Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver disrupts the toxic "ecosystem of conspiracy theories" fueling coronavirus truthers

John Oliver, (inset: not a medical doctor)
John Oliver, (inset: not a medical doctor)
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

With the exasperated, fraying patience of a guy who’s been single-handedly attempting to blow back the foully contagious wind of right-wing coronavirus misinformation, John Oliver continued his lonely, audience-less comic pandemic truth-telling on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight. The segment was called “Coronavirus V,” and while Oliver did his level best, as ever, to stem the tide of dangerous bullshit flowing through the TV into America’s living rooms, he remained exhaustedly pessimistic throughout that there won’t be a “Coronavirus X” (or higher) coming our way later this season.

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That because, as Oliver put it, this perniciously contagious and deadly virus can only truly be effectively combatted when a civic-minded, sober, and selflessly responsible American public chooses to follow the advice of actual medical professionals and similarly sensible experts and politicians, not to mention basic human logic. Rather than—just to pick a jaw-droppingly insane random example—showing up en masse and completely unprotected to protest such life-saving measures at the trumpeting call of conspiracy theorist hucksters, televangelists, Fox News, and the bloviating, TV addict POTUS who parrots back every spoon-fed lunatic talking point fed to him. Yeah, as Oliver put it, we’re in “an absolute nightmare.”

In this fifth COVID-19 outing of acerbic comic sanity, Oliver set out to expose those media figures whose ego-fluffing “feedback loop” of COVID denialism and literally murderous fake facts are fueling this top-down nationwide pig-ignorance. You know, like Trump pal and soiler of the Presidential Medal Of Freedom Rush Limbaugh who, as Oliver showed through gritted teeth, spouted the basic non-fact that COVID-19 ain’t so bad, since it’s the 19th COVID. (It is not. As Oliver explained, “It’s called that because it was first identified in 2019, you gigantic potato.”) And while it’s perhaps easy to mock blowhard conspiracy clowns like Limbaugh and conspicuously black-coiffed octogenarian televangelist Kenneth Copeland (seen banishing the highly contagious virus once and for all by blowing spittle—sorry, “the wind of God”—right into the air of his unprofitably empty church-studio), Oliver spent the segment showing just how fucking dangerous it is when an entire, fact-resistant right-wing media machine is ceaselessly churning out equally spurious nonsense.

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Noting how Fox News has been downplaying the dangers right from the jump (to its viewers, while ordering Fox employees to practice social distancing and other safety measures), Oliver portrayed braying accomplices to negligent homicide like Hannity, Carlson, and everyone’s buffoon Dr. Phil McGraw (not a medical doctor) as cynical, Trump-pumping charlatans, finger-painting a frightening and complex medical crisis in “bright primary colors and easy storylines” that are literally getting people killed. Terming Fox’s coverage “almost incomprehensibly stupid,” Oliver also showed how the night’s carefully manufactured, anti-scientific network talking points find their way immediately into Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and daily clownshows coronavirus briefings, and vainly sought to maintain some sense of equanimity about the whole mess. Concluding that, “for what it’s worth,” he personally knows people who’ve died from this disease, and who’ve found themselves unable to get their actually necessary chloroquine prescriptions after Trump and Fox Co. baselessly hyped the lupus drug as a corona cure-all), Oliver—with the barely restrained rage of a guy who spends every day watching Fox News prod gullible people to their preventable deaths—said, “It makes me fucking furious.” Still, pace yourself, manLast Week Tonight is off until May 3, when, thanks to the worst efforts of credulous wingnuts and cynical media manipulators the land over, we’re almost certain to see Oliver hammer home “Coronavirus VI.”

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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