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Nightmare Fuel / Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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Last Week Tonight is very funny, but it gives little attention to frivolous or untroubling matters. This is not a coincidence.

If the matters were not explored comedically then it'd be pretty hard to watch and, frankly, unappealing. After all, the show covers really serious issues like the USA's regular execution of a certain unknowable (but non-zero) number of innocent people, Middle Eastern children learning to fear clear skies due to American drone attacks, how 'The American Dream' is statistically dead given the role that inherited wealth plays in determining lifetime wealth, how inhumane the US prison system is, the extent to which American police are becoming more and more heavily-armed and trigger-happy to "keep people safe", the degree to which American police are abusing their power for collective and personal profit, how American loan companies seek to trap people in never-ending cycles of debt, how American 'journalism' is becoming more advertising than investigation and analysis, how laxly- and poorly-maintained 45% of the world's nuclear arsenal is, how US state governments are run by corrupt ideologues or useful idiots, how corporations like Philip Morris have the power to bully sovereign nations into giving up health laws, residents of US territories being denied the right to vote, and the extent to which American politics has already become "the shadow cast on society by big business" (John Dewey). John himself notes how the four segments regarding prison in season 2 before the one on prisoner reentry are more than enough to drive people into ice cream.


Luckily though — and this is partly what gets him so much praise — Oliver makes people more aware of these issues at least and gives them a means of helping at best. (Scholarships for women have coined the phrase "Oliver Bounce" because he managed to raise them so much money with his Miss America segment.)

  • In Yemen and Pakistan, drone strikes are so common that civilians fear clear skies because the drones are out in force, while cloudy days mean they remain grounded. Sunny skies have become an omen of death.
  • The ineptitude of America's management of nuclear weapons, with at least two accidents that nearly resulted in nuclear detonations on American soil.
  • Invoked during John's segment on battles over tobacco regulation. He shows us plain packaging with cigarette brands on boxes being replaced with disgusting photos like a cancerous mouth or a diseased lung.
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  • The implications of the financial/maintenance deficiencies that are brought up in the infrastructure segment...
  • After 25 episodes of him openly mocking Russia and Vladimir Putin, John actually flies out to Moscow to interview Edward Snowden. He doesn't realize that they're booked in a hotel across the way from the former KGB headquarters (which currently houses the offices of the FSB) until he gets there. And they certainly know he's there. This is coupled with the fact that Snowden is more than an hour late to the interview, which makes John begin to quietly panic, though he tries to keep it funny. He is clearly genuinely scared.
  • During his second segment on FIFA, aside from exposing a lot of FIFA's corrupt practices, John reveals that thousands of migrant workers in Qatar have been killed building the new World Cup stadium.
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  • Both the segments on bail and municipal violations reveal how simple oversteps, or the inability to pay a money bond, can ruin a life. Additionally, god forbid if you have dependents.
  • The segment on torture: if the photos from movies/TV depicting torture weren't odd enough, the show also directly states the details of one CIA practice. It is called "rectal rehydration", which is when food is pureed and infused into the rectum of the victim. This is prevalent in the case of "Gul Rahman", who died from a case of mistaken identity.
  • The segment on online harassment and GIFTs, which includes multiple stories of women being victims of revenge porn as well as receiving rape and/or death threats, and how there currently aren't many laws preventing this.
  • The Food Waste segment: the part where John shows a hungry family can become pretty frightening if given enough thought. Not to mention the amount of methane food waste produces, which is a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2.
  • Mandatory minimums have resulted in numerous people being sentenced to several decades or even life in prison for offenses like carrying an ounce of drugs.
  • In the episode about immigration, it featured a An American Tail trailer in which the mouse protagonist had his tail cut off, was forced to work in a mouse trap factory, and in the end, got "trapped in the prison of his own mind". It's pretty depressing.
  • The segment about mental illness: It showcases the incredible public stigma against the illnesses, which is not helped by the fact that one of the only times people appear willing to talk about it is in the aftermath of mass shootings. This is deceiving because mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. John also talks about a mental healthcare program that literally puts patients on buses after an extremely brief treatment period and mentions the fact that there are more mentally ill people in prisons rather than healthcare centers.
