This article is published in CounterPunch.
Watching Real Time with Bill Maher is a truly painful experience. In just a few tortuous minutes of the program, its hallmarks become clear: an endless barrage of jokes made unabashedly at the expense of the oppressed, justified as critiques of “political correctedness,” is punctuated by mind-numbing expressions of ignorance, thinly veiled behind an air of bombastic righteousness and shameless self-aggrandizement, all situated squarely within a setting of diehard Democrat cheerleading.
Painted as “very liberal,” even as a “leftist” by the mainstream (read: corporate) media and popular culture, the eponymous host has, unfortunately for all of us, come to embody the mainstream (read: corporate) “Left” in this country. This “Left,” however, is not much different than the Right; both share a passion for unmitigated bigotry. Bill Maher is the Democrat’s Glenn Beck. Both pundits fancy themselves comedians (the prevalence with which both laugh at their own jokes evinces that), satirists, armed with jokes as their weapon, laughter as their proselytizer, taking on perceived cultural ills for the betterment of humanity.
The problem is that both do exactly the contrary.
Let us not assume, nonetheless, that equivalence in direction implies equivalence in degree. I firmly hold that Bill Maher brings us further away from achieving true human progress, equality, and liberation than Glenn Beck. I genuinely mean that. (Now, do not confuse this for a Beck apology. Too many people are needlessly suffering and dying—being murdered—to waste breath on discussing, even considering discussing, that Neo-Nazi wolf in neocon sheep’s clothing.) For, unlike Beck’s, Maher’s bigotry is cozily nested within a liberal framework, a framework whose adherents have genuinely fought against particular forms (but, significantly, not all forms) of oppression and injustice. The bigotry thus is not seen as such by the preponderance of liberals watching it; it becomes the accepted way things are. “Democrats can’t be bigots! Republicans are the ones who are bigots!” the binary logic goes. The liberal’s, Maher’s concomitant bigotry becomes normalized not as concomitant bigotry but as concomitant fact. Maher’s bigotry and Maher’s message come to be inextricable; one cannot exist without the other. McLuhan rolls in his grave; we have ignored his premonition: when bigotry is the medium, bigotry is the message.
Given the Brobdingnagian breadth of Bill’s bigotry, and the length required to address all of it, this work will be published in two separate segments. Although all of this criticism is framed through an intersectional approach—because, in order to adequately address one form of oppression, one must address them all—the former half will address the most serious forms, that is to say, the ones that deal directly or indirectly with the policies that lead to the murder of innocent human beings (and lots of them). These include Maher’s virulent anti-Islam prejudice, undying support for U.S. imperialism, and dogmatic defense of the Democrats. The latter half will address the more cultural prejudices Maher exudes, namely racism, misogyny, classism, and heterosexism. It will also discuss the wider political and cultural implications of Maher’s bigotry. This ordering is certainly not to say that these latter subjects are less significant than the former; racism, misogyny, classism, heterosexism ruin, even destroy lives too. In regards to the former political criticisms, however, the degree of graveness, in terms of the overwhelming numbers of human lives lost, affords it more salience.
A great place to begin any analysis of Maher’s numerous prejudices is the poetically-titled blog Bill Maher Sucks. Its collection of criticisms, spanning the last three years (with the bulk of the content from 2012), is unfortunately rather small, and by no means comprehensive, yet it allows one, at the least, to get a feel for the variety and the nature of bigotry we are dealing with here. Bill Maher Sucks’ author writes “Bill Maher is a vile racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, ableist, Zionist, classist idiot.” A more accurate and succinct description could hardly be made. I would add a few more qualifiers: Bill Maher is a narcissistic, vile imperialist, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, ableist, Zionist, classist idiot millionaire Democrat-apologist, blind to any and all of his privileges. Let us look at examples, from Maher’s own show, from Maher’s own mouth.
A good amount of work has already been written about the figure’s unapologetic anti-Islam prejudice (and its closely-linked racism). This is an easy first target. It is the most overt; he practically boasts it. Yes, Maher is critical of all religions, and I myself strongly believe in the importance of having a space to publicly critique religion—albeit in a socially responsible, respectable, and equitable manner, none of which describes his approach. Maher, nonetheless, reserves particular hatred for Islam. In a peculiar break from his dogmatic liberal extolment, Maher claims the notion that all religions are equally good (or bad) is “liberal bull shit” (strange, after Maher criticized Kerry for eschewing the word “liberal”).
