Maher: Indicative of an Asshole in Real Time.

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:

Update 2:
Thank you, @angryblacklady, for urging me to revisit this and tap into why I decided to write this piece to begin with.
     -&e-ru

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

  1. the distractive nature of Republican Presidential Politics
  2. 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.

Address 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]

33 Responses to Maher: Indicative of an Asshole in Real Time.

  1. I honestly can’t stand Bill Maher. He’s so much of a douchenozzle that he ruins whatever message he’s trying to oversimplify.

  2. ribletsonthepan says:

    Real Time is notorious for trolling You Tube..so you wont find the Common appearance there…but go here (for the time being) > Common at 6:27 Clip 3 http://restoringcomedy.blogspot.com/

    • dvnix says:

      Thank you so much for that! I’m not sure how long it’ll remain around, per your comment, but I’ll keep an eye out for second and third sources just in case.

      Muchly appreciated!

  3. Bill Maher makes me laugh, on occasion, but he just as frequently leaves me concerned that so many liberals allow him to behave badly, as long as he picks, “the right target.”

    Bad behavior is bad behavior no matter the target. Oversimplification is oversimplification no matter what the issue. And the “Hi, Mr. Black Guy, what do YOU have to say about this other black guy” approach is just as offensive coming from Maher as it is from someone on FOX, or anywhere.

    Thanks for calling him out on it.

    Now let’s talk about the respective prickly, defensive egos of the chest-beating O’Reilly and Olberman.

    Or not. LOL.

    • dvnix says:

      I’m with you 100% on those, Jodi. The fact that he generates a laugh on occasion makes me waver on whether or not to watch. Arguably, it’s a bit hypocritical to enjoy his humor and one capacity and eschew it in others, but I would posit that the oversimplification applies well to the Right in this country and that a finer sense of nuance is required to address issues on the Left. But that’s just my take on it.

      And we can talk about the benefits of lowering the decibel level of the conversation. Definitely. Until the cows come home. But I think we’re going to need to show that a calm, collective demeanor can foment change before anybody will take the notion seriously. Sad truth of our reality.

      • ian says:

        Ahh… the Left has to be more adult and intelligent about the conversation. We shouldn’t be saying the Right is a bunch of stupid-heads. Just implying it.

      • dvnix says:

        Honestly, it’s my feeling that the Left has to be more adult and intelligent about issues as seemingly simple as The Right’s idiocy, as well. We can’t hold ourselves above or beyond reproach. Sinking to a base level ruins our credibility.

  4. Understand your point, and agree that Maher falls back into old stereotypes that are certainly worrisome, but, is he representative of the vast majority of Americans? He’s not a pundit, but a comedian, which is not an excuse, but is it instructive?

    Often find similar questions with the much more in touch Jon Stewart & Steven Colbert, but are the comedians instructing us where America is?

    • dvnix says:

      I don’t think Maher is representative of the majority of Americans, but I fear that the simplistic approach he follows can be echoed easily. In my opinion, comedy is an important outlet/medium, but I think comedians who are held as representative of a group of people also bear the responsibility of recognizing how they are perceived.

      The same could be said of pundits. Or politicians. Or authors. Anybody who has a voice.

  5. brantl says:

    It’s a comedy show with politics mixed in. Are you a bit slow, or just too stodgy for your own good?

    • dvnix says:

      I think it’s less a comedy show and more a talk show focusing on socio-political topics. And his treatment of the issue isn’t really a surprise for many who take issue with Maher’s simplistic approach.

      He can be very spot-on when it comes to topics that require minimal nuance, such as the Extreme Right. But there is a delicacy that he simply does not have when it comes to discussing race, religion, women, policy or economics … which, as you may well guess, are the political topics which are the most visible right now.

      Am I slow/stodgy? I don’t think so. I just think I’d like the dialog to not be trounced upon in such a glib manner.

  6. Audrey Burns says:

    I was more concerned about the treatment of Rep Keith Ellison during the panel discussions. Andrew Sullivan rode roughshod over him and Bill did not step in once. I was very interested in the points he was trying to make, but wasn’t allowed the time. Maher lost any credibility with me before Common even joined the panel.

