Bill Maher has lost his way and in turn lost me as a viewer, for good.
It’s almost a running joke in my house- during a viewing of Real Time with Bill Maher I’ll declare minimally three to four times, that “I’m done with this show and I’m done with him.” I usually do this on Saturday mornings as I watch with my husband over a bowl of oatmeal, (and admittedly sometimes nursing a hangover either real or audio-induced). Like any loathsome habit however, I’d keep returning for my weekly insulting and brow-beating under the guise of “healthy debate”, flying from the mouth of a man for whom “smug and self-assured” is a brand.
That was, until Friday February 17th, Season 15- Episode 5.
Now mind you, like all love affairs that hit the rocks, this was a long time coming. I was once a fan of Bill, even if he regularly pissed me off to the point of skulking around my house for days sounding like Yosemite Sam. We share so many of the same viewpoints ranging from blatant atheism and an outward disdain of religion, to marijuana legalization and environmental concerns. While I always found him self-aggrandizing, more than mildly chauvinistic and a stylized version of smug that made me want to challenge him to a fist fight, I found his show to be of great importance. When the show worked, it was inclusive, enlightening and an unquestionable forum that shed light on our increasingly damaged political arena, and when it didn’t, at least somewhere along the line, you’d laugh a few times- hopefully not at jokes that even Mort Saul would never tell. As intended, I could disagree with him, get angry with him, get REALLY angry with his guests, and yet return week after week in the hopes that this show was pushing things forward, a necessary evil for our broken nation.
The cracks were showing, however. As with all relationships that ultimately go south, you just stop buying the bullshit. I started to get fed up with the not so subtle bullying that suggested that in order for me to be as erudite as Bill, I had to be okay with his blatant courting of extreme Right Wing personalities, “just for arguments sake.” I realize that the entire backbone of the show is debate-that you need guests with opinions in strong opposition to each other so as to get conversation flowing. Where policy makers, and spokespersons of certain extreme Right Wing Agendas are concerned, they are the guests who serve as the very rapier to “pierce the bubbles” that Bill insists (and rightly so) that Americans live in. In order to invite argument, one must have participants on both sides of the aisles, of course. However I’m not sure why willfully courting Ann Coulter over and over again, falls under this category of guest. I’m sure for some seeing a plethora of liberal-leaning (or minimally libertarian-leaning) celebrities, is akin to watching Ann Coulter, but I’m also pretty sure that those people, aren’t watching his show.
The biggest spike in the fault line where my relationship with his show was concerned, was the entirety of the 2016 Presidential Election. Bill betrayed me and virtually all of his viewership during this year. This is where Bill began to lose me completely, as he proved to be a narcissist baby boomer and worse, a hypocrite. Bill choked. Like all men and women over the age of 45, he wanted to believe, and then ultimately could not believe in someone who was in fact, a great futurist Presidential candidate.. After giving Bernie Sanders, the man I firmly supported for the Presidency of the United States, the limpest of endorsements, he spent the entire year talking about…DONALD TRUMP. Yup. Here he was spending an entire year, not talking about the man he actually believed in, a man who was gaining like wildfire despite a media blackout, here was Bill actively contributing TO this blackout! Week in and week out the talk was not about Bernie and the huge rallies, or his message, or that he exposed Neoliberalism in America as being the cancer of the Democratic Party, nope, Bill was playing it safe and talking about…Trump. After all, everyone else was! There is nothing more teeth gnashing-ingly agonizing than watching someone transparently duck. Even more incensing, Bill would spend time in the panels complaining that the media was giving more time to the Trump Candidacy than anyone else, and that this was like free PR. Well, Bill…turned out to be one of his biggest donors. He also proved that ultimately, he was a coward. Rather than spend week in and week out promoting his candidate of choice, the candidate who would never have issued a Travel Ban on Muslims, who would never boast about building a wall to keep out Mexicans (that in turn the Mexicans will pay for), who supported EVERY SINGLE PLATFORM he believed in, ones he was vocal about for YEARS, he talked about Trump. Heck, he spent more time talking about Hillary Clinton for better or worse, usually for worse and why she was “the chicken if we couldn’t get the fish” (wow….) or why she was willfully and woefully out of touch (agreed, but why not follow that up with how Bernie was the future of America?). Bill Maher failed America during the 2016 Presidential election. As Michael Moore sat on his panel saying that he felt Trump would win, Bill merely continued to serve the Trump campaign more free air time. Way to go, Bill!
Somewhere along the line however, Bill Maher stopped caring about this broken nation, in the name of self-indulgent sensationalist rebellion. Suddenly his platforms were less about enlightenment and more about sociopathic shit-starting. He’d make valid points about racism and then cap them off with a racist joke, which cheapened both the joke and the point itself, just to see if he could. He was becoming less the moderator and more the button pusher, more interested in seeing how far he could push his personal agenda even at the expense of the topic at hand. When that branched over into passive racism, and what could only be viewed as the condoning of hateful behavior, I had to stop being a participant in what was now an abusive relationship.
On Friday February 17th, Bill Maher hosted renowned “alt right” (see White Supremacist) Milo Yiannopoulos, and in what could only seem like the most stupefying hallucination I’ve witnessed, he not only didn’t stand up to a man who’d declared that women were liars when they said they were raped, to a man who proudly wore the Iron Cross, to a man who said that “Jews run the media,” instead Bill cosied up to him. He bonded with him over their views on Muslims as if it were the same point of view. In the face of Larry Wilmore (who I all but levitated off my couch when he finally shut the whole mess down), Bill Maher challenged liberalism and progressive values by making room for, much as he did with Ann Coulter before him, an agent of hatred. He thinks in doing so, he’s more liberal and Progressive than the bulk of his viewership. He’s not. He’s just an asshole. That he would do this in the wake of a Travel Ban on Muslims, that he would do this after women marched proudly and continue to do so to protect their rights, and that he would do this after a year in which gays and black men were hunted down and murdered at will by law enforcement, it didn’t feel like enlightenment, it felt like betrayal. That he would use Joan Rivers his fellow comic in arms as collateral for his self righteous decisions, was all the more so.
At a time when The Resistance is forming and America is trying harder than ever to encourage the removal of a despot President and a 9th circle of hell Cabinet, Bill Maher is not here to inspire. He’s here to make horrible show business. If you’re looking for a voice to continue to inspire you to make better choices, I’d suggest you start watching Keith Olbermann, who ironically tripped on his way up to the new glossy Bill Maher dais recently. That tacky new set design, mirrors a tacky tired show and a tackier tireder host. Time to go.