Television

You Can Either Watch John Oliver Explain the Model Minority Myth or Watch Him Rant About Breakfast Cereals

John Oliver sits at his glass anchor desk in front of a chyron reading "Asian Americans."
HBO

On an ordinary Monday, catching up on Last Week Tonight is a pretty simple process: You go to YouTube or Slate or your preferred source of news about things that happened on TV, you find out what John Oliver talked about this week, you click play on the video, and you learn a little bit more about how supremely fucked up our planet is at the moment. Sometimes there’s a bit of a moral reckoning involved—most of us are at least a little complicit in at least some of the century’s cavalcade of disasters—but it’s not usually a personal moral reckoning, as long as you’re not a coal baron. Unfortunately, this is not an ordinary Monday. This Monday is different, because this Monday you’ve clicked on a Slate post containing not one but two Last Week Tonight videos, and the choice between them poses a dilemma as sharp and revealing—and maybe even as deadly—as that of the lady or the tiger. Please note that your browser’s “Back” button has been disabled and the crowd is expecting a good show.

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Behind door number one, you’ll find a video from Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, about Asian Americans and the model minority myth. Over the course of about 27 minutes, Oliver traces the history of Asian immigration in the United States, showing how different legal regimes brought different types of immigrants, from the Chinese laborers who worked on the railroads before the Chinese Exclusion Act to the later waves of educated and high-skilled immigrants favored by the Immigration Act of 1965. Oliver then goes on to explain how the myth that Asian Americans are a “model minority” has historically been used to pit different minority groups against each other, with plenty of examples and revealing historical footage. It’s the kind of big picture journalism Last Week Tonight excels at, casting a light on yet another aspect of the white supremacist nightmare our country is struggling to wake up from.

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Before you click play, though, let me tell you about the video behind door number two. It’s a web exclusive, posted to YouTube a week ago while the show was on hiatus, and it’s about … well, it’s a seven-minute-long rant about how there aren’t any good new breakfast cereals. If you choose to watch this video, you won’t gain fresh insight into any social or political issues, nor will you learn anything important about American history, unless you consider the time Trix cereal introduced the “Wildberry Blue” flavor to be an important part of American history. (There’s a case to be made that it at least rates a footnote: The original advertisements from the 1990s, in which kids were asked to vote for a red flavor (cherry) or a blue flavor (blueberry) but somehow end up electing a red-and-blue flavor (wildberry blue), are a vintage example of the bipartisanship fetish that will soon destroy American democracy.) But just because video number two doesn’t contain much useful information doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching: Halfway through, John Oliver offers the extremely upbeat official Cheerios Twitter account $50,000 to tweet “Fuck You” to a Twitter rando of their choosing. Later, he promises that any cereal company that introduces a new flavor he thinks is sufficiently innovative can use one of Last Week Tonight’s mascots to advertise it if they want to, including Mr. Nutterbutter the talking squirrel. I know, right? However, if you choose to watch John Oliver rant about breakfast cereals before learning more about the model minority myth, please understand that we will all judge you for it, and you should probably be judging yourself. Even if you try to cover your tracks by watching both videos, we’ll know exactly what your priorities are. Choose wisely.

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Well, we’ve all learned a bit more about the kind of person you are today, but whether you’ve proven that you’re a responsible and informed citizen or have once again publicly disgraced yourself and brought shame to your entire family, you still deserve to know how the whole “tweet ‘fuck you’ at some rando for charity” Cheerios challenge worked out:

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Congratulations to No Kid Hungry!

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