    • dvnix says:

      I think Rep. Ellison can hold his own in a firefight, but yes, I definitely felt irked at Maher’s dismissal. But I expect that of him, especially with a panel guest with what Ellison brings to the discussion. Rep. Ellison challenges the Maher’s vehement notion of the Violent Muslim Male by his mere existence.

      As for Sullivan, I like him. I disagree with him on many things, but I think he’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s gone awry with Modern American Conservatism. But yes, he overpowered Ellison in the discussion. But when you have a moderator who’s out-of-his-depth, and outspoken panel members, it doesn’t surprise me. Doesn’t make it right, just doesn’t surprise me.

  7. sweetcaroline1 says:

    If you think Maher was bad about making one man the representative of an entire race, he’s equally atrocious when it comes to women. The examples are too numerous to reference here.

  8. denali says:

    Maybe I just saw it differently that the rest of you, but I think you may be oversimplifying the interview. I didn’t see Bill asking “The black guy” I saw him asking someone who has recently gone through a media frenzy his perspective on the current media frenzy swirling around Cain. Maybe he should ask Kim Kardashian instead?

    • dvnix says:

      That may very well be the case. And you’re more than entitled to your opinion. And I mine.

      It’s Maher’s shtick to go for laughs. And Cain is a comedic goldmine. And, while Common “recently” went through “a media frenzy” [it was in April, so it's not really recent], that’s about the only similarity it holds. Common’s interaction with the world of infotainment was an outright smear, Cain’s is an accusation based in provable fact. I don’t liken the two situations.

  9. ShanaSmiles says:

    Odd that he didn’t needle Keith Ellison that way. I mean, hes also black, but rather than a diplomatic answer he gave Mahr what he wanted to hear…Black on black excoriation. White people, as evidenced by the uproar over his WH appearance, tend to expect black men (especially rappers, and apparently, especially Common; though Im not sure why) to act in stereotypical fashion. I find that many white interviewers are keen to get a black guest to “go there” and do something stereotypically approved. As they often seem smugly self-satisfied if they can get a little “ghetto” out of their guest.

  10. “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.”

    It is naive to see white people as the originators and sole perpetrator of racism in this country. You need to wipe your mind clean of Racism=Whites oppressing blacks. That is naive, no offense.

    • dvnix says:

      No offense taken.

      For the record, I wasn’t saying that Racism == Whites oppressing Blacks. I was merely pointing out that Maher, once again, missed a golden opportunity to have a genuine dialog about the subject, instead opting for the cheap, salacious laughs.

      That said, the excuse “But, but, but we’re Post-Racial” seems to be used the most by people who don’t want to acknowledge that they may, indeed, be saying something offensive.

  11. Maher did try to steamroll Common and get him to say things that fit into the prepared things that Maher wanted to say. However, Dr. West is a frequent guest of Maher’s and so I gove him a pass when it comes to a lot of issues he just skims over. To call him a raicist in the same vein of Limbaugh or Fox news is really not fair.

    • dvnix says:

      Did I say Maher was a racist? No, I said he was an asshole.

      Did Maher further gloss over the subject of race relations in America? Yes, he did.

      Does that make him a racist? No. It makes him glib. Which is his shtick.

      Additionally, his inclusion of Cornel West on the show doesn’t make him any more progressive or any less obtuse, nor does it give him a pass on being glib on topics which should be treated with candor and sensitivity.

  12. [...]  Common does not have to have an opinion about Herman Cain [...]

  13. timqz1 says:

    Please forgive any obtuseness I may be displaying, but I don’t see Maher as that out of line with bringing up the subject of Cain with Common. Granted Common can’t be the “voice of all black America”, but I was curious that coming from an African-American perspective, what Common’s take on Cain was. Racial politics is a huge issue, and it’s reflected both in white and African-American communities, and to pretend otherwise is just unrealistic (and yes, I’m sure Common’s opinions are based on other factors as well, besides race). But the (granted remote) possibility of two African-Americans running for President brings into play all sorts of race-based issues never encountered before in this country.
    If what I’m saying is perceived as racist, I’m sure there will be any number of people eager to educate me on this point. BTW, I like Maher’s show. Of the few progressive voices on TV, I think he’s particularly good at showing his anger at the bullshit coming from the Right, but there’s intelligence behind the anger.

