Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bill Maher's Teachable Moment

I caught Real Time last night, Bill Maher's first show back after dropping the n-word in response to a clumsily insensitive remark from senator Ben Sasse. Full disclosure: I've watched Maher's show in some fashion since his Politically Correct days, which I know in 2017 is the wrong answer. It's easier to not only outright condemn but demand punishment, but I think Real Time is one of the few shows out there that does feature a diversity of opinion among its panelists (sometime to its own detriment), and Maher isn't afraid to criticize his own tribe, sometimes to his own detriment, and that's pretty rare these days. Anyway, this is what I scribbled down after watching "Bill's teachable moment":

Maher is in a position of great "privilege" (and I don't use that word casually) in that he's afforded what most people who's been at the receiving end of a public call-out don't have and that's a large platform. Despite the calls for HBO to fire him, he's never been in danger of losing his show. He can screw up royally and survive. Even if HBO had decided to pull the show, he'd still land on his feet because he's done it before. Everyone should have this luxury. (And guess who generally doesn't?)

That said, he's a clueless 60-year-old white guy whose brand of comedy went out of style decades ago, and didn't exactly demonstrate that he understood why what he said was wrong in any context. (Symone Sanders, one of the panelists, was astute in pointing out that it wasn't just a slur against African-Americans, but black women in particular.)

I did like how he said it was "wasted political capital." Maher's a polarizing figure, but he thrives on controversy almost to the point of being self-destructive (especially now when it's better to signal loudly than offer nuance and context). But it was a little selfish.

Ice Cube made a really good observation that he might have to choose between comedy and politics, because it's almost impossible to juggle being  thought leader and a subversive comedian. I've always thought the same thing -- you can't be both edgy and "woke." Sorry, in 2017, it doesn't work anymore.

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