Art critique

“The G Word with Adam Conover”: Can we trust Obama to criticize the government?

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Comedian Adam Conover’s new Netflix show opens with the assumption that a good portion of Americans, while having opinions about the federal government, know little about how it works. But he’s not interested in portraying the “how” of it all, he says. “I want to know if it works, and for whom.”

In six half-hour episodes released Thursday, “The G Word With Adam Conover” examines and critiques how the US government handles issues, from food production to weather disasters to weapons of military defense. Conover’s approach requires pointing out flaws in the system, which he sometimes does through comedic sketches. The show bills itself as “Schoolhouse Rock!” with a cause — to advocate for solutions.

Given this agenda, it’s notable that “The G Word” comes from Higher Ground Productions, a company founded by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. Barack Obama makes his presence known, appearing in the first and last episode, which features a conversation between him and Conover about the feasibility of real change. The Obamas lend “The G Word” a degree of legitimacy in Netflix’s vast sea of ​​offerings, but it might also make viewers think: why should we trust a show produced by a former president to deliver a objective criticism of the government?

In fairness, there are other people involved. The show is based on “The fifth risk: undoing democracyby Michael Lewis (“The big court,” “silver ball”), and Conover seems to wield decent creative control. He doesn’t always let Obama off the hook, especially when Obama suggests that Americans need to be more patient because government “is a human institution, just like any other, which means there’s going to be some bullshit.” . … For you, changing direction on anything means it’s going to take time.

But, Conover asks, what if a significant number of Americans have been demanding change for some time now? What about criminal justice issues? What about police brutality?

“Of course you’re frustrated by that, and you should be,” Obama replies. “The reason it’s better is because people are impatient. The only thing we can’t do is get cynical and say, ‘Well, because that didn’t work. changed at the rate it should, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Because every time we vote and elect more receptive people, we have a window of opportunity to make changes. 100% of what we want, but if we improve things by 10%…”

“Yeah, but 10% for climate change isn’t enough,” Conover says, interrupting him. “When you raced in 2008, you were the change guy. You didn’t go on, ‘Hey if we make things 10% better’, you know? »

When the Obamas launched Higher Ground’s partnership with Netflix, the former president said they hoped to “promote greater empathy and understanding between people, and help them share their stories with the world.” The Obamas appear in some projects produced by their company, such as the children’s show “Waffles and Mochi” and the docuseries “Our Great National Parks”, and remain rather indifferent with others, such as the Oscar-winning 2019 documentary “American Factory .”

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Similar to “American Factory” — which explores the reopening of a former General Motors plant in Ohio under a Chinese auto glass company — “The G Word” stands up for the rights and fair treatment of ordinary people. The final episode is titled “Change”, which Obama – in an effort to appease Conover, a stand-in for frustrated Americans – acknowledges is difficult to accomplish “by design”.

“We don’t want a situation where an all-powerful, all-knowing individual or a small group of individuals is able to make decisions for everyone,” he continues. “So we’re going to disperse the power, which means things happen more slowly. Which means people have to compromise.

This particular statement may not sit well amid widespread distress over the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn abortion rights established nearly 50 years ago in Roe vs. Wade. Politics reported that five judges could overturn the precedent, despite polls showing a majority of americans support the maintenance of deer decision.

But rather than encouraging Conover’s initial skepticism, “The G Word” ends on an affirmative note. Government is flawed because the American people are flawed, he said, echoing Obama’s comment on “the human institution.” Conover adds that “in its best days, our government is a tool we can use together to build this better world for ourselves and each other, if we choose to.”

Americans could use an extra dose of hope, but these closing remarks relay a somewhat dishonest view of what is needed for the government to truly serve its people – perhaps the most obvious indicator of its producers’ bias. . A show of this nature would do well to take the microphone off career politicians and continue to elevate those we hear less often. At one point in the last episode, for example, Conover talks to a Philadelphia resident who says she aspires to run for office one day.

“This system, what people keep calling a failed system, is not a failed system,” she said. “It was built to do what it has done all these years, all these decades, [which] is to put our people behind cages. So what we need to do is start dismantling the system and… put the right people in the right places. People are for us. People who are for the people.