  • While discussing laws that are forcing abortion clinics to shut down, John brings up a hypothetical situation about a girl who gets pregnant from being raped. She travels for hours to reach an abortion clinic before finding out that the clinic cannot perform the abortion anyway because of more laws. He then informs us that this is not a hypothetical situation at all.
    • Another woman was so desperate to end her pregnancy that she asked the doctor to talk her through doing the operation herself with stuff in her kitchen.
      • It gets worse: the implication isn't that she wanted to perform an operation by herself, but is instead "what can I swallow that will end my pregnancy without killing me".
    • Forced ultrasound laws make it mandatory for women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound and listen to the fetal heartbeat - which has no purpose but to shame and upset the patient. Some states soften these laws by allowing the woman to cover her eyes and ears. After the clip you can hear someone in the audience say, "Oh my God."
  • The episode about Apple's reluctance to help the FBI break into a terrorist's cell phone is chock full of Paranoia Fuel. If Apple ever did create such a program (and they've estimated that they could do it in just a month), it will inevitably get out of control, permanently compromising every piece of digital information in existence. This is not even getting into the devices that already exist to allow people to easily get past encryptions. John concludes that even the very legitimate arguments for how helpful this program would be to law enforcement, such as allowing the FBI to access people's phones in criminal investigations that would help put more terrorists, criminals, pedophiles and the like behind bars, don't make it worth the risk, as the choice is between leaving everyone's personal information easily exploitable and giving dangerous people an easier time escaping justice. There's no upside, just the Lesser of Two Evils. John also adds that Russia and China, two countries infamous for monitoring and censoring their citizens, have their eyes on this case.
  • The far too common cases of credit report errors, which can have effects ranging from getting stuck with someone else's debt, or being declared dead, or getting a criminal record as a terrorist.
    • Not to mention one man that was denied due to being mistaken not one, but three different sex offenders at once, even with the knowledge that he was only three years old when they were caught.
    • It is also unsettling that despite the credit report marking the first person as a terrorist, there is no mention that this in any way led to the police getting involved. This means that a) there is no system that automatically flags credit information on known terrorists being requested, and b) none of the human beings who handled this information thought they should inform the police.
  • The segment on the woeful state of 9-1-1 calls that deals with overworked and understaffed dispatchers handling everything from emergency calls to idle conversation to a frightening amount of accidental butt dialing, a completely overloaded and outdated system unable to handle an enormous amount of calls and completely track an emergency call’s location on a cellphone (something as simple as ordering a pizza is capable of doing), and states diverting funding from the phone bill’s 9-1-1 tax that could be used to help upgrade the system into more general funds. Have fun sleeping after watching this.
  • It turns out to be terrifyingly easy to get your hands on people's outstanding debts from their bank, then enabling you to harass them for years over it. The segment includes messages threatening to burn down a person's apartment building or murder their dog.
    • Not just murder the dog mind, the actual words used were "We're gonna have your dog arrested, we're gonna shoot him up, we're gonna eat him." Holy shit.
    • Although shortly after, Oliver added some Nightmare Retardant by taking the word's literally since a dog obviously can't fit in handcuffs. It's still horrifying regardless, but you can also argue Fridge Horror since they're insane enough to believe that dogs can be seriously arrested.
  • The segment on multilevel marketing. MLM seems like a dream job: All you have to do is sell product. Except that you have to buy the product yourself from the company you're with, and you actually make more money selling to distributors you've recruited who also need to sell product than from customers who have no interest in joining, and the way MLM works, if everyone got in on it it would only take fourteen cycles of this model to require more people than there are in the world; in practice, you'd be lucky to make even a double-digit profit. Oh, and many MLM companies are pharmaceutical companies, and medicine expires, meaning that if you don't sell the product you've purchased in time, you will have lost money. Honest, hard-working people sign up to be MLM distributors, only to smack their heads later going "I never should've done this" and end up with losses upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, as John points out in an excerpt from the MLM documentary Betting on Zero.
