On Sunday, comedian and host of Last Week Tonight , John Oliver — a man who's already proven himself to be very brilliant — managed to crash the Federal Communications Commission's website. Not wholly on his own, but with the help of 45,000 of his closest chums who saw his staggeringly good segment on the serious issues with Net Neutrality. Which totally rules because we'll be damned if there's anything better than intelligent comedy inspiring actionable response from the masses. In fact I daresay, when used correctly, it's the most effective medium for change right now.
Following the aforementioned segment wherein Oliver asked the commenting trolls of the Internet to funnel their rage into something that's actually worth it (the impending decision on Net Neutrality), the Internet actually did something beyond googling cat videos. It made its dissention known about the potential ruling that would essentially create a two-tiered system for the world wide web's content providers and websites. It's a decision with such dire consequences (for all of us that aren't mega-conglomerates like Comcast and Verizon and Time Warner) that protesters of the notion and giant companies like Google and Facebook have joined forces to stop it.
So Oliver, our Professorial Jon Stewart with a bleep-free edge, attempted to inspire some spirited debate and actual anger in the people this ruling would most affect (a.k.a. ALL OF US that use the Internet), so that they'd actually do something about it. And they did! Which is incredible. The FCC's public commenting system was actually brought down by the overwhelming number of people writing in. (Americans being proactive about something? No!) Though operating smoothly now, the FCC's system was so encumbered by the increase in activity that they even had to tweet out that there were "technical difficulties" due to the sudden increase in heavy traffic on its servers.
Which is totally fucking badass and amazing — and, frankly, more than our semi-cynical nature expected from the Internetting masses. (Why do when OH LOOK A YOUTUBE VIDEO!) If you aren't pissed off yet, you should be. Watch the segment in full. Please. It should be required viewing for everyone:
What is it about a person using humor to inspire quantifiable response from the masses that's so damn effective?
Well, mostly: it makes us feel. The hardest thing to do is inspire change on a large scale, and to do that you've got to hit 'em right where they live. You've got to make it personal — particularly with that middle go-with-the-flow crowd. Because those that will more often than not feel the change most profoundly, are usually too preoccupied with other things — or just generally apathetic about "the way things are currently" — to want to do anything about it. They'll often just ignore, ignore, ignore until things are too late (or seriously dire) or someone else fixes it for them. It's by and large why things like Occupy Wall Street never fly too far off the ground.
In general, people as a whole are too selfish and/or preoccupied to do anything until the problem is literally and/or figuratively in their home.
Which is exactly why Oliver's achievement is so impressive, but also not that surprising, thanks to his caliber of smart, comedic excellence. Where a lot of comedy will simply point out the absurdity and then shake its head in defeat, Oliver has managed to engineer his laughs to inspire anger and rage within the central, affected group: bolstered by HBO's it's-not-TV platform, where the censors cannot really touch it. Oliver can swear, get angry, and make comments he never could have on Comedy Central, owned by Viacom and supported by advertisers and their deals with the cable companies: a.k.a. those guys at the top doing the real harm for their own personal gain.
Being able to spell it all out and pepper the issue with humor that points to the potential ruling's unfair leanings, helps people not only understand it but want to do something about it. Particularly when it's as easy as writing an angry comment on the Internet (something the Internet is very good at!). Oliver has managed to make the previously blind see exactly how this ruling will affect them in their own homes. Making it personal and therefore an issue everyone can rally around. And that, my friends, is the power of smart comedy, and why we desperately need more of it.