No More Idols: Bill Maher



HBO has been a part of my life for a long time. One of the earliest shows I remember watching (that nobody else seems to remember), was Dream On. In it, Brian Benben starred as a divorced book editor who watched way too much TV as a kid, and all of his thoughts were cutaways to the black-and-white shows from his youth (a much better precursor to Family Guy). The thing that grabbed me about it were the things they couldn’t say or do on regular television; mainly curse words and nudity. You know, all of the things a teenager enjoys and would find all over that channel. I left for Germany between 1996-2000, so I couldn’t watch all of those shows then, but when I got back, Real Sex and Taxicab Confessions hooked me again. While staying up late for one of the many original shows to come on some time, during, or after 2003, I stumbled upon Real Time with Bill Maher and I had yet another reason to stick with HBO.


Real Time stuck a chord with me for being an intersection where several of my interests came together all at once. Believe it or not, I had been interested in politics from a young age. I read newspapers, including political cartoons, daily throughout middle and high school, kept up with Murphy Brown, CNN, and even watched the Sunday morning shows like Meet The Press. I was 12. But on top of that, they had actors from movies that I liked, and some of my favorite musicians coming together to discuss topics with writers and members of the government I watched on the news. On top of the uncensored dialogue of HBO, and me coming to terms with my lack of faith (Bill Maher is an avowed atheist), Real Time was my kind of party.


For years I made sure to tune in weekly, from my parents having HBO until I moved out, to me downloading the audio-only podcast version on my 120GB iPod Classic; I even torrented the show when I had neither the subscription to HBO nor my media players. Come hell or high water, I was going to catch Bill and his rotating guests discussing the week's events. I was introduced to so many people I started to follow in different ways, from Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, and even my first glimpse of Joe Biden before he was VP. It also didn’t hurt that people like Cornel West, Ice Cube, Killer Mike, Mos Def, and other Black and brown people showed up to give the show some credibility when it came to the wider issues going on in the US and the world at large. I was an avid watcher of the show and while he wasn’t always right, I felt like the show included enough people to push things in the right direction. Until 2017 and the infamous, “house nigger,” controversy.


Long story short, while talking to a senator from Nebraska, Maher, to another white man, on live, national TV, referred to himself as a “house nigger,” after implying that he wouldn’t work in the fields. I didn’t catch the episode live; I saw the controversy after the fact and wondered if something was taken out of context and…nope. There it was, plain as day. What stood out to me was that he had a Black guest on that night who didn’t check him in that moment, but on the next two or so episodes, he was relentlessly dragged, including by Ice Cube. He apologized and…something told me to take a step back and evaluate who I had given my attention to for a decade-plus, and once the rose-colored glasses were off, I didn’t like what I saw and stayed far, far away. I learned long ago that a white person being so comfortable saying the n-word in any form one time has been comfortable saying it a lot more times than you caught them doing it. And when the truth comes to light, and you take some steps back, you’ll notice cracks so large in the statue you admired; you’ll wonder how you never saw them before. Well, it’s because that’s where you had fallen in. Welcome back to the light.


One criticism that used to get thrown at Maher, was that he was a closet racist due to his “former” conservative leanings coupled with his affinity for mocking the Muslim faith. Maher himself, and many of his enablers, myself included, would wave that away by stating that Islam wasn’t a race; it was a religion just like Christianity, which he also mocked frequently. However, the fervor in which he would call out Muslims, and link them frequently to terrorists, came right out of the Fox News playbook. And why wouldn’t he do this? Ann Coulter had been on his show many times, he and Bill O'Reilly were chummy, and many of his atheist guests (almost always white) loved to back him up. As an atheist myself, I thought it was fair…as a Black man, I figured out it was just racism. I started to see many of his atheist guests get exposed for being racists and bigots, and I honestly had to thank my own sanity and critical thinking skills for never idolizing any person or thing to the point that I can’t criticize them.


Over the past few years, I haven’t heard about Maher in any positive light. He claims to have been some converted conservative, seeing the progressive light and wanting to show everyone that people can change. But all he’s done is regress and become more conservative as time has gone on as if his liberalism was some sort of Trojan Horse. (When it comes to American liberalism…that’s a topic for another day.) This brings me to 2022, and his newest, not surprising, antic. Being “over” COVID. Putting his selfishness on display as he always has, and not suffering any consequences as white men rarely do. It was bad enough that he’s been so intertwined with the snake oil salespeople at PETA, but now he’s just throwing out there for all to see, a declaration; fuck people.


Fox News might as well start broadcasting his show now.


Maher has always had it in his mind that he’s got all of the answers and that we’re all dumb for not listening. The problem is that, like all self-important mediocre white men, everyone isn’t them. His one-size-fits-all narrative and condescending nature does more harm than good, with his wide reach, and the faux-intellectuals who complain about their first-world problems as if the world owes them a favor. Anything that bothers them in the slightest seems to be the bane of their existence, and COVID is just another obstacle instead of the danger it’s been for the rest of us. It’s easier to avoid the tidal wave from the top of a mountain. Almost a million people in graves are the only ones truly over it. The rest of us just need to be over Maher.


New Rule: since Bill Maher seems to be an ongoing disease that we’ve been dealing with that’s been tiring for some time, why don’t we just get “over” him? It would save a lot of brain cells, and maybe HBO would be nice enough to reboot Dream On for me. Brian Benben isn’t too busy, is he?