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"It’s easy to trip people up if that is your sole intention."
April 3, 2014 10:38 AM   Subscribe

"So yeah, I (apparently) lost a game on Bill’s show that I didn’t know I was playing. The game was 'Gotcha!' And according to the Internet (and the number of misspelled and nigger filled — the word, not the people — tweets in my timeline), I got gotcha’ed!"

W. Kamau Bell writes about his recent appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher

"Here’s what went down from my (totally biased) perspective. Bill read a Paul Ryan quote (previously) from a radio interview on Bill Bennett’s show. The panel had been given the quote before the show. And then he asked if it was okay to infer that Ryan was talking about people of color without saying the words. The panel had also been told that this was going to happen. In fact, I had been told right before the show taped to jump in first on this one because — and I quote — 'As an African-American Bill is going to want to hear your perspective.' Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for conversations about race and racism in America. Well, I got played for a sucker.

After the question came up, I basically said (FIRST!) that the quote was clearly about race, Bill read a second quote that he said was from Paul Ryan, and I snickered. And then Bill made that famous Bill Maher face that we all know (and many love). And he declared that the second quote was from Michelle Obama. Duh, duh, duuuuuuuh!"

Video

(W. Kamau Bell previously on MeFi)
posted by Atom Eyes (128 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Christ, what an asshole.

(Maher, not Bell.)
posted by edheil at 10:50 AM on April 3 [16 favorites]


Every time I read something W. Kamau Bell has written or see him in the media I just want to be his friend so bad.

His interview on Fresh Air is also great.
posted by Alison at 10:52 AM on April 3 [8 favorites]


Quoting out of context is just good business, I guess. (Don't quote me.) Further down, Bell links to Mrs. Obama's commencement speech. It is a truly great speech, and I learned about 3 new incredible things about U.S. history, on a quick read.
posted by TreeRooster at 10:56 AM on April 3 [5 favorites]


Maher seems to be (and maybe I'm misreading him) a pretty solid example of just how completely messed up someone's worldview and personality can get when, for decades, they are surrounded by employees whose entire job is to make it look like he's really smart and right and everyone else is an idiot.
posted by The World Famous at 10:58 AM on April 3 [56 favorites]


Ugh. I have never cared for Bill Maher or his schtick. My cousin has a great line about him, "He's the sort of asshole who goes into comedy so he can impress women with his 'wit' and get laid."
posted by KingEdRa at 10:59 AM on April 3 [16 favorites]


To understand why this 'gotcha' moment from Bill Maher was really disingenuous, it helps to read the full speech from Michelle Obama. Context matters. She's not blaming black kids for being lazy. First of all, she sets up the historical conditions that made education so difficult for African Americans. Second, she's speaking not just to a historically black college, but to future educators. This is a talk about how to empower, and how to work to put into place educational systems for African Americans that overcome that historical problem.

Now, just think about this for a moment: For generations, in many parts of this country, it was illegal for black people to get an education. Slaves caught reading or writing could be beaten to within an inch of their lives. Anyone -- black or white -- who dared to teach them could be fined or thrown into jail. And yet, just two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, this school was founded not just to educate African Americans, but to teach them how to educate others. It was in many ways an act of defiance, an eloquent rebuttal to the idea that black people couldn’t or shouldn’t be educated. And since then, generations of students from all backgrounds have come to this school to be challenged, inspired and empowered. And they have gone on to become leaders here in Maryland and across this country, running businesses, educating young people, leading the high-tech industries that will power our economy for decades to come.

That is the story of Bowie State University, the commitment to educating our next generation and building ladders of opportunity for anyone willing to work for it. All of you are now part of that story. And with that tremendous privilege comes an important set of responsibilities -- responsibilities that you inherit the moment you leave this stadium with that diploma in your hand.

And that’s what I want to talk with you about today. I want to talk about the obligations that come with a Bowie State education, and how you can fulfill those obligations by how you live your lives.


Basically, every single sentence outside of the ones Bill Maher quotes frames things in a super important way. What he did wasn't just a dumb gotcha game, it was dishonest and offensive. I really dislike Bill Maher.
posted by naju at 11:02 AM on April 3 [53 favorites]


I have a strong suspicion that Maher thought that he's really smart and right and everyone else is an idiot for decades before he ever got on TV.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:03 AM on April 3 [5 favorites]


I really like Bill Maher (especially Religilous, which I'm actually in, briefly) but this gotcha thing isn't productive because there's no real depth or understanding to it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:04 AM on April 3 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty convinced that Bill Maher (or his producers) have been reading the conversation between Chait and Coates, and their take-away was "Black People are racist! Let's use this on the show!"
posted by muddgirl at 11:04 AM on April 3 [4 favorites]


Worst thing about Mayer is that he presents himself as being a liberal, on the left, when every time he follows his instincts, they're rightwing.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:06 AM on April 3 [25 favorites]


Bill Maher is a contrarian, that wonderful species that manages to always be "smarter" by disagreeing with what you say.
posted by yerfatma at 11:07 AM on April 3 [37 favorites]


"He's the sort of asshole who goes into comedy so he can impress women with his 'wit' and get laid."