  • The "Other Countries' Presidents of the United States" segment about Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott narrowly avoids being Nightmare Fuel, but only because Australia doesn't have nukes. (Abbott is basically Trump-lite.) No doubt most of Australia are relieved that his own party threw him out in 2015.
  • The show's saga on Donald Trump, which warranted its own article on The Other Wiki. Ramifications include:
  • After discussing how Vladimir Putin's daughter Katerina Tikhonova is an acrobatic dancer and showing one of her routines, John notes how there may be a new contender for the world's most dangerous job: "guy who has to throw Putin's daughter high in the air and then hopefully catch her."
  • When a wax museum featuring every American president shut down, it put its figures up for auction and the show's crew bought five of them. The result is Uncanny Valley central as five especially infamous presidents leer at the camera in wax form.
  • When discussing crimes that members of the border patrol committed, one man admits to having blacked out for three hours, and woken up to find that his kitchen was covered in blood. While john tries to joke about it immediately afterward, the scenario is still pretty gruesome and the show never actually explains how it happened.
  • The race to develop nuclear weapons in the 1940s resulted in no care being paid to how to deal with the waste left over, followed by every generation kicking it down the road until we now have hundreds of sites storing nuclear waste that were never intended to last this long, and if any of them fail, a huge area around them will be rendered uninhabitable for decades or even centuries (and a lot of these include major metropolises) And even if that doesn't happen, smaller leaks have resulted in huge increases in cancer plus fucking radioactive alligators. The eeriest part was that Oliver and his crew watched a decades old news report on nuclear waste for research... only to realize that everything the report covered about the hazards of nuclear waste were points their own segment covered. We've known about these problems for decades, and we are no closer to figuring out a real long-term solution.
  • This absolutely terrifying piece on the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a communications corporation that owns several local TV affiliates, and who passes down must-run right-skewing stories to all their affiliates. The piece culminates in a montage of dead-eyed TV journalists reading the exact same script in the exact same tone.
    • Not helped by this is one Sinclair news anchor who describes reading off a script as being like a prisoner of war reading a message.
  • The immigration court segment which reveals that many asylum seekers come to the United States to escape obvious threats that nobody would want to be under only for those people to be denied asylum at immigration court, get deported and left at the mercy of the criminals who targeted them. Notable examples include a woman from Honduras who attempted to escape her abusive Gang Banger boyfriend who assaulted her after she was sent back and a Mexican police officer fleeing a drug cartel who was found dead months later.
  • As bad as Trump is, Brazilian candidate (and, as of January 1st, president) Jair Bolsonaro is even worse - in addition to being hideously racist,note  sexist,note  and homophobic,note  the man is a bona fide fascist, proudly advocating torture and defending the Brazilian Military Regime, saying their (along with Augusto Pinochet, which the show didn't mention) only mistake was not killing enough people. It is also apparent that there is something not quite right in Bolsonaro's head - when Ellen Page asked him in an interview if he thought her parents should have beaten her to make her not gay, Bolsonaro responded by calling her pretty and saying he'd wolf-whistle at her if he was still in the army and saw her on the street. Think about what is going on in someone's head to make them think that kind of response is acceptable for that kind of question.
  • The episode on Family Separations at the Border has a major Adult Fear in the final minutes of the segment. To show how horribly traumatizing being locked up in a detention center can be, Oliver shows a clip filmed by a documentary crew of a mother and her six year old who had been recently reunited after being locked up in separate facilities for over a month, the young boy repeatedly tells his mother he hates her, that he doesn't want to be her son anymore, and wants to go back to the detention center because he felt safer there than with her. Oliver looks visibly angry at the fact that the U.S. government, under the Trump administration, willingly separates children from their parents and traumatizes them, likely for life, to serve as a warning to anyone who wants to escape the horrible conditions of their home countries.
