John Oliver, British Running Shorts and James Bond: Surviving 2017 and Preparing for 2018
Last night, my dear friend Susannah (of Nutcracker fame) and I saw John Oliver live at Foxwoods, a casino near Norwalk, Connecticut. I bought tickets when they went on sale last summer and subsequently forgot to ask Susannah if she wanted to join me. Fortunately, despite the delayed invitation, she was free. Unfortunately, my dear friend Susannah suffered a slip and fall while visiting family in the city so a fun yet painful evening it was.
For those unfamiliar, John Oliver hosts Last Week Tonight, a weekly series on HBO. Oliver is British and a well-known alum of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Like his former boss’s daily version, his 30-minute weekly spot reflects on political and cultural events that occurred during the week. But unlike The Daily Show, given its HBO distribution, Last Week Tonight is able to maintain an incredibly unique format: one or two short segments with the main story typically running 20 minutes, without commercials. Given the format, Oliver is able to dig into a single topic to give the audience and the viewer with a fairly comprehensive understanding of the issue. He leans left but remains relatively objective (although I do not know if a conservative would agree).
Friday’s show was not Last Week Tonight. It was more in line with stand up. But it did not disappoint. His commentary was not surprisingly tied to our current political debate and the mayhem in Washington. Using all the right comedic tricks, Oliver talked about the craziness of 2017 and like most of us, expressed amazement that we were actually “in this place” with Trump and the GOP. But then he pivoted, providing examples of times when America had survived tough times in the past and he was certain that we would this time too. And that’s where James Bond (actually, Daniel Craig), British running shorts, and penises entered the conversation.
John Oliver loves football – real football – and refused to call it by its American name. The first penis story involved his beloved Liverpool football team playing a game in New York after which he was invited to the locker room to meet the team. As it happened, “and he swears this was true,” James Bond (aka – Daniel Craig) was also there. Regretfully, they both entered the locker room as the entire Liverpool football team exited the showers buck naked and standing at attention. Craig, of course, reacted as only James Bond would, nonchalantly shaking hands with each player and then exiting. The comedian, however, recounted a slightly different scene in which he was glued to the locker room wall (given his embarrassment over the nakedness and the apparent erections) or avert his eyes from the spectacle. Worried, the team had security escort him out. If you have seen Last Week Tonight, you know that Oliver’s catchphrase is, “And I swear that this is true,” which he uttered many times during his hour-long set. Susannah and I have no reason to doubt.
The magnificent penis stories continued with Oliver’s childhood dream of being an athlete. When he was 11 or 12 (the late 80s), he ran in a 400-meter race, “in front of the entire school and all of his family.” He was doing well until the 200-meter milestone, at which point he realized that his penis had fallen out of his British running shorts. Let me explain. According to Oliver, at that time, British running shorts – for 11-year-olds were similar to today’s boxer shorts. They had a slit in front for, well, easy access. Apparently, the 11-eleven-year old felt a sudden rush of air, looked down and saw his junk whipping back and forth between his left and right thigh, keeping perfect time. Then, and I do not understand how this is possible, it started to circle in a clockwise direction.
He came in fourth. While I do believe him when he says, “I swear this is true,” I do question the physical logistics of his story. Can the penis actually circle clockwise? This and other questions I continue to ponder the day after the show. I suspect embellishment, but at what point did it start? Did British running shorts in the late 80s have a slit in the front? So many questions.
Of course, the show was entertaining but Oliver kept coming back to his core theme, “America will get through this.” We do not know how long it will last or the damage done, but his adopted country will persevere. And he pointed to the oddest rationale – odd, but hilarious. “America is the most innovative nation on earth. So innovative that it creates products that are stupid and unnecessary but then markets them so consumers feel they are must-haves. Like t-shirt cannons. “People have died diving for t-shirts fired from a t-shirt cannon and yet, there is no call for banning them.” I have not googled or fact-checked this yet, but would you be surprised if this were true? I would not.
