On the Fake ‘Liberalism’ of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee
As many of you might have noticed by now- Trump’s 2016 election victory has had some interesting, and highly entertaining, effects on establishment “liberals”. Hardly a day goes by without some rich “liberal” celebrity saying, tweeting or posting a melodramatic rant about Trump. Curiously, only a minority of these rants are about something real- like all the bad decisions made by his administration since January 20, 2017. Instead, these rich “liberal” celebrities spend most of their bandwidth hyping dubious allegations about collusion between ‘Trump and Putin’ and generally demeaning people who voted for Trump (or did not vote for HRC).
While the anti-Trump rants of most “liberal celebrities (including some famous presstitutes) are secondary to their career, a few have made a living out of it or used it to boost their public visibility. While the demand for anti-Trump agitprop by partisan democratic voters has created a cottage industry of minor celebrities ranting against him, a few stand out- largely because of their public visibility and hypocrisy. I am specifically talking about three minor “liberal” celebrities with their own comedy shows on cable TV who used to be on previous incarnation of “The Daily Show”.
But before I skewer the fake “liberalism” of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee, let us talk a bit about why Jon Stewart’s version of that show was so successful and influential. As some of you might remember, Jon Stewart was not the first host of “The Daily Show”. Nor was his version an instant hit. In fact, in its first two years, the show was largely a combination of clever but fairly mild mockery of public figures (especially politicians) with a short studio interview of some celebrity at the end. In other words, it was sufficiently different enough from traditional late-night shows to get some attention but not bold enough to be a trendsetter.
Then a series of events made that show far more relevant than in its first two years. The disputed presidential election of 2000 and the events of 9/11 were unique in the recent history of USA as far as their scale and impact was concerned. But perhaps more importantly, commentary on those two events could not be packaged within the narrative space of traditional late-night shows which largely shunned any serious political discussions. Jon Stewart’s show, on the other hand, was ideally equipped to deal with politically oriented satire- something that was non-existent on basic cable TV at that time.
The disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a really large number of bad or stupid decisions by the Bush43 administration created a gold mine of opportunity for political satire. Jon Stewart’s ability and willingness to mock the Bush43 administration was in sharp contrast with the spineless deference to them by rest of MSM. In other words, he had no serious competition for his product on cable TV between 2003-2008. I should also point out that this occurred in the era before widespread penetration of social media platforms, video streaming services and alternative news sites.
To make a long story short, this led to his show (and all those associated with it) becoming media celebrities- especially among viewers of a vaguely liberal mindset. I, however, always saw that show as somewhat disingenuous because it was about promoting impotent and smug ridicule of ‘those people’ for ratings. Now.. I am not exactly a fan of CONservatives or people who vote for republicans- but it was obvious that democrats and establishment ‘liberals’ were not better. Neither wanted to push for single payer healthcare with universal coverage. Neither wanted to do anything about the looming financial crisis in the 2004-2008 span. Neither wanted to really not invade Iraq under false pretense or get out of there once it became obvious that occupation of Iraq was a failure.
My point is that establishment republicans were not really different from their democratic counterparts. Yet, night after night, that show would try to portray democrats as being much better than republicans. So how could they do that? Well.. as it turns out, the superiority of democrats was largely based on them being less openly bigoted than their republican counterparts. Yes.. I am saying that the biggest difference between democrats and republicans, as portrayed on that show, was that the former were more image conscious and careful about what they said than the later. Yet, the show tried to portray this as proof of fundamental superiority of neoliberal democrats over neoconservative republicans.
After eight shitty years under Bush43, the nation got tired of republicans and elected Obama in November 2008. Suddenly, that show (and other like it) could not stop praising the newly elected president. This uncritical praise of Obama continued even after he revealed his neoliberal colors by bailing out big banks, screwing over mortgage holders, passing an insipid republican healthcare plan and not fulfilling the vast majority of his campaign promises. So what happened? Why did that show, and others like it, stop holding Obama accountable like they tried to do this predecessor. To be fair, Bush43 was a bigger fuckup than Obama44. My point, however, still stands. That show spent infinitely more time fawning over him than holding him to account for breaking his many promises.
But what does any of this have to with the fake ‘liberalism’ of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee? Why is a brief history of ‘The Daily Show’ relevant to my critique of them? And what is fake ‘liberalism’?
Let us consider the last question first. Fake ‘liberalism’ is just another word for neoliberalism. People who believe in, and promote, this ideology espouse a number of causes which at first glance appear progressive or liberal. For example- they support a number of “progressive” causes such as LGBT rights after the causes have already become safe to support. They never tire talking about how they support “diversity”, “empowerment” and similar nice-sounding but empty ideas. They will however never want to confront large systemic issues such as class, race, rent-seeking, economic inequality etc
To put it another way, they have no interest in real socio-economic reform. Indeed, they want to keep the status quo going on for as long as possible since they greatly benefit from it. They just want to find and promote new ideas that help legitimize their parasitism. As I wrote in a previous post, the vast majority of the public actions and behavior of these establishment “liberals” and celebrities are about virtue signalling and trying to create a moral justification for their ill-gotten wealth and power.
