John Oliver

One of my favorite things to catch up on is John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight videos. It is an interesting dynamic given that he uses digital rhetoric within his show that is captured BY digital rhetoric.

The majority of the video is of him educating the audience on a particular subject. With occasional images, quotes, and videos to supplement his argument. Each of these things provides important detail, helps to build ethos and pathos, as well as provides a context for the exigence of the topic, and provides important detail.

Besides the use of digital rhetoric in his direct argument, digital rhetoric is involved in filming the entire episode. When filming, the camera person has to be cognizant of the angle to capture John Oliver’s face, how zoomed in the camera should be, etc. These things, no matter how seemingly trivial, impacts how the audience perceives the argument being made, and essentially influences John Oliver’s ethos.

Since there is an audio component to the video, it also plays a factor in building ethos. A huge part of this is tone. Sarcasm is something that is used a lot in the video, which is really important for the audience to pick up on in order to fully understand the argument being made.

All of these things–the use of images, videos, audio, tone, angle of the camera–all add up to persuasive strategy. It is fascinating to see how all these things come together. If the argument John Oliver made were instead on a flat sheet of paper, it would be much less engaging and exciting.

Minna Wybrecht

Minna's a PreMed student at the University of Michigan. She believes in three things. Milk chocolate. Ballroom dancing. To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

4 thoughts to “John Oliver”

  1. Hi Minna,

    I also love John Oliver, so I’m excited that you used him as an example. I think you’re definitely right when noting that the combination of the audio, visual and tone make for a more compelling argument on his part. Although his words are absolutely hilarious, it’s the way in which he presents them (tone) that make his shows one of a kind. As you mentioned, sarcasm is crucial in how Oliver drives home his points. However, with this importance, I sometimes wonder if consumers who aren’t as quick to pick up on sarcasm miss things or don’t completely understand the message that he originally intended.

  2. Hey Minna,

    Well put – while I’m certain John Oliver could be successful as a writer, orator or an actor, it’s the combination that makes his show consistently hilarious. Another element that he brings to this rhetoric (once again, one that he could likely do through writing, though less successfully) is character development. With a nightly show such as this, he is able to quickly develop a character is equal parts humor and informative, and eventually builds trust with the audience, which is arguably the best type of rhetoric imaginable: eventually, he should barely have to work to convince his audience of anything, as he’s already established a relationship with them. Though he has not embraced the character development aspect of his show as much as, say, contemporary Stephen Colbert, he is certainly on his way there, and as with Becca I enjoy his show greatly and hope he is able to continue his development for a long while. Great post.


  3. Hi Minna,
    I agree that the dynamic of John Oliver analyzing digital rhetoric through digital rhetoric is a bit meta. I also see your point in that his arguments would be much less effective on a flat sheet of paper. The camera angles, vocal tone, and other aspects of the film definitely elevate his argument. John Oliver’s strategy is persuasive, which makes his use of rhetoric especially important, and I think this is a great example of executing digital rhetoric effectively.

  4. Hey Minna,
    John Oliver is such a great and relatable example. It’s true that his tone is what really defines him and ultimately what pushes his message across so effectively, the way we all become amused by his humorous voice inflections and satyrical emphasis. I think this is honestly the most important part of his persuasive strategy, how he coerces us into believing whatever he is shouting about bascially because of the high entertainment value in doing so.

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