For the time being, I'm setting aside my ongoing debate over whether late 90's babies like me are considered Millennials or members of the rising Gen Z and arguing that those born up until 1999 are technically Millennials. We were some of the youngest citizens to vote in the 2016 Presidential Election, the rising era of voices and opinions, and the main market audience of new goods and services, from technology to (streaming) television.
One show targeted almost solely to the Millennial generation is 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" which has run on HBO since 2014. While both Oliver and the show tend to lean towards left-wing political beliefs, he has often been critical of injustice and ignorance regardless of political party. The majority of his episodes are focused on non-partisan topics nuclear waste, online harassment, and credit reports; topics that, although not necessarily the most interesting, are shockingly relevant to our generation.
Take, for example, the episode on Standardized Testing, something that nearly every child in America encounters at least 300 times in their academic career. Oliver breaks down the presence of standardized tests in the US, including its start with President Bush's No Child Left Behind program and the areas where the standardized testing fails the students it's designed to help. While the episode is hysterical and sprinkled with jokes about Gwyneth Paltrow and a dancing monkey mascot brought in to excite students about taking tests, Oliver directs our attention to a critical analysis on why our education system places a more significant emphasis on tests that don't always adequately reflect intelligence than on the information absorbed and incorporated by students.
The result is a show that makes us simultaneously laugh and think, leaving us remembering the episode and the information it shares long after the show ends.
While the episodes regarding topics like guardianship and dialysis are not necessarily political aligned, the episodes on Alex Jones, abortion laws, and every single episode about Trump are unavoidably partisan. When the show does address politics, it does so much in the same way The Daily Show did, understandably so since appearing on the show turned out to be Oliver's big break. For Republican Millennials, the show's left-leaning tone may be a deterrent in this highly volatile political environment. While this isn't unreasonable, it's worth negating this argument and instead highlighting some of the ways 'Last Week Tonight' tries to at least partially bridge the political gap, even while taking on highly politicized topics.
Oliver often makes jokes about the way his viewers with different political beliefs will perceive segments by playing off the stereotypes of both sides. In the episode Trump vs. Truth, Oliver states, "'Donald Trump lies' is clearly not a fresh observation. Liberals are probably thinking, 'Wow, hot take Johnny. Next, you're gonna tell me "Obama is aloof, Dick Cheney is evil, and Paul Ryan doesn't climax until he's checked his FitBit to see how many calories he's burned from f***ing." And you know what? If you're on the other side, if you're on the right, you're probably thinking, "Oh great. Another blizzard of snowflakes from 'Last Cuck Tonight with Johnny Trigger-Warning.'"'"
He also does not blanket accept all Democratic leaders and their beliefs as they stand. In his extensive episode on Torture (in which Helen Mirren actually reads the audiobook version of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, which is also a book that I now own), he is critical of how Obama addressed the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report, as well as in his even more extensive episode on Guantánamo Bay which focuses on how Gitmo stands as one of Obama's biggest failures.
But some topics, while arguably political, are necessary for sparking conversation in this day and age. The emphasis is on the word conversation because, while Oliver himself tends to pick a side to argue in each episode, he does so only after playing devil's advocate and providing evidence to support the other opinion. Millennials need to capitalize on Oliver's discussion style because if there is anything supporters of both political parties can take away from the 2016 Presidential Election and the subsequent presidency of Donald Trump, it is that progress is not made from trying to prove your side is right. Progress is made when there are compromise and conversation. The conversational tone of the show, however you receive its content, is critically influential to rising Millennial voices. We need to continue having debates, but there needs to be a return to healthy back and forth collaborations, not the aggression that results when two rival opinions want to be heard the loudest and over the other side.
The content the show sets forth is important, too. We as a nation have begun to pick and choose certain hot-button topics and focus our arguments on those (i.e. gun control, immigration, terrorism, the economy, civil rights, and so on). However, regardless of your stance on the issues discussed, the thing every Millennial should take away from 'Last Week Tonight' is that there are so many facets of American life that are not necessarily hot-button, that are often not easy to discuss, that do not always influence us personally, but can be influencing our neighbors, our peers, our families. We need to talk about multilevel marketing, crisis pregnancy centers, and opioids because these are issues prevalent in our society, whether we know it or not.
We Millennials need more shows like 'Last Week Tonight' whose humor elicits our attention, whose tone is aspirational for our own interactions, and whose content is necessary to be a functioning human being in the world, regardless of who is President.