Okay, Let’s Talk About John Oliver’s Bitcoin Episode

On 'Last Week Tonight' John Oliver discussed the risks and benefits of cryptocurrency.

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Mar 12 2018, 3:57pm

Screengrab: YouTube

John Oliver is a reliable cultural capstone; his HBO show Last Week Tonight doesn’t specialize in starting conversations so much as serving up monologues that cement the liberal opinion on newsy topics in bits that rack up Reddit votes and blog headlines. An issue being John Oliver-ized means a certain segment of his audience now has a readymade opinion to send in emails to friends and coworkers.

On Sunday night, John Oliver did his thing in a segment about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The gist was: Cryptocurrencies may go somewhere, or they may not, so just be careful, which is a fine way to sum up the current state of affairs. He hit all the right notes, warning investors about schemes like “pump and dumps”—where investors get together to artificially inflate the value of an asset and cash out— and had Keegan-Michael Key do his best impression of Carlos Matos, an investor in BitConnect (a suspected scam that unceremoniously shuttered in January) screaming at the top of his lungs on stage.

Read More: Okay, Let’s Talk About That ‘The Big Bang Theory’ Bitcoin Episode

The biggest contribution Oliver’s segment made wasn’t the advice or the jokes, though, but a baseline for nuance when talking about cryptocurrencies in the mainstream. Compare his take to the portrayal of Bitcoin on another cultural touchstone on television, The Big Bang Theory. In an episode last year, the show tackled cryptocurrencies but didn’t give viewers any more information than “Bitcoins have something to do with computers and are very expensive.” Oliver, in contrast, actually took the time to explain the basics of the blockchain, the distributed ledger that powers Bitcoin and other virtual currencies.

Oliver’s segment wasn’t amazing. It was broad and shallow, but it was still miles ahead of other popular media by discussing the technology underlying cryptocurrencies instead of just focusing on their value. The John Oliver-ization of any topic can be a painful and cringe-worthy experience (remember Drumpf?), but for cryptocurrencies it’s an inevitable (and, if you’re a Bitcoin stan, necessary) cultural checkpoint. Prepare to be sent a link to the Last Week Tonight segment at least twice today.

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