The real insidiousness of it is its unmistakably hypnotic structure and pacing

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

An anonymous commenter on 4chan noticed that John Oliver’s show has a disturbing structure:

The subject of John Oliver came up when a colleague (fellow psychologist) and I were discussing politics a few months ago. Although we were both in agreement regarding the general shitlib inanity of the HBO show, my friend was surprised when I explained that the real insidiousness of it is its unmistakably hypnotic structure and pacing.

I ended up pulling up an episode or two off of YouTube to show her what I meant. All of the segments I’ve ever seen from this show follow the same repetitive format: present some “argumentation” and “facts” for about 10 seconds, then quickly follow these up with a snarky quip (which themselves overwhelmingly take the form of complete non-sequitur or otherwise absurd metaphor) before any rational processing of the preceding argument can take place in the mind of the viewer. Further telling is that the only “beats” or mental pauses in the show’s pacing exist solely to highlight the approving laughter or applause of the studio audience. Repeat this basic formula without variation 20–40 times in a row and you have one of the 12–20 minute “segments” that form the backbone of the show.

The end effect is (obviously) not to deliver information, but rather to literally teach the viewers on a subconscious level to mentally associate derisive laughter with any person or opinion that is at odds with the narrative’s take on the chosen issue. And it accomplishes this by maintaining a strict adherence to a roughly 20-second cycle in which a stimulus is presented, and a response is cued. This is the sense in which the show is fundamentally hypnotic in effect even moreso than its precursors in the genre (Daily Show, Colbert, etc).

To my mind, Oliver’s show is representative of the media’s increasing mastery of the methodologies of mass conditioning; in fact it is almost such a perfect technical accomplishment that I would almost have to admire it on technical grounds, which moreover is in the hands of the entirely wrong people.


  1. Jackie Pratt says:

    Yes, but it seems that our brains are in the hands of the wrong people, too.

  2. Gavin Longmuir says:

    John Oliver has a show? Who is John Oliver?

    I guess none of their stuff works if we simply choose not to pay any attention to it.

  3. Jim says:

    None of their stuff works if no one pays attention to it. It works just as well when other people pay attention to it.

    John Leibowitz was right.

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:

    Much like having a ‘discussion’ with a liberal. They talk fast, lie and laugh like Kamala Harris.

  5. TRX says:

    Yeah, but you have to remember that a majority of people are addicted to mass media, in its broadcast or “social” form. It’s the videodrome signal right into their brains.

    Those of us with no TV, no cable, no radio, no newspaper, no Facebook / Twitter / MeWe / Tiktok / Instragram / whatever are just a rounding error on their statistics.

    Still, even disconnected that far, I’m still bombarded by propaganda and risibly fake news. The average person lives at the end of a fire hose of that stuff.

  6. Kirk says:

    I’m of the opinion that the more these sorts of things permeate the commons, the less effective they are.

    They’re still effective, for some people and in some situations, but… The heydey of it all, back when the Democrats could use the new mass marketing skills developed by advertisers to turn the entire country against one of its largest internal ethnic groups, and bring on things that nobody thought would work? I think that those may well be gone. The “acceptance rate” for the propaganda machine back when it was demonizing “the Hun” and German-Americans in general, along with bringing in Prohibition was a lot higher than anything we see today. Even after four years of anti-Trump propaganda, he still got at least half the vote… Which tells us that there are fewer and fewer “gullible believers” these days. Christ, even my hard-core Democrat acquaintances admit that the last election was largely fraudulent, and all they’ll say about it was that “it had to be done…” and that it was a “good thing…”. They still admit, when put to the question, that it was largely fraud that put Biden/Harris over the top.

    This is a major change, and I suspect plays into why the elites are panicking. They’re not used to a situation where they can’t sway public mass opinion, and the idea that they won’t be able to, in the future…? Terrifying.

    I don’t think that the advertising dollars go as far as they used to, in terms of sales. If there’s no underlying value, you won’t make the sales. All advertising and that other BS accomplishes these days is to put your product out there for people to find out about, and try it. If it doesn’t work? No more sales.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If advertisers ever find out how little effect their money has, they’d likely lose their flippin’ minds.

  7. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “If advertisers ever find out how little effect their money has, they’d likely lose their flippin’ minds.”

    They know! As the professor in the MBA class said — 90% of advertising is wasted; we just don’t know which 90%.

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