Week in and week out, John Oliver proves that he is the heir apparent to the title of “Your Once and Future Satirical News King,” filling the vacancy left by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart with expertly crafted, intelligently written pieces that exude a razor sharp wit. On last night’s episode, Oliver made the arduous ten-hour flight to Moscow, Russia in order to sit down face to face with the “most famous hero and/or traitor in recent American history,” Edward Snowden.
During their wide-ranging conversation, Oliver and Snowden discussed a variety of topics pertaining to government surveillance, especially as it pertains to dick pics. In fact, Oliver took things one step further, having Snowden explain exactly how this sort of intense, invasive governmental surveillance works using dick pics as means of explanation. Surprisingly, it’s quite effective.
You can watch the entire episode below. The interview begins around the 16:00 mark (although the whole episode is well worth your while).
At the top of the episode, Oliver explained that on June 1, Section 215 of the Patriot Act is set to expire. Better known as the “library records” provision, Section 215 is a controversial provision that allows the FBI to order a source to produce “tangible things” belonging to a target or person of interest, including “books, records, papers, documents, and other items.” Those records can include things like one’s browser history and books borrowed, and they can be obtained without a warrant, a stipulation that many see as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Come June 1, politicians will have to vote on whether to renew, reform, or let the statue expire. As Oliver notes, when it comes to issues of national security and government surveillance, “most people would rather have a conversation about literally any other topic.” However, Oliver does not shy away, neatly breaking down the important issue in an intelligent yet digestible way through his signature dry wit.
Not only is it a conversation that most people don’t want to have; it’s one about which the general public seems wildly uninformed. During one man-on-the-street segment, Oliver asks people to tell him who Edward Snowden is and what he did. Sadly, most cannot. (In case you don’t know, Snowden is an NSA whistleblower who leaked classified documents to the media detailing classified U.S. government surveillance programs, and has sought political asylum in Russia in order to evade prosecution.)
“I did this to give the American people a chance to decide for themselves the kind of government they want to have,” Snowden said. “That is a conversation that I think the American people deserve to decide.”
Well, if it’s not a conversation they want to have, then maybe you need to change how you ask the question. In a second man-on-the-street segment, various Americans are asked how concerned they are that the government is using its mass surveillance programs to illegally acquire people’s nude photos. As it turns out, sex sells–the respondents were much more incensed and involved when the prospect of their nude photos leaking became part of the conversation.
So, next question: should we stop sexting? Should we sacrifice the freedom to send a digital representation of our dangly bits for the feeling of security?
“You shouldn’t change your behavior because of a government agency somewhere that’s doing the wrong thing,” Snowden said. “If you sacrifice your values because you’re afraid, you don’t care about those values very much”
Last Week Tonight airs Sundays at 11pm on HBO.