Maher takes great joy in consistently making inflammatory, downright ludicrous claims like “at least half of Muslims believe it is all right to kill someone who insults ‘the Prophet,” or “There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith.” Completely fabricating statistics to support his position is a popular Maherian tactic. The pundit needs no citations, of course, for his positions are not based on those silly scientific “studies”; His opinions are facts merely by virtue of them being His opinions. Moments of unrepentant prejudice like these are enthusiastically lauded by far-right “news” sources and blogs, by bigots rejoicing at bipartisan anti-Islam prejudice. Claiming that Islamic extremism is more dangerous than far-right extremism nevertheless is both intellectually and statistically reprehensible. This self-professed liberal, this individual many describe as a “leftist” (a shudder goes down my spine even thinking about that), had the perfect opportunity to publicly discuss the very real threat of rising far-right terrorism and extremism in this country vis-à-vis the relatively paltry threat of so-called “Islamic” terrorism (that is to say, “terrorism” that is never actually about Islam, and always about imperialism). Maher, though, in his trademark aversion to fact, chooses to rant and rave about what his prejudices tell him we should be afraid of.
For a man who claims his irreligious sentiments are firmly rooted in science, Maher irrationally fixates on small exceptions. Even when reminded that one in every four people in the world is Muslim, Maher adamantly maintains his ardent antipathy for all things Islamic. In 2010, he infamously expressed his fear that “the Western world [will] be taken over by Islam,” because the most common name for newborn British baby boys was Mohammed (even while Muslims made up less than five percent of the British population). “Am I a racist to feel alarmed by that?” he asked, “Because I am” he added—the antecedent for “I am” meaning “I am a racist,” of course. “[I]t’s not because of the race, it’s because of the religion,” he assures us… But why then does he not fear all of the boys named Jacob and Noah (two of the most popular baby boy names in 2012)? Like the racist, neo-con “New Atheists,” Maher uses his anti-Islam prejudice as a convenient cover for his anti-Arab racism.
Simple facts like, you know, the fact that Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, and that over 60% of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia, not the Middle East, are unimportant to, and frankly beyond Maher. “I should be alarmed, and I don’t apologize for it,” Maher reminds us, before agreeing wholeheartedly with his far-right guests on the threat of Sharia Law destroying our Western “justice” system. The completely fabricated, anti-Islamic, racist myth of Sharia law is a hot topic on Maher’s show, and the anti-Islamic, racist pundit never questions it.
To Maher, Muslims and Arabs are the same thing. This is how he justifies his overtly racist insistence that, for “women who have dated an Arab man, the results aren’t good,” and that “Arab men have a sense of ‘entitlement’”; or, in his trademark statistics-fabrication, that “in 19 of 22” Muslim-majority countries, women “can’t vote.” In the end, Maher’s not afraid of hiding his white supremacy: “They’re worse. What’s wrong with just saying that?”
One could spend hours recounting the anti-Islam and anti-Arab prejudice; given its adequate coverage, nevertheless, there is no need for me to rehash it here. I will spend more time focusing on the numerous other ways in which Maher is a jingoist reactionary.
Closely tied to Maher’s anti-Islam prejudice, and the most dangerous thing about the cultural figure, is Maher’s steadfast defense of U.S. imperialism. Once again, in close accord with the “New Atheists,” Maher, a so-called “left”-leaning (in terms of U.S. politics, which really means “a little right-leaning”) person, has no problem defending flag-waving militarism and collective punishment (of Muslims) for crimes that individuals (usually sponsored, you got it, by Uncle Sam) committed. Huntington’s patently absurd (and unequivocally racist) “Clash of Civilizations” thesis is taken to an even more extreme degree in the hands of Maher. “My favorite new government program is surprising violent religious zealots in the middle of the night and shooting them in the face” Maher exclaims enthusiastically.
Yes, you read (heard) that correctly. Maher just applauded extrajudicial, internationally illegal slaughter of “religious zealots.” And by “religious zealots” Maher means Muslims. He doesn’t mean Christians; he doesn’t mean Hindus; he doesn’t mean Buddhists. The last time I checked, the U.S. government doesn’t organize covert operations to shoot Christian, Hindus, or Buddhists in the middle of the night. The last time I checked, the U.S. doesn’t bomb Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist funerals and weddings. Maher knows he doesn’t need to decode his words; the meaning is clear: his favorite U.S. government program is Uncle Sam murdering Muslims.
Playing off of the filthy words of the filthy Thomas Friedman, this is Big Stick Policy 3.0. And Maher can’t speak highly enough of it.
This blatant disregard for civilian casualties (of Muslims) is of course prevalent among Democrats, but few Democrats are portrayed in popular culture as “liberal” as is Maher, and even fewer have a widely-watched television show on which they spew their liberal balderdash.
Liberal balderdash is in no small amount on Real Time with Bill Maher. In typical partisanship-induced blindness, Maher, virtually without exception, retreats into defense mode when Democrats are attacked, but becomes iridescently gung ho when it’s time for Republican-bashing. Glenn Greenwald’s first (and, much to the chagrin of the truth-seeker, probably last) appearance on Maher’s show on 10 May is a case in point.
