All That's Trucking

Humor, Big Stars Make Infrastructure Funding Point

April 15, 2015

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We're only a month and a half away from the May 31 expiration of the federal highway program, and this week lawmakers are starting to talk about the issue. As they do, I think it's time to revisit John Oliver's funny yet passionate segment on infrastructure funding.

Google "John Oliver Infrastructure" and you'll get some 30 pages of results, with headlines such as "Stars Help John Oliver Make Infrastructure Maintenance Sexy."

The reason was a March episode of "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" on HBO where, with the help of humor, profanity, sexual innuendo, and award-winning actors, Oliver managed to produce a spot-on look at the problems with our nation's crumbling infrastructure.

A good summary of the 21 minutes is used on the YouTube post of the segment: "America's crumbling infrastructure: It's not a sexy problem, but it is a scary one."

Oliver starts the segment out by defining infrastructure as "basically anything that can be destroyed in an action movie," with clips of dams, bridges, highways and more being demolished on the big screen.

The problem is, in the real world, infrastructure that's not being destroyed by robots, earthquakes or the like is boring – not sexy. Clips of politicians saying pretty much exactly that ensue.

"America's crumbling infrastructure: It's not a sexy problem, but it is a scary one."

At one point, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is shown in an interview saying, "there are breiges that need to be replaced or repaired in a very dramatic way.... I don't want to say they're unsafe, but they're dangerous."

"What!" Oliver exclaims. "Hold on! When we're at a point where the secretary of transportation is struggling to decide between using the word unsafe and the word dangers, we might have a problem worth fixing."

One example shown is an overpass in Pittsburgh that has a structure built under it to catch falling concrete so it wouldn't hit traffic underneath -- which Oliver called "a college sophomore approach" to the problem.

Why can't politicians simply raise the federal gas tax? Well, for one thing, more taxes are not popular with the American public, he notes. And when you are maintaining highways rather than building new ones, you don't get to cut ribbons on new highways with oversized scissors in a photo op.

Imagine if we were talking about a set of Legos, Oliver said. "Building is fun, destroying is fun, but a Lego maintenance set would be the most boring f****** toy in the world."

Every summer people flock to disaster movies to see bridges and dams and highways destroyed by aliens or earthquakes or explosions, Oliver points out -- yet we should care just as much about infrastructure being destroyed by the ravages of time and underfunding.

How to get people to care? Maybe we need a blockbuster movie! Problem is, no one has made a blockbuster movie about infrastructure maintenance ... until now.

OK, it's not a whole movie, it's a long movie trailer, starring Oscar-award-winning actor Edward Norton and some other big names, with the tag line, "If anything exciting happens, we've done it wrong."

Here's the full segment. (Note some of it is NSFW.) If you want to just see the trailer, it's at about 17 minutes, or click here.

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Author Bio

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Deborah Lockridge

Editor-in-Chief

All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.

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