  • Even robocalls, something that we consider to just be a nuisance that we want to get rid of, have some element of nightmare fuel. While we mostly view them as nuisances to get rid of, they can be pretty ominous, potentially making more gullible people fall prey to scammers with calls of lawsuits and arrest warrants, or even taking advantage of things such as late payments to persist their calls, such as with one woman who was late with her mortgage once and got bombarded with harassing robocalls. Not to mention spoofing, where robocalls can easily trick you into answering their calls by calling from the guise of specific organizations or even people you know, as was demonstrated by Susan Collins and one of her staff members, and Jeff Rosen with a cybersecurity expert who called Rosen's mother from Rosen's phone and tricked her into giving out her social security number. Not helping was the fact that even Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC fell for a robocall in the middle of giving a speech about fighting them. Another example is of a guy who received a robocall and decided to mess around with it by trying to get the caller to tell him that she is not a robot, which she keeps refuting by constantly stating (only slight variations of) "I am a live person" and laughing monotonously. It's especially eerie that robocalls are scripted to deny that they're robots.
  • The potential repercussions of Brexit and its lack of an exit plan including but not limited to: a mother fearing that she wouldn't be able to get the imported medicine necessary for her epileptic daughter, possibly reigniting old violent conflicts between the UK and Northern Ireland, and an old man casually comparing the situation to the last two world wars which ancestors of his survived. The war comparison is especially eerie when people began buying "Brexit Boxes" full of preserved food in paint-can like containers in preparation of the lack of imported goods that could be delayed or no longer sold in stores.
  • In the episode about public and online shaming, a clip of Monica Lewinsky being hounded by the press shortly after the infamous scandal broke out.
  • After the breather episode on Chiitan, the show dived straight into Nightmare Fuel with the episode on lethal injections, and how executions in the US has become a matter of finding the least horrifying method of carrying them out. Some prisoners have even elected to be executed in the electric chair, instead of subjecting themselves to a lethal injection. This despite the lethal injection being developed as a humane alternative to electrocution.
  • The segment about climbing Mount Everest: John presents the most frightening aspects of climbing Mount Everest, from the fact that the surface area of the summit is only roughly that of two ping-pong tables, to the fact that the amount of climbers a year, numbering two-to-three hundred, and with possibly only half of them truly qualified, are forced to climb up and down the mountain in a single-file line in the span of just three days due to terrain and weather (meaning if any climber stops suddenly, a few dozen more are trapped behind them), to the very precarious and deadly work of the Icefall Doctor sherpas who prepare the route for tourist season. Regarding that last one, John plays a clip from a BBC documentary about one sherpa who has to climb over a crevasse on the infamous Khumbu Icefall, probably the same one his friend died on just weeks earlier, on three ladders held together with only rope, wobbling on the other end. The terror and grief on his face are just palpable. John tells us he makes it across fine, but we don't see the actual ending of the excerpt.
    • John also talks about the effects of some of the worst tourist companies in Nepal, and their poor practices in vetting wannabe climbers, especially after Everest's mountaineering tours' commercialization in the 1990s. He shows the tragic case of one inexperienced Canadian tourist in 2015, who was not properly vetted, and had to learn the very basics of rock climbing. The company she chose was so ill-prepared that she died on the way down after she made it to the summit.
    • The sheer fact that hundreds of lower-class sherpas making just as many trips up Everest over a lifetime are the backbone of the Nepalese tourism industry, and that they have died facing the very conditions described above.
    • Not to mention the physiological effects of being in the "death zone" above 26,000 feet (7925 m), where oxygen levels are at only 30% of sea level. They include severe fatigue, increased risk of frostbite and gangrene, indigestion, impaired judgement often leading to "summit fever", and your oxygen-starved brain being squeezed in the direction of your spinal cord.
    • The amounts of waste, including human waste, are such that one expedition early in 2019 recovered 29,000 pounds (13,154 kg) in garbage, and some of it is trickling downslope and polluting the groundwater of surrounding villages.
    • The saddest part is either the late Sir Edmund Hillary, the first Westerner to summit Everest, expressing his disappointment that most climbers have almost no passion for the art of mountaineering, or the fact that all these deaths could have been prevented, but the Nepalese government and economy are so reliant on an unregulated tourism industry because they have little opportunity to diversify.


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