And thinks that is a smart way to go about it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:08 AM on April 3 [2 favorites]


Worst thing about Mayer is that he presents himself as being a liberal, on the left, when every time he follows his instincts, they're rightwing.

How so?
posted by clockzero at 11:08 AM on April 3


How so?

Listen to anything he says about women for about thirty seconds.
posted by scody at 11:13 AM on April 3 [49 favorites]


If I can't watch the video now, is there somewhere I can read the two quotes (or sections of quotes) from Ryan and Obama that Maher quizzed Bell on?
posted by sweetkid at 11:14 AM on April 3 [1 favorite]


You know, Kamau Bell could've just stuck to his guns and said "well, it can still be race baiting even if a successful black woman says it."

As we discussed here before, Ta Nehisi Coates actually had quite a perceptive take on the situation, noting that the Ryan position is not much different than the Obama position on this issue, anyway. Both can be objectionable, there doesn't need to be a "gotcha."

And, on watching the video clip, I think Bell actually handled himself quite well, didn't seem "got," and Maher's behavior was par for the course (which you can like or not like, but he didn't treat Bell with a special ferocity or anything).

Why does the blame here lay anywhere else than with the twitter assholes who are spewing racial epithets at him?
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:15 AM on April 3 [6 favorites]


Paul Ryan context
posted by BlerpityBloop at 11:15 AM on April 3


The two quotes are here.
posted by naju at 11:17 AM on April 3 [1 favorite]


Bill Maher is just as qualified as John Stewart --- which is to say -- not really. Ones a dog and the other is a pony. It's all entertainment. Paying serious attention to either is bad for your brain.
posted by smidgen at 11:18 AM on April 3 [4 favorites]


Listen to anything he says about women for about thirty seconds.

What about listening to his for about 30 seconds on tax policy, corporate personhood, environmental issues, economic mobility, etc.? I think he's an asshole, wrong on a lot of things, smug, contrarian, and fond of a superficial analysis, but to just dismiss him as 'right wing' is kind of ridiculous.
posted by skewed at 11:19 AM on April 3 [2 favorites]


The 'gotcha' also ignores the many, many times that white conservative politicans, speaking to other white conservatives, use these racial dog whistles and codewords - denying that it's about race the whole time! - to speak to their base and rile them up, promote in-group racial solidarity, etc. The Ryan quote is awful for many reasons outside of what the actual quote says, and it's worth focusing on why that keeps happening in conservative circles and what it's really about. It's a shame that discussion didn't happen on Maher's show, instead he opted for trolling and giving fuel to bigots.
posted by naju at 11:27 AM on April 3 [7 favorites]


Bill Maher is just as qualified as John Stewart --- which is to say -- not really. Ones a dog and the other is a pony.

I think there is a qualitative difference in their use of satire and the ethnics of their comedy, but, then, I think comedy is a valuable tool for understanding and interpreting the world. If you think it is just entertainment and can be dismissed, that's entirely your right.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:28 AM on April 3 [18 favorites]


I actually saw this episode and was surprised at how they treated Bell. He hardly got to speak. The other three kept talking over him. It was kinda hard to watch
posted by Hoopo at 11:30 AM on April 3 [3 favorites]


These exercises are actually extremely enlightening. You might not like Mahr--I'm not wild about him, and in general I don't like smug know-it-alls...but I'll take them over partisans locked up in groupthink any day.

It's actually really good to trip people up like this in order to shake them out of their confirmation bias and tribal allegiances. I try to do this sort of thing to myself quite a bit...though not as much as I should.

Which is not to say that I'm overjoyed or anything when other people do it to me...

And I'd hate to have it done to me on national t.v. Damn, that would suck.

But, contrary to what some are saying here, there's absolutely nothing inherently wrong with such "gotcha" exercises. Aside from questions about doing them publicly, and aside from questions about Mahr's motives, everybody would be better off if this sort of thing were done more.

As for the argument from context...well, such gestures at arguments are easy to make, but don't always work... No appeal to context will deflect the point that our expectations tend to skew our interpretations. Sometimes that's warranted, sometimes it isn't. It's good to be reminded of, even if, after careful consideration, we conclude that we know enough about the source to make our expectations reasonable.

What this made me realize is that I am not sure that I know enough about Ryan to think what I think about him. Which makes me realize that I ought to either learn more about him or make my judgments about him more tentative. YMMV.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 11:32 AM on April 3 [5 favorites]


It's actually really good to trip people up like this in order to shake them out of their confirmation bias and tribal allegiances.

But you might look like an asshole when you conveniently ignore the historical and cultural context, which is firmly if inconveