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

John Oliver enlists some trusted names to debunk COVID conspiracies—or does he?

John Oliver and friends
John Oliver and friends
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

He does, actually. After a few weeks off to regroup, read the newspapers, and wearily decide which ongoing health, social, and/or Constitutional crisis to focus on, Last Week Tonight and John Oliver decided that your conspiracy-loving uncle who drives by hospitals screaming “Hoax!” at exhausted frontline medical workers needs some cheeky remedial education most. And while Oliver started off his main segment making jokes about how said COVID-19 “truthers” are candidates for the cover of Dipshit Uncle Quarterly, he also admitted that simply mocking Fox News-susceptible, internet-scouring, murderously selfish, mask-less bing-bongs isn’t perhaps the most effective way to encourage critical thinking.

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And Oliver’s nothing if not here to help. And make fun of corporate parent (a.k.a. “business daddy”) AT&T, which Oliver once more laid into, asking viewers preparing to accuse he himself of being part of a corporate scheme to spread Deep State misinformation about the virus just how his overlords could do that when, “They could barely pull off a complete phone call.” (“How would they even be sending me orders?,” asked naughty business stepson Oliver, “Sprint?”) And while Oliver did his usual research, citing prosaically vetted social and psychological concepts like “proportionality bias,” and the fact that there’s even a formula to calculate exactly how soon a supposed conspiracy will implode in a puff of nonsense-spores depending on how many people it would take to perpetuate it, the patiently exasperated host did his best to be the voice of life-saving reason.

Luckily, not all Hollywood types are whack-doodle COVID fringe conspiracists courting swift and painful karmic retribution. That’s why Oliver—knowing Americans’ love of famous people telling them what to think—enlisted the likes of Paul Rudd, Catherine O’Hara, John Cena, Billy Porter, and even Alex-freaking-Trebek to inject some non-confrontationally sound thinking into the online discourse. With each celeb making his or her own, 90-second video extolling the virtues of critical thinking and doing the bare minimum of screening before sharing that dangerously lunatic Plandemic “documentary” with your eye-rolling and shrinking Facebook contact list, Oliver explained that simply shaming the defiantly credulous with cold, hard, peer-reviewed facts or cathartically profane insults (like “dipshit uncle”) isn’t effective. He even cited experts in psychology and everything. (Meaning that he’s totally in on the conspiracy with Big Baseline Human Logic, of course.)

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Noting that, say, just virtually smacking some sense into that one YouTube commenter who can show you categorically that the rise of coronavirus is linked to [deep breath] cellphone towers is less likely to change (let’s call them) minds than “empathy” and “gently urging them to think a little more critically,” Oliver pointed viewers to another of his HBO-bought domains, thetruetruetruth.com. It’s an internet oasis where some trusted famous folks (and, you know, presidents) who don’t have quite so much time on their under-employed hands to trump up dangerous COVID misinformation will calmly and reassuringly ask Americans to remember that we’re all in this together, and that maybe—just maybe—you should do a little research before sharing lies that will actually fucking kill people. (Oh, and that John Cena and John Oliver are the exact same age, which does sound a little fishy, come to think of it.)

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

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