Speed Reads


John Oliver tries to palatably, definitively explain why Confederate monuments belong in museums

John Oliver's main topic on Sunday's Last Week Tonight was the Confederacy, but he began with "a beloved icon of my childhood" in Britain, Jimmy Savile. After Savile died, it emerged he was a child sex offender, and all monuments to him were taken down, "because once we found out that he was a monster, we accepted it was no longer appropriate to publicly glorify him," Oliver said. The Confederacy, he suggested, is "America's track-suit sex offender," and since the debate over what to do with its monuments "is clearly not going away, we wanted to take a look at some of the arguments."

"The key fact about the Civil War," Oliver said, is that "the Confederacy was fighting for the preservation of slavery. And that's not my opinion. That is just a fact." It's an especially hard one to swallow if a relative fought for the Confederacy, he conceded, and "I honestly get wanting a more comfortable history for your family, but in doing so, you can't invent a more comfortable history for your country, because you'd be erasing the actual painful experiences of many Americans."

Oliver went through how various celebrities reacted to learning about their own Confederate ancestry. "Look, Larry David is not responsible for what his ancestors did — none of us are," he said. "I have to believe that, because I'm English." But personally and as a nation, America has to "actively, painfully come to grips with slavery and the lasting benefits and disadvantages that it conferred in ways that, frankly, we haven't yet."

"Monuments are not how we record history," Oliver said, pointing to books, museums, and Ken Burns' documentaries. "Statues are how we glorify people." He ended with some alternative statues for four places with Confederate ones, and one of his replacements was an old friend from The Daily Show. Peter Weber