    • dvnix says:

      I don’t perceive your statement as racist.

      I just figured that Common was there to talk about his experience on “Hell On Wheels” and how it factored in his own experience as a black man with respect to his own brushes with racism, not to be used as a foil to get Maher more fodder. Maher had intimated as much in the initial lead-in. But it’s Maher’s show, so he’ll use the panelists as he sees fit.

      We have excellent opportunities in our interconnected culture to discuss and start the process of putting-to-bed of some deep-seated issues with respect to race, gender, religion, etc … it’s merely my opinion that when we treat them in a trite manner do we do a disservice, and squander the chance.

  14. Peter Everts says:

    Andrew Sullivan is an asshole who has little to contribute, but likes to blather. This whole post is overblown bullshit. Get a life, don’t watch if you don’t like and Maher does just fine 95% of the time – a much better batting average that most pols and all Repukes.

    • dvnix says:

      If you can’t see that Sullivan actually has a valid contribution to make, then you’re missing the point of discussion. He’s one of the few conservatives out there [little 'c'] with the cojones to call out the hypocrisy on the Right with more frequency than not.

      But you also assert that “Maher does just fine 95% of the time”, and I would most certainly disagree with you on that. Maher takes a very Black-and-White stance on most issues he discusses, and most of the time, they require a bit of Gray to fully capture the breadth of what’s going on. So, strike 2.

      You also say “get a life”. I think that articulates the amount of thought you’re willing to put into the discussion adequately. So, yeah.

  15. monishrc says:

    Bill Maher, who no doubt has very effective comedic talent, nevertheless suffers from a vice that I find rather common among (even thoughtful, cerebral) Americans. This has to do with an antiquated, anachronistic sense of “patriotism” that many elsewhere in the world have left behind, in pursuit of common human heritage and goals.

    I will not go into why patriotism can be inherently offensive, hateful, and xenophobic. Its inherent madness has been proven over and over again in history. Yet, in the U.S., this prehistoric act of tribalism is pursued as a worthy national ritual, often when it carries no meaning whatsoever (think of the chants USA! USA! USA!, before a bewildered world).

    Bill Maher displayed this “patriotism” slant frequently even during the dreaded Bushco years, evidenced by some of his books from that era of runaway crimes (such as the hateful symbolism of him (the pure, the noble one) riding with OBL (the evil “other”, a favorite American brainwashing pill) in one).

    Therefore, Bill Maher is no progressive or humanist. He is more in the class of the “what’s in it for me” set, tempered at times with notions of decency and common sense.

  16. Sandra Dwyer says:

    America (and my country, Canada) is far from being post racial. I would have liked to hear more from Common and less from Maher. Maher seemed to be out of sync with everyone on that show. He is in a position to facilitate real conversations and instead chooses to deflect with glib insincerity.

  17. TC says:

    Great post. Maher was so tone-deaf for asking Common to address that. I mean any human being could tell you that what Herman Cain is alleged to have done was wrong. One needn’t be black to see that. (I’m white) It’s not brain surgery. It’s also a distraction – the Inside Baseball of politics. HERMAN CAIN IS AN IDIOT be he black, brown, white, Asian, or Native American. Why Maher couldn’t focus more on the positivity that Common devotes himself to, I don’t know.

    Another really abhorrent thing about this last show was Maher’s negativity about the human race. During the overtime section, Maher showed he had very faith in humanity-indicating that he thought that if we weren’t regulated that humans would tear each other limb from limb. Fortunately, the thoughtful Penn Gillette was on to persuasively that many people, even when faced with great cruelty, do not succumb to the basest instincts.

  18. FYI: Hell on Wheels is actually post Civil War. The setting is a camp of workers at the head end of the first cross-continent railway. The cast is an explosive mix of former Union and Confederate soldiers, montebanks, swindlers, prostitutes, capitalists, moralistic preachers, cops, immigrants, native americans and ex-slaves. (well, in some cases, only one of each). Common plays Elam Fergusen, mixed-race, emancipated slave. Strong, smart, beset by prejudice, standing tall, finding a place and demonstrating his value in a world that is far from welcoming.

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