So how do John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee fit into all this? The short answer is- very well. The somewhat longer answer is that their entire career is based on promoting this fake “liberalism” while pretending to be progressive. Here is a person-by-person breakdown.
John Oliver: Though he pretends to be of middle-class upbringing, even a quick look at his background suggests that he came from a pretty connected background. OK, so he is not exactly upper class, but he is what you might call solidly upper-middle class. Note that he was able to move from performing in comedy festivals in UK to being hired by the Daily Show within a few years. Now I am not saying that he was incompetent or undeserving, but it is clear that he always moved in the right circles to be ‘discovered’ for big-time gigs. And this brings me to an odd question- why would you hire a guy from UK for a show about the minutiae of american society and politics? As an outsider with a fresh perspective? Perhaps.. but there is a much better explanation.
In my opinion, he was hired by that show to play a particular archetype. To be more specific- he played the role of a witty, oxbridge educated englishman to comment on american society and politics while still being accessible enough to generate ratings. And that is his shtick, his only shtick. Sure.. since he got his own show on HBO, he has devoted many shows to obvious critiques of the many flaws and problems in american society. Also, his critiques are, by and large, factually correct and accurate. But all of his critiques almost always miss the source of the problems he claims to be exposing. As an example- his show about predatory lending barely touched on the central role of low minimum wages in USA in creating that problem in the first place. Another example- his segment on police accountability treats the issue of police brutality as a fault of the system rather than as its central feature.
In other words, his principal shtick is to sell outrage at various symptom of the underlying rot rather than directing attention to the cause. So why he do that? Well.. because it is popular and profitable. People like him derive their livelihood from being the secular equivalents of “revolutionary” religious preachers of old who were largely in it for public adulation, money and power. Like their secular equivalents today, those preachers had no interest in actual reform which would improve the lives of others. Similarly, most of their promoters and audience went their sermons to feel good about themselves and morally superior to those not in attendance. Also, it helped give their audience the illusion of righteous action.
Trevor Noah: When he took over as the host of ‘The Daily Show’ after Jon Stewart retired, many wondered as to why Jon chose a South-African comedian over, say, somebody from USA. The official answer was that he had the most potential of those who were available (and willing) to fill that spot. Once again, I am not going to say that he is incompetent and undeserving of the position- because there is no evidence for those assertions. In fact, Trevor is a pretty decent all-round comedian. However, I do think that his ancestry had a worthwhile effect on his selection for that job. In my opinion, It really helped that Trevor (like John Oliver) can convey a particular archetype. Specifically that of a sharp, competent, confident black comedian who is still culturally white enough to retain the core viewership of the show. It also helps that he was born in apartheid-era South Africa and therefore serves as an example of somebody who is achieving the American Dream.
So what makes him a promoter of fake “liberalism”? Well.. the simple answer is- who and what he promotes on his show. And yes, I am aware that he does not have full editorial control of the show. Since he started hosting the show, it has pretty much been a love-fest for establishment “liberals” and “conservatives”- much more so that when Jon Stewart hosted it. Also, during the 2016 election cycle- he was plugging establishment propaganda and tropes as if he was part of the establishment. You might have also noticed that the show now spends an inordinate amount of time of just plain mockery of all those ‘other people’ and SJW-type issues than on anything approaching an intelligent or clever critique. Of course, saying any of this in public or on social media will result in busy-bodies calling you a racist.
Samantha Bee: Another alumni of ‘The Daily Show’ whose main shtick can be largely summed up as- “I have a cunt, therefore, I must be respected and admired”. As some of you, in her previous jobs, she had pretty much one single specialty- make funny faces during interviews that were then edited to support whatever point she was trying to make. That is the exact same specialty as her husband. Nowadays, her secondary shtick is to support any cause that can be vaguely sold as feminist or “empowering to women”- which is something that is still in demand. Curiously, all of her public professions of support for the down-trodden, non-white, women and other “protected” groups does not seem to extend to her personal life. It is a matter of public record, that she and her husband, are opposed to integration of kids from lower-income families at the school which their kids attend. To put it another way, “diversity” is good for the ignorant masses but not for affluent “liberals” like us.
I should also point out that she uncritically supported and plugged HRC, both during the democratic primaries and the general election in 2016. It is noteworthy that she did that by repeatedly ignoring and dissing Bernie Sanders and his message of populist economic policies. In that respect, she is more openly neoliberal that John Oliver or Trevor Noah. Also, pointing out that she is not especially funny is evidence your ‘misogyny’ rather than your opinion about her competence. In her opinion, rubes like you are too stupid to appreciate the comedy of constantly swearing and screaming hysterically at the camera. Also, not appreciating the comedy of misleadingly edited interviews is a sign of your poor taste- rather than fatigue at seeing the same crap for almost a decade.
I am now going to stop adding to this post because it is already a bit too long. Might write a sequel later.
What do you think? Comments?