In typical partisan prevarication, Maher skirts around any genuine criticism of “his side” by, instead of addressing the legitimacy or veracity of the actual point of criticism, quickly mentioning the even greater and more numerous criticisms of the “other side.” In the context of Benghazi, in place of actually addressing the incident, Maher swiftly fixates on the GOP’s scandals. When the ever-perspicacious Greenwald makes the elementary moral observation that, regardless of which faction of the Business Party is responsible for the scandal, some serious issues need to be addressed, Maher scarcely nods before changing the subject. (Literally: He says “I’m bored” right when things get hot and moves on to a new topic.)
When Maher transitions into the episode’s obligatory Muslim-bashing, Greenwald, as always, rationally combats the ignorant bigotry, justifying his position with historical evidence (e.g., U.S. support for military occupation and apartheid in Palestine) and carefully conducted research (e.g., U.S. support for Mubarak). Maher? He just goes with his gut. You don’t need that silly “evidence,” yet alone “history” stuff. This is common sense! How can you mistrust Emperor Obama?! islam iz evilz!
For Maher, when a Republican commits an atrocity, you’re (rightfully) obligated to call it out for the crime against humanity that it is. When a Democrat does it, on the other hand, he tells us, we should be a little more pragmatic, a little more realistic here. We’re under attack. Civilization itself is under attack. Bush? His war was the corrupt, inchoate conquest, for political dominion and natural resources (which it was). Obama? His war is the moral defense of the “free” world, the stark reality that we, the “civilized,” are fighting to protect our very existence. Anything is defensible when we are fighting such a war. Anything.
The blog Political Pwnage could have articulated it no more perfectly when it titled this segment “Bill Maher’s Blind Eye to US Imperialism is Poked Out by Glenn Greenwald.” Maher’s blind eye, Maher’s appalling ignorance of the history of Western imperialism in the Middle East, of propping up violent, draconian dictators for economic and political ends, of the indefensible, genocidal, war crimes and atrocities committed on innocent civilians; Maher’s silence on his guests’ jingoist, conceited white washing of the fundamentally conservative, anti-democratic American Revolution as history’s “greatest” revolution, silence when his guest posits that mentioning this country’s history having been founded upon slavery is a “cheap blow”; the fundamentally racist, imperialist PROPAGANDA in just this segment, yet alone the entire show; all of it is absolutely vomit-inducing.
“Foreign policy” (a euphemism for imperialism) is not the only issue Bill Maher doggedly defends, however. The pundit, with very few exceptions (his opposition to the “War on Drugs” perhaps being the only example), marches resolutely in step with whatever Obama and the Democrats are doing, whenever they are doing it. Even more recently, Maher, along with fellow diehard Democrat apologist guest Michael Moore, waxed poetic on “Obamacare,” proclaiming, tears of love and admiration practically trailing down his cheeks, “This is the heart of Obama. This is the heart of capitalism. I’m wondering why the people who love the free market so much are not for this.”
This isn’t sarcasm. Maher is melodiously marveling at the boons of the Drone Despot. And, yes, he really did just say “the heart of capitalism” without any intended irony.
That, “Obamacare” is not universal health care, by any stretch of the imagination; that it leaves at least 30 million Americans uninsured; that, instead of combatting the hellish privatized nightmare of a health“care” system (“system” meaning industry, in our case) that is destroying our country and economy (and bringing us, our health, and even our lives down with it), The Affordable Care Act ensures the continued existence and exploits of the very moral-less, starry-eyed (“starry” meaning “dollar-sign”) corporations responsible by forcing Americans to purchase health“care” from them—none of that is mentioned. It’s all off the table, because it’s all taboo. You can’t criticize Emperor Obama. Explaining that Obamacare is just another bailout, just another subsidy for corporate chaos, while a guest on Maher’s show (if you even have a chance to finish the sentence before Maher cuts you off) is “helping the GOP”; it is a Maherian death wish.
For someone that opposes organized religion, Maher is awfully dogmatic. But this shouldn’t surprise us. After all, Maher is a loud, obnoxious, expensive advertisement for the Democrat faction of the Business Party.
In the second half of this column, I will concentrate on the ways in which Maher’s numerous cultural prejudices complement his doctrinaire politics, historical ignorance, and militarist, imperialist cheerleading; and discuss how Maher’s failings in not even addressing, let alone dissecting them harms us all.
When Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, the pantheon of today’s right-wing proto-fascists step onto their televised pulpits, we know that they are “vile racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, ableist, Zionist, classist” war-mongering capitalist xenophobes. The far-right slant of Fox “News” is widely acknowledged; these figures are bastions of neo-conservatism, proudly affiliating with, preaching the gospel of overtly imperialist, militarist politics. Democrats, progressives, and the left-leaning have learned to give little credence to, even to tune out, this ridiculous noise. When they turn to figures like Bill Maher (not to mention John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, et al.) in response, therefore, the presumption is that this imperialism and militarism, along with these numerous forms of oppression and bigotry, are absent. The truth is they are anything but.
Maher is not a leftist. He, like the rest of the Democrat faction of the Business Party, is just slightly less right of center than the Republican faction. The sooner we all wake up and realize that, the better.