Bill Maher, the obnoxious, execrable and unfunny “comic” who hosts a talk-show on HBO called “Real Time,” is inexplicably one of the most successful and popular television celebrities in the United States.
His rise to the top presents yet another example of how mediocrity, vulgarity (and, of course, luck) are far more important in determining the quality of contemporary pop culture than such quaint and forgotten qualities as talent and integrity.
Like many of his dubious contemporaries -- including Oprah Winfrey, Michael Moore, Spike Lee, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, among numerous others -- Maher has become a “brand” that is meticulously marketed for the sake of maximizing profit. Maher does not engage in reasoned debate, nor does he really care about the validity of his viewpoints. Having identified the demographic he wants to target (that is, upscale urban liberals), he simply ladles out what they want to hear.
Thus, Maher is guilty of committing the exact same transgressions that he accuses “right-wingers” of -- namely, espousing simple, shallow talking points on highly complex subjects.
In Maher's simplistic, two-dimensional world-view, the following are “good” or “admirable” (Democratic Party, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, abortion, solar energy, marijuana, same-sex marriage); and the following are either “stupid” or “evil” (Republicans, conservatives, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, all organized religions).
Maher knows his audience -- he knows exactly what they like, don't like and what pleases them. This is precisely taken from Limbaugh's playbook on the other side of the political spectrum.
Having watched about one dozen episodes of “Real Time” -- not happily, mind you -- the show adheres to a rigid formula. Maher comes out on stage to wild applause from a studio audience that apparently comprises a group of trained seals who laugh hysterically at every one of his “jokes” (regardless of how funny they really are). In his opening monologue, Maher slices and dices that week's current events – always with a left-wing bias that relentlessly skewers the right (again, give the people what they want).
The next segment reflects what separates Maher from most other comics -- he wants to be viewed as something of a literate intellectual who is familiar with serious and difficult subjects. To fulfill this fantasy, Maher opens the interview segment of the program by speaking to a guest with substance, usually an author, scientist, politician or academic who is typically plugging a new book. Now I am not suggesting that Maher is dumb (quite the contrary), but he evinces a very shallow (and often misguided) knowledge of important topics like global warming, fracking, Middle East affairs, etc.
Maher appears to be adhering to the viewpoints that he thinks his audience will agree with -- the actual merits of the argument be damned. Nonetheless, these opening bits give “Real Time” a patina of seriousness and intellectualism.
Then, we move on to the real meat of the show, a panel discussion with four or five guests who typically comprise a predictable mix of celebrities, entertainers, journalists and lawmakers. The assembled guests unfailingly include one token woman (who's usually very attractive) and, more important, one (and only one) conservative -- whom Maher and the others lampoon and gang up on. Maher knows that if he went up against a team of conservatives they'd eat him alive; he's no fool.
It would be a cliché to characterize Maher as a “phony Hollywood liberal,” an overused term in my estimation, but it applies beautifully to Maher. His history of hypocritical statements and behavior is so long and epic that it would be impossible to document all of them. But allow me to unveil a few.
Maher is an inveterate opponent of the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association, while at the same time he keeps a gun for his own protection -- apparently, it’s OK for wealthy celebrities to posses guns, but not the rest of us.
Maher blasts racism and pretends that he is fond of African-Americans, yet he frequently attacks blacks in overtly racist tones. For example, when former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain announced he would be joining the Fox News network, Maher said Cain was looking forward to working with “fine-assed white women” at Fox.
Like many celebrities, Maher has a rather messy personal life. Never having been married, he dated a black Playboy model named Coco Johnsen in the early 2000s. She eventually sued him for inflicting “pain and suffering" for alleged "insulting, humiliating and degrading racial comments." He later hooked up with a black “hip- hop model” named Karrien Steffans -- suggesting he likes to objectify black women.
Maher, who has long cried out that the wealthy should pay their “fair share” of taxes, lamented that tax rates in his home state of California were ridiculously high. But to be fair to Maher, he has indeed criticized his fellow Democrats as well as President Barack Obama, but only for not pursuing their policies -- health care reform, immigration reform, etc. -- more aggressively, not because he thought these policies were in any way wrong.
Maher is also very rich. A website called Celebrity NetWorth estimates his wealth at $23 million, which seems very low. Consider that last year he contributed $1 million to Priorities USA, a super political action committee for Obama. Later than year, he bought a minority stake in the New York Mets baseball club for an undisclosed amount. Considering that the Mets are valued at some $800 million, according to Forbes magazine, even a small 5 percent stake would cost a fortune (even if Maher bought in with some investment partners).
I bring up Maher’s wealth because it reflects how he no longer lives in the real world and has not for many decades, although he claims to sympathize with the struggles of the middle and working classes. He is simply pandering to his audience, like any good “entertainer” or charlatan does.
Maher is no worse than most other Hollywood celebrities, but since he seems to have such a large media presence, he is ripe for criticism and attack.
I should point out, however, that he and I do agree on some things. For example, we both support the death penalty, we both think that celebrity culture is decaying this country, and that obsession with mobile devices is absurd and destructive. But he is the wrong public voice for these subjects since he has no real credibility or authority.
What bothers me most about Maher is how smarmy and snarky he is and how he flaunts his undeserved fame. Most pathetic is probably his advocacy for marijuana -- he drops hints frequently that he likes to smoke dope and how “cool” he is. Does anyone sane still think marijuana denotes “coolness” anymore?
Maher reminds me of a boy I used to know in high school whose family won a sweepstakes lottery. Prior to that good fortune, this kid was widely disliked -- he was an annoying, homely little fellow (like Maher) who got on everyone’s nerves. After his family became rich overnight, he remained an irritant, only more so.
One could say that Maher also won a kind of a “lottery,” and he will continue to irritate a large segment of the public.