The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.
In a still pre-pandemic 2020, when I took over as the Senior News and Social Justice Editor here at The Tempest, I asked myself where I wanted my vertical to go. I sat in front of my laptop scrolling through archives of Al Jazeera and NYT, revisited my favorite episodes of NPR’s Code Switch and waited for that spark to ignite, for all the wild ideas and perspectives in my head to form a meaning, a shape, looking for inspiration. It didn’t, until I watched an episode of Patriot Act that I have watched and told people to watch more times than I can count. I watched Hasan Minhaj rip apart the 2019 Indian Elections in a way that no Indian media would have dared to do, and I knew that every time I take a look at news, every time I discuss a social justice topic with a writer as they attempt to zone in on an angle or a story, I will be inspired by Hasan Minhaj, by Patriot Act, by a show so daring and particular, a show that has left me a little lost with its cancellation.
What a run. @patriotact has come to an end. I got to work with the best writers, producers, researchers, and animators in the game. My 2 babies were born and grew up with the show. TY to @Netflix and everyone who watched. Now it’s time to return these screens to Best Buy 😎 pic.twitter.com/4s4TrsKWe6
— Hasan Minhaj (@hasanminhaj) August 18, 2020
Hasan Minhaj and I have come a long way. I started watching the Daily Show right around the time he joined, and he and Trevor Noah were important figures in my own journey of writing and journalism. When Hasan went on to start his own path with Patriot Act, I waited for every episode with a fervor of a viewer who needed to go beyond the surface level. I can say loads about how his identity as an immigrant, as a fellow South Asian – we literally call him Hasan bhai – is so meaningful and poignant for writers like me, but Patriot Act was so much more.
What makes this show so special? Aren’t there thousand of political satire shows that take on news with comedy, that try to have an introspective look at what’s reported, what’s not reported and what should be reported? Yes, and no. I didn’t grow up with Jon Stewart and his legacy. To quote Kumail Nanjiani, I didn’t grow up watching SNL as a child, because it was never aired in my third world country. For millennials and those who are younger, who get their news from social media, who are surrounded by the noise of multiple perspectives, fake news and manipulated history lessons, Patriot Act opened up a platform where things were narrowed down, was specific and most importantly, where news was comprehensive, accessible and was broken down without condescension.
Patriot Act is like an intro-level college course that has a “no prior knowledge required” disclaimer in large and bold letters. You know when a show or a host is trying to act smart, but Hasan Minhaj never fell into that pattern. He is like that professor who doesn’t make you buy textbooks. (I should note that the show was always uploaded on YouTube, with NO ADS, this man was doing public service for all of us). He knew his audience, and right when you are thinking about something, you get an episode from him about that very same issue.
The show taught me that global news should be looked at with a context of history, culture, and media policies and practices. Because how can you talk about cricket corruption if you don’t understand the game, or its importance not just in India, but most Commonwealth countries? It taught me to look beyond the easy target, and refocus on what’s actually important and should get the spotlight. The episode about censorship in China could have easily been a snarky one that takes a dig at the rigid policies, yet it focused on highlighting the social justice movements that were blooming under even such restrictive policies.
It taught me to go beyond looking at an issue as a big picture, to try tap into reasons, solutions, problems, and obstacles. When the show tackled the broken policing system, it offered a perspective on police training, and tried to find the problems at the grassroot level. It taught me to challenge icons, people, histories, and policies that are loved and celebrated. After all, it would have been easy to put Justin Trudeau on a pedestal, but the episode on Canada questioned the popular political figure.
It taught me to see my identity as a minority journalist not as a cop-out or a disadvantage, but as a responsibility, to challenge our own communities’ and our biases. The episode after George Floyd could have simply been a call to action for the white majority, but Hasan dared to challenge and question the Asian American community, and reminded that we would be hypocrites if we didn’t write and talk about our own faults and biases.
The show’s cancellation came as a surprise, and it’s infuriating and suspicious to put a pause on such an important perspective and voice in a year like this, where a pandemic, volatile global situations, and an important election are all at stake. But to me, I feel a little bereft to have no more episodes of a show that has inspired and been with me throughout my writing journey. But hey, the show has taught me that it is important to be timeless as it is to be timely, so while I am sure we are going to see Hasan in some other avatar challenging more news stories, I’ll keep on writing, and attempt to honor my favorite news show.
Thank you Patriot Act, and thank you Hasan Minhaj, I’ll miss seeing you on Sundays.
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