Finding the Absurdity in Geopolitics
When Hagar Hajjar Chemali MIA ’04 left government service— for 10 years, she had roles in the US Mission to the United Nations, the Treasury Department, and the National Security Council — she knew she would work in the media. High-profile spots as a foreign policy commentator for MSNBC, CNN, BBC World News America, and others soon followed, but Chemali sensed it was not her true calling.
“For me it was lacking the mission,” she says. “So I thought of a more fun, more accessible way to explain [geopolitics] in a fashion that the young generation wants to receive it.”
The result is Oh My World!, an award-winning “next generation news media brand” that finds Chemali breaking down world affairs in weekly, 10-minute YouTube videos, typically with six fast-paced, satirical segments filmed in her Connecticut living room turned television studio. Since launching in 2020, Oh My World! has steadily gained traction across social media.
“People want to laugh, and there’s so much absurdity in geopolitics,” Chemali says. “And in world news, it’s like free content on a daily basis— it’s easy for me to make fun of it. And I’m very sensitive when things are very serious or very upsetting, but there is still a lot there that we can poke fun at.”
Among Oh My World!’s most humorous segments are Chemali’s over- the-top impersonations — “I dress up like a lot of men with bad accents” — which are excerpted on her TikTok channel throughout the week. She notes that her presentation is “from an objective point of view. I am an equal opportunist when it comes to praising or criticizing.”
For Chemali, injecting levity into Oh My World!’s foreign policy analysis makes it more interesting. “If we don’t add humor to it, then it’s just one big depressing chunk of information— you’re going to want to walk away from it,” she says. “But these things are important. You can’t bury your head in the sand. And that’s why humor is so important.”
The child of Lebanese immigrant parents who fled their country’s civil war, Chemali “always felt that I wanted to fight against injustice,” she says. “I felt so strongly about public service and so lucky to be an American that I wanted to give back.”
After completing a five-year dual degree program at Barnard and SIPA, Chemali took on a variety of high-level policymaking and spokesperson roles, all of which inform her take on the news. “All these different pieces of my background— my upbringing, my career, my academic record— ended up molding and fitting into the media brand that I have now in Oh My World!,” she says.
Chemali can now add another accomplishment to her résumé: professor. She returned to SIPA in spring 2021 to teach Communications for Corporations and Nonprofits. Professor Chemali, who says she still feels like a student when she walks in the hallways of IAB, holds her office hours in the sixth-floor café to be more accessible to the students, with whom she’ll discuss anything that is on their minds.
“We really need a new generation that is studying issues of international and public affairs, and that’s what SIPA excels at,” she says. “For me personally, it’s so poetic that SIPA is where I started with that goal in mind. That is the mission of Oh My World!”
On the July day SIPA Magazine visited Chemali’s home, British prime minister Boris Johnson resigned, so the blonde wig she used to regularly impersonate him is now seeing less airtime. If her SIPA education and career in foreign policy have taught her anything, it’s that there will always be someone more absurd waiting in the wings of the world stage.