Shutting down political entertainment signifies a shift toward authoritarianism and censorship — The Hofstra Chronicle


Courtesy of The Yale Herald

Earlier this week, Netflix pulled the political talk show “Patriot Act from its assortment of offerings. Hosted by Hasan Minhaj, a Muslim-American comedian known widely for his merciless criticism of the Trump administration at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, “Patriot Act” quickly gained a following for its sharp criticism of sociopolitical issues around the world. The show addressed systemic racism in the United States, news deserts (communities no longer covered by daily newspapers), corruption and workers’ rights violations within the pharmaceutical and cruise industries and anti-Muslim violence perpetuated by the Indian government, to name a few. An episode detailing the role of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was even banned by the Saudi Arabian government.

Contrary to popular belief, politics and entertainment cannot be separated. From critiques of the capitalistic establishment in movies like “Parasite” and discussions about racism during the Oscars to condemnations of the American government in song lyrics and the exploration of gun violence in music videos, entertainment is simply another conduit through which political frustration can be channeled. Politics is the bloodstream of the entertainment industry, and the cancellation of “Patriot Act” is, without a doubt, a blatant political statement.

The team did not specify the reasoning behind Netflix’s decision to bag the show, which joins a list of many other talk shows that the streaming service has discontinued for straying away from conventional comedy and speaking about such topics as capitalism and racism. Over the last few years, Netflix has abruptly ended shows like “The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale,” “The Break with Michelle Wolf” and “Chelsea.”

As of early 2020, Netflix recorded over 167.1 million global users, approximately 61 million of which are based in the United States. The streaming service’s immediate censorship of any political content that it perceives to be politically divisive is incredibly dangerous; not only does it obstruct political entertainers from reaching their audiences, but it also sets a dangerous precedent for privatized streaming services to act in a draconian manner, irresponsibly amplifying and suppressing content at whim without regard for their user bases.

Minhaj was not entirely unproblematic: for instance, he joked in an earlier episode of the show that he wanted to see how well Sen. Kamala Harris spoke Hindi, when – given that her parents’ roots are in the city of Chennai, India – such a test would be of her proficiency in the Tamil language, not Hindi.

In a similar vein, presumably due to his parents’ upbringing in the northern Indian city of Aligarh, many of Minhaj’s jokes about the Indian diaspora have largely conflated an upper-class Indo-Aryan sense of cultural identity with the many multifaceted identities of India as a whole. In June 2020, editorial producer Sheila Kumar also came forward about a toxic work environment at “Patriot Act,” which Minhaj never addressed.

Nonetheless, the show had a lot of impact. While political theory can be insightful in a number of ways, expecting everyone to read dense material to understand their rights is elitist. Likewise, resources on much of the show’s themes do exist, yet Minhaj’s team packaged complex ideas wonderfully into quick, informative segments complete with award-winning motion design and witty jokes that were not shallow imitations of immigrant parents or disparaging one-liners about people of color.

Ultimately, it was Netflix that did not deserve the political creativity that “Patriot Act” embodied. Although Minhaj’s show came to a bitter end, it demonstrated over the past months that political entertainment packages can make a difference and shed light on issues in a way that no amount of lengthy reports, textbooks or papers can. The more that such political entertainment fades away, the closer American media gets to embracing full-fledged authoritarianism.



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