late night

News Discourse and the Refugee Crisis

Here’s the thing: news outlets need to be objective. The whole premise of journalism is to relay information (read: truth) to the public. Its objective is to be objective. As much as there may be earnest, objective journalists out there, however, news stories are filtered through news outlets – most of which are either government-funded or have commercial interests. And a political agenda, albeit sometimes subtle, usually accompany those interests. And how do you subtly inject a political agenda? You inject it through discourse.

Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver dissected the news media’s (aka Fox News) attempts at infusing anti-immigrant, and ultimately anti-Muslim, slants in their segments. The clip in question shows a video playing with a chyron on the screen that read “Terrorists Inbound?” Needless to say, those language choices are extremely loaded with prejudiced slants. We’re talking about refugees here, and they label them as terrorists by questioning that they may be terrorists. But here’s the kicker—Oliver’s team points out that the video loop they have on screen was uploaded to YouTube in 2010. As in five years ago. How much more subjective (and offensive) can you get when you’re using an old video to propel the discourse you’re aiming to send out into the public sphere?

To be fair, it’s not just news media —governments are just as guilty at managing their agendas through discourse (as are corporations, advertising, etc.). Oliver used the example of British Prime Minister David Cameron referring to a large group of refugees as a “swarm.” The word clearly has negative connotations and invokes a sense of danger and vulnerability. How will refugees ever be treated with humanity and respect when world leaders—I repeat, world leaders—verbally insinuate that they are pests to be feared and dismissed? I hope the answer is that most good-hearted people watching the news and listening to politicians know when to ignore and see through the “bullshit mountain.”

I implore you to watch this entire segment from Last Week Tonight—it’s poignant, frustrating, heart-warming and really effin’ funny. I’m so glad we have people like John Oliver and Noujain Mustaffa in this world to make it just a little better.

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Late Night with Graham Norton?

I was delighted to hear earlier this week a little spot on NPR about The Graham Norton Show. Basically, the story was praising this brilliant British gem of a talk show and slightly criticizing the American public for investing in the wrong program in this “war of late night.” Now, I’m an ardent supporter of Conan O’Brien, particularly as a human being and comedic genius, but I know that CONAN on TBS, while having its moments, doesn’t have the same flare as his spectacular absurdist rendition of Late Night. But of the American late night hosts, he and David Letterman are my preferred go-tos. However, over the years I’ve caught bits of Graham Norton here and there, and was happy to watch a bit more of him in 2011-2012 during a stint of grad school in London.

What Jimmy Fallon tries to do on The Tonight Show, as well as previously on his Late Night, Graham Norton does better. As likeable as I think Jimmy Fallon is, the show seems to overcompensate on his lack of poignant interview skills. He constantly brings in guests just to dress them up in costume for a segment of “Ew!” or has them smash eggs on their heads. This can certainly be endearing, and I love seeing Jennifer Lawrence be feisty and off-the-cuff at an incomprehensibly stupid game just as the next person. But it’s all a bit showboat-y and meaningless, wouldn’t you say? You get a sense of “Hey look! Celebrities are just like us!” but we’re left not feeling a part of what we’re watching. Nor do we learn much more about our guests other than that they are good sports.

The Graham Norton Show has a similar intent, but for whatever reason it’s more engaging. Maybe it’s because it’s British, and it has a lot of British guests, so it inherently has more appeal for me, an American with an Anglophile tendency. Or maybe because Norton is openly gay or that he makes raunchy jokes and similarly has celebrities tell raunchy stories (which of course is possible because this is British television after all!). But I think the real catch is that Norton has all his guests come out at once. I think this works incredibly well. While some talk shows will have guests out at the same time, each segment is clearly designated as a particular guest’s time slot – there may be some humorous interaction, but we always go back to the current guest.

There’s something about having Kylie Minogue, Russell Crowe, Cameron Diaz and British comedian Richard Ayoade all out at once sharing stories that feels much more entertaining than simply participating in a PR gimmick. Norton is able to get unexpected groupings of people in the entertainment industry for an hour that feels surprisingly more human than anything else on TV at the midnight hour.