Thursday, September 16, 2010

Daily Show RaceFAIL: STFU, John Oliver

I'm watching The Daily Show. They just had a bit where John Oliver interviewed a fringe candidate running in the primary for the Wisconsin state assembly. The candidate was a black woman named Ieshuh Griffin.

Can you guess where this is going?

The story was that Griffin wants her statement of principle on the ballot to be "NOT the whiteman's bitch." She explained why she chose the phrase, demonstrating a grasp of critical race theory. Griffin talked about "whiteman" signifying power structures rather than individuals, and about the significance of "bitch" as a dog used for breeding. "Okay," I thought, "Makes sense. It's gutsy. But it's rather awesome that she's refusing to dilute her politics. Good for her." Oliver proceeded to mimic the way Griffin analyzed language, as though it was something that only crazy people did. 

Oliver talked to Griffin's opponent, also a black woman, suggesting that she add "bitch" to the end of her statement of principle to, "add some punch". "I don't need that kind of punch," she answered. It was basically just a white dude being an asshole to a stoic black woman - painful to watch. And it showed that even though Griffin had a considered rationale behind her slogan, all Oliver heard was a stereotypical angry black person, using words like "bitch" to sound assertive.

Then Oliver did a man-on-the-street thing, asking random people what they thought about the statements of principle. He was shown asking random people, black and white, male and female, which they preferred. "NOT the whiteman's bitch" was the unanimous favourite. "You do realize that you're a white man," Oliver asked one, "And this means less bitches for you." The guy responded, "I think I can live with that." Oliver, take lessons from that dude. 

Despite the fact that "NOT the whiteman's bitch" seemed to go over well with voters, Oliver continued to act like it was the zaniest, most racist thing he'd ever heard, as he discussed slogans with a campaign manager, actually calling it "racist" at one point. The skit returned to Oliver's interview with Griffin, and him asking her if she had considered any other slogans. Her other idea had been, "New Booty," because she was, "not the same old ass." I can see how someone would think it was cute slogan, but moreso I can see why she decided not to go with that one. Despite the fact that Griffin acknowledged that the slogan was a bad idea, Oliver continued to make fun of that one. 

The part of the skit that really demonstrated what was wrong with Oliver's approach to the story was the mock TV ad they made in an attempt to demonstrate the absurdity of the slogan. The ad featured an older, white, heterosexual couple, sitting in a spacious, marble-counter-topped kitchen, discussing who to vote for. The woman turns to the camera and delivers the line, "Ieshuh Griffin: New booty: not the same old ass." Oliver asks the campaign manager, another white man, "do you think voters will feel this represents them?" 

Talk about missing the point. 

John Oliver is a troll who is fortunate enough to have a cable TV show to use as an outlet for his 'splaining, whining "WHAT ABOUT THE WHITE MENZ!" and charges of racism for daring to assert the reality of one's racial oppression. Seriously, how is it racist to assert that you're not the "bitch" of the dominant race? The whole thing just reeked of privilege.

I don't know why The Daily Show continues to use Oliver for skits about racial issues. Why not feature Larry Wilmore more often, who always seems to offer a thoughtful analysis within his comedy? Or at least put Wyatt Cenac on the job, so you don't have the spectacle of racist assholery of a white man suggesting that a black woman add "bitch" to the end of her campaign slogan. 


  1. I LOVED it. I LOVE Jon Oliver AND that was the BEST Daily Show skit thus far!

  2. Really? The best skit in eleven years of political commentary wasn't one taking on a powerful politician or media personality, but one making fun of a black woman running for her state assembly?

    I wonder why you would think that?

  3. You missed the part about her alternate statement being "new booty." THAT was what the older woman says to the camera, not "...white man's bitch."

  4. Satire is suppose to deride folly, and is a moral judgment upon those being satired. If John Oliver is using satire to deride a black woman for speaking up about oppression, even if she is doing so in a non-conventional way, that is kind of racist. "It's satire" is not an excuse. And just to be clear, Oliver is not acting racist to satirize racism, his satire is itself racist.

    This is the second time John Oliver has screwed up on the race topic. I love the Daily Show and John Oliver used to be my favourite correspondent, but he really has to stop being an ass.

  5. Usually those reports are satires of the kind of reporting that happens on issues like race. I haven't yet seen this particular segment, but the correspondents act like asses precisely to satire the media that is made up of asses.

  6. Totally unrelated:

    I wonder if there are any women left in America who haven't been called a slut by the age of 13?

    I'm also troubled that the author actually says she may have been called a slut on certain occasions when she "deserved" it.

  7. @ Anonymous and anyone else who might feel the desire to explain The Daily Show to me:

    Yes, I am aware that The Daily Show is satire, and that correspondents acting like obtuse jerks is part of the shtick.

    In this case, Oliver was mocking a black woman because he thought her approach to politics was absurd. It was racist because Griffin's approach was not absurd, but based in an understanding of how racial oppression works; because at no point did Oliver give any indication that he actually understood what she was talking about, but he felt he had grounds to make fun of her anyways. Because heard a black woman saying that she was "not the whiteman's bitch" and as a white man, got all huffy about it.

  8. That skit rubbed me the wrong way, especially when he was talking with a 'political consultant' who used that race card shit.

  9. I thought the way the piece was edited, especially their inclusion of the white guy's excellent comment at the end and her slogan being the clear public favorite, made Oliver's reporter look like an idiot. It's *possible* that was the opposite of their intent, but I doubt it.

  10. Totally agree with you here Marissa, however much I love the Daily Show. I think it's a rather obvious example of what Ian Haney Lopez has called 'Colorblind White Dominance': White domination is kept in place through an idea of racism that merely looks at mentioning the terms 'race' or 'racism'. We are not supposed to mention 'black' and 'white', otherwise we are racists. Inherent racism build into power structures and state institutions however is simply left in place. In this way, people like Ieshuh Griffin can be considered racist (just like Barack Obama in the eyes of people like Glenn Beck), simply because she explicitly mentions racial power structures. Obvious racism as for example expressed in the racial bias of the US judicial system on the other hand, can pass without any problem, simply because it is not expressed in racial terms.
    The question of course is, how we can ever conquer racism and racial bias if we don't call it by it's name?

  11. I guess they thought it was an OK piece to do for Olliver because usually he goes on about british imperialism (they could just have used Whyatt Cenac to be on the safe side…).
    Apart from exposing her as racist, I thought the piece was about such language being ill-fit for politicians (since everybody else in this was particularly sophisticated)

  12. Except that she wasn't racist, of course.

    Who was sophisticated? I thought that Griffin's understanding of racial oppression was more sophisticated than Oliver's. And clearly the slogan resonated with voters, so...

  13. I think the comments suggesting this piece would have been ok if Wyatt Cenac or Larry Wilmore would have done it, are misdirected. It would have been better if indeed a privileged white man like John Oliver would have done it, but with more awareness of his own privileged whiteness. The idea that pieces about racial prejudice and discourse can and should only be addressed by racial minorities, is in itself racialist, and keeps the existing situation in place.

  14. That's an interesting point. The problem is that Oliver has been painfully obtuse.


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