News Column

EDITORIAL: Political satirists rip into big government and corporate hegemony

June 8, 2014

The Sacramento Bee



June 08--The people have spoken.

No, we're not talking about Tuesday's rock-bottom-turnout election. We're talking about HBO and Comedy Central, where a pair of political satirists last week set off some serious noise about corporate hegemony.

First, the Federal Communications Commission's Web portal crashed after a Sunday night call to arms on net neutrality by comedian John Oliver went viral.

Then on Wednesday, Stephen Colbert took a stand in the war between Amazon and Hachette Book Group and sent a flood of business to an independent bookstore in Portland.

The upshot was a week in which the electorate roared everywhere but where it was most needed.

Online and the market? Pickets and pitchforks.

At the ballot box? Crickets.

Maybe it was all in the delivery.

Urging Internet commenters to "get out there and for once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction," Oliver ranted for 13 smart, funny minutes on proposed FCC rules that would allow Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to offer special "fast lanes."

Allowing that net neutrality is so complex that "the only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are 'featuring Sting,' " Oliver nonetheless warned that the Web would cease to be a level playing field if the masses didn't demand better.

"If we let cable companies offer two speeds of service, they won't be Usain Bolt and Usain Bolt on a motorbike -- they'll be Usain Bolt and Usain bolted to an anchor," Oliver exhorted. "Seize the moment my lovely trolls! Turn on the caps lock and fly, my pretties! Fly!"

The clip was an instant Twitter and Facebook sensation, and the result was a deluge of public interest that dumped more than 17,000 comments into the FCC system in a matter of days. At last count, the FCC board showed more than 45,000 public remarks on the proposal, about 20 times more than the next-most-commented on measure before the FCC.

Or maybe it was the populist appeal of both issues. Like net neutrality, the Amazon-Hachette fight is, among other things, about burgeoning corporate power.

Locked in a dispute over e-book pricing, Amazon has been artificially delaying consumers' ability to purchase Hachette books on its massive website, a tactic that is punishing thousands of authors, Colbert among them.

Declaring himself not just mad at Amazon, but "mad Prime," Comedy Central's Colbert called on readers to buy their books elsewhere, and then directed them to the Colbert Report website, where they could pre-order a new Hachette release from Powell's Books in Portland and download a page of "I Didn't Buy It On Amazon" stickers.

The response made an instant best-seller of "California" by first-time novelist Edan Lepucki and slowed the Powell's website to a grind.

If only California voters had been so energetic. Maybe the state's leadership has been so good that last week's record-low turnout was just complacency.

Or maybe it was sleep deprivation from watching all that democracy on late-night TV.

___

(c)2014 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)


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