… “Soon. Maybe after the Jets game.”

  3. 3
    Kevin Moore says:

    I like the whole thing. What’s wrong with mocking people for silliness? Or for being annoying? Just because they agree with you doesn’t mean they get a free pass from criticism. If the Occupy Movement really intends to represent the interests of 99% of U.S. people, it will have to reach out for their support by communicating to them in ways that appeal to them.

    And watching satire to the end — especially a piece by John Oliver, who is pretty sophisticated — is good form; here the real question is not only how to broaden the movement so that it represents the diverse yet democratic consensus implied by 99%, but how do you get so-called “normal” people off their asses? Part of the answer is appealing to them, but the other part is getting them to recognize that they are fiddling while Rome burns.

    And I think that the extremely narrow band of people considered “normal people” may be a satire of how racist and classist the media’s conception of normality is (although if so, I suspect this aspect went over many viewers’ heads).

    Exactly. Except for the parenthetical statement, because the Daily Show viewership is smarter than you give them credit for; they laughed at the very points in the piece that show up this concept of “normality.” Then the piece ends up questioning the value of “normality” in the face of the serious problems that the Occupy movement is struggling to overcome: Oliver walking around with his iPod’s ear buds tuning him out as he walks past the demonstration — great visual irony!

  4. 4
    chingona says:

    I agree with Kevin.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    I propose that if you go into any bar and start accosting a group of drinkers – regardless of the bar’s location, the time of day or the racial/ethnic makeup of the customers – you’ll get a similar response.

    I don’t know how racist it is to grab a bunch of white people and present them as normal when the peole you’re presenting as “abnormal” were all white as well.

    Now, if you want to see a bunch of older white middle class people who are politically engaged and are effectively acting to change the U.S. through the political and electoral system, I suggest you bring your microphone and tape recorder to the next Tea Party rally in your area. Don’t worry about the cops – they’ll have a permit if it’s a public place. And you can leave your tent at home. They’ll be leaving after a while to pass petitions, knock on doors, work a phone bank, etc.