Update: Thanks to reader @ribletsonthepan for tracking down the clip in question. I’ll try and find a more stable version, given that it may not remain on YouTube for long.
A viewer who is relatively well-informed on American political and social issues can watch Real Time with Bill Maher and almost always ascertain when Maher has ventured into oversimplification, especially when it comes to the topics of race & culture.
This week is, of course, no different. My own observation:
Maher gets a lot of love from the world of comedy. His acerbic wit, when focused on targets of reasonable culpability, can be quite enjoyable at times. And it’s no surprise that he’s also taken quite a bit of flack from the political community for his glibness and over-simplification of issues.
On the season finale of Real Time this Friday was a prime example of why he should be considered worthy of that criticism. A few times over, really, but I’m only going to focus on one.
His post-panel guest was the noted artist/actor/poet Common, who is no stranger to the political infotainment climate in which we live. Common was initially introduced for his acting role on the AMC show Hell On Wheels, about which I must admit I have only cursory knowledge. Given that it deals with issues surrounding the Civil War era, I think it’s fair to assume that it covers American Slavery and the attitudes thereabout, and I got the feeling that Common was there to discuss that.
After an introduction by Maher noting some of Common’s recent political notoriety à la FOXNews’ reaction to the White House Poetry Jam and inclusion therein to the “Chicago Political Machine”, which accurately highlighted quite a bit of the “liberties” with respect to race taken by the modern Conservative movement in this country, he [Common] mused about how racially charged issues haven’t changed for some, other than being moved under the table, subverted.
Directly following that, Maher launched right into asking Common what he thought about … Herman Cain’s recent scandal, the implication from the tone of the question was “Common, as a representative of the Black Community, what do you think about this Black Man who isn’t Barack Obama who is running for President”. Common, in my opinion, wisely noted that a lot of the hoopla surrounding the current GOP Presidential Primary Candidates seems very much like propaganda, and he generally doesn’t pay much credence to the tabloid nature of the subject. This didn’t dissuade Maher from pressing onwards with the line of questioning, transparent in his desire to get an answer with which he could play.
It should be noted that Maher had comparatively harsh words from members of the panel [it was a lively bunch, to say the least: Andrew Sullivan, Rep. Keith Ellison & Chris Matthews -- see here and here] regarding a number of other issues, and managed to appear less in control of the discussion than usual. Perhaps it was because he was floundering so elsewhere, but it seemed increasingly apparent that Maher’s patience was wearing thin, and thus seemed a greater asshole than he usually is.
I don’t believe Maher realized how well he illustrated Common’s point about how racial issues have been shoved back into the subconscious of, at least, the Socio-Political Commentariat of our times. The fact that Common was pigeonholed as “The Black Man” shows how out-of-touch Maher can be with even the most basic principles involved in beginning to understand the issue of Race in America. It’s been no secret that Maher has been more and more visible in his misunderstanding of nuances surrounding The Middle, and this is indicative of distinctions in polarity gone awry, leaving little room for a balanced, non-zero-sum discussion.
Like I said earlier, I can appreciate Maher for his delivery and tone when it comes to pointing out real hypocrisy [and his contributions to the humor surrounding it, if any], but I have no stomach for when he actively participates in it.
Here is the clip of the interview:
Thank you, @angryblacklady, for urging me to revisit this and tap into why I decided to write this piece to begin with.
I’m watching the interview again, and I’d forgotten how much I had looked forward to Common coming on, and how much I enjoyed the first part of the interview. Despite Maher’s gaffeish comments that he’d heard “many times that Chicago was the Capital of Black America”, Common was given room to opine and articulate that. And then dropped the other shoe. Maher full-on ignores [and I'm not certain this was intentional, because, let's face it, it's Maher - his pants exploded the minute that Touré gave him permission to say "Niggerhead" in his act] the fact that Common is a quite a thoughtful man who focuses on cutting divisiveness instead of stoking it, and asks about Herman Cain.
Herman. Fucking. Cain.
The worst possible juxtaposition to the brand positive thought that Common brings. Just because the man is black.
It’s basically like having a nice conversation with a stranger, then reaching over to introduce yourself by shaking hands and giving the requisite “Hi, my name is …” salutations – only to find that the guy’s wearing a joy-buzzer.
And then the rest of the interview is Maher trying to fit his precognition of what he wants Common to say, despite Common noting
- the distractive nature of Republican Presidential Politics
- that racism is far from dead – some people just don’t like to acknowledge it for what it’s turned into
Maher just steamrolls along, missing the perfect opportunity to engage with a guy who understands what his generation and the ones younger than he are yearning for. Nope, he’s got broad-brush, slightly-less-shallow-than-surface humorous talking points to make, and he’s willing to exemplify the very thing his interviewee has asserted is the issue at hand.
The issue staring us all in the face.
But we won’t talk about it.
Because we live in a “Post-Racial” America.
I’m a white guy. I have more luck through the sheer circumstance of my birth. And I know that “Post-Racial” is bullshit. I know that from the very core of my being. It’s just some term white people made up to sweep over the fact that there is still racism in this world in which we live.
We need to talk about it. Fuck, need isn’t strong enough a word – we MUST talk about it.
‘Til we’re blue in the fucking face.
Because it won’t go away until the majority of people acknowledge that it’s still there.
[cross-posted at Osborne Ink]