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

John Oliver weighs whether mocking Tucker Carlson's racism is more dangerous than ignoring it

John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Just a warning up top here: Anyone choosing to view John Oliver’s most recent Last Week Tonight main story will be exposed to potentially toxic levels of Tucker Carlson. Oliver does his best to parcel out the necessary clips of Fox News’ most popular nightly dose of white victimhood fantasy and faux perplexed facial expressions, but, when you’re doing an exposé on someone Fox News has recently decided is their propagandist of choice going forward, you’re going to be giving the attention-sucking frozen dinner scion and human penny loafer Carlson some of the airtime he so desperately and ravenously craves. Oliver himself starts out with an apology, noting, “I would like nothing more than to not play into his wildly offensive schtick,” while explaining his actions by noting that “performatively outraged wedge salad” Carlson’s carefully laundered white supremacist act is too fucking dangerous to be ignored just because seeing not-terrible people get upset is the only thing that allows Tucker Carlson to achieve an erection. (Just speculation.)

Now, running down every shitty, racist, insidiously leading white nationalist talking point that’s made Carlson the go-to figurehead of the S.S. White Grievance would only double down on Oliver’s self-confessed amplification of the bigoted little twerp. Meanwhile, merely repeating some more of the visibly queasy Oliver’s expertly mean offhand references to Carlson might be seen as merely piling on the pasty wee creep. Still, that latter idea sounds more fun, so here goes: “Relentlessly indignant picket fence;” “TV dinner princeling;” “walking yacht club;” and possessed of “the befuddled face of a 13th century farmer learning about Bitcoin.”

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That was fun. But, as Oliver laid out most alarmingly, the fact that Tucker Carlson has managed to fail upwards into the most-watched slot on the most insidiously slanted news network in America is genuinely dangerous. You know, since Carlson’s practiced “I’m not touching you!” brand of “I’m just asking questions” bigotry hews designedly close to the sort of white supremacist rhetoric that’s just a little too open for even your most racist relatives, all while serving as a nightly lesson in couching that hateful bullshit in terms more palatable to the average aggrieved white YouTube skimmer. Oliver plays clips of avowed KKK asshole David Duke and out-and-proud “neo-Nazi” (Oliver’s words) James Allsup goggling in admiration at the Fox News failson’s ability to scrub up their clumsy, cross-burning, soot-streaked racism into something that can more skillfully appeal to white America’s fears and prejudices. And while they say you can’t judge a person by their admirers, Oliver makes the case that you can very definitely judge a sneering little bigot-opportunist when actual Nazis bow down to his rhetorical white supremacist skills. As Oliver warned ominously after the reformed heir to the Stormfront neo-Nazi website legacy confessed to his family watching Tucker Carlson Tonight twice each night in order to take notes, “Millions of viewers a night watch him once—and once is already more than enough.”

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