Obviously, the set included much more than what I have recounted here. He also poked fun at the British Empire, Foxwoods, Tom Brady, Australia, Lebanon, and his own immigrant status. It was such a good show and his theme of “American Survival” segues nicely into how I plan to position my blog posts as we move into 2018.
2018 Truth Matters Expectations
It is not without irony that I realized I know more about the rise and dominance of the 20th-century conservative movement than I do of progressivism. While I am more versed in the history of the Democratic Party, my knowledge of progressive policy and themes is weak. But thanks to hours of Nutcracker rehearsals I have been able to jump-start American progressive movement research and form thoughts on what the left needs to do now to coalesce around the #resistance movement heading into 2018.
If there is one point I wish to get across in this post (other than the obvious, ‘when you have the chance, go see “John Oliver,’) it is that progressives can no longer think tactically. We must be strategic and dig in for the long haul as conservatives did beginning in the 1950s. Trump is governing as a far-right conservative, much like what was expected of Ronald Reagan. What I fear is that the president’s low approval ratings are NOT a reflection of reaction to GOP policies and ideology but of Trump’s temperament. Does a majority of Americans agree with Republican conservative ideology of small government, limited domestic spending, tax cuts for the upper-income levels, and universal deference to the private market? Do we know?
We certainly need to find out. Given the reaction to efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare which would have gutted Medicaid (social program for the disabled and indigent) and the approval rating of the GOP tax bill, I suspect not. As most Americans believe in climate change and support increased gun control measures, it would seem to me that Republican voters prioritize something else (perhaps the ‘R’ behind the candidate’s name) above these important issues. Progressives must ensure that the Democratic Party reflects true reform-minded policies that will not only undo the damage wrought by this administration but will move the country forward and prepare our kids for the challenges that lay ahead.
So while I will continue to point out the hypocrisy of the right and the danger that this president poses to our democratic institutions, not to mention our national security, in 2018 I want to focus on “Progressivism” as an alternative. So much of what has made this country great stemmed from progressive policies and most, if not all of our economic downturns and disasters were the result of the opposite. In case you did not catch the inference: conservative economic policies caused recessions and depressions. Moreover, the ugliest part of our history, that of slavery, Jim Crow, and xenophobia, have all resulted from conservative policies and irrational reaction to cultural change.
Finally, I will ask you to a) continue to read my stuff, b) ask questions, and c) let me know when I get it wrong (or when you think I have gotten it wrong). But perhaps most importantly, as we head into 2018 (an election year), I ask that you take your American citizenship seriously. Make it a priority. Being a citizen is more than heading to the polls every two years. For those who have the time and the passion, volunteering for a cause you truly believe in does a world of good. If you do not fall into this category but are willing to donate to your local politician, do that. But perhaps the easiest and least expensive action we can all take to make our citizenship a priority is to read and watch the news (reality-based news – not these fictional and emotional diatribes rooted in fear and not fact). Stay apprised of what is going on in the world and not just that which affects you. How much do you know about the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar? How about the humanitarian crisis occurring in Yemen as a result of civil war? I know only the basics of each which is embarrassing to admit. But how many people in our lives have no idea where Yemen and Myanmar are in the world let alone what is happening on the ground? We MUST start to concern ourselves with those we do not know or see. And then we must pass those habits along to our kids and our grandkids.
In conclusion, “Happy New Year America!” As John Oliver said last night, short of nuclear war we will get through this dark period in our history. (Yes, it is dark. Very, very dark). If not already, we must plan for what comes next, but remember that impeachment or retaking Congress will not solve the issues that drove Trump voters to the polls. If progressives do not clearly articulate an alternative vision of America, one centered on equal opportunity, government efficiency, environmental preservation, fairness, global leadership, equality and social justice, another Trump will come along – this time someone who actually knows what he is doing.
Thank you all for encouraging me this past year to put “pen to paper.” I have to admit, I have been quite surprised with all the personal comments and interest. Be safe and have a Happy New Year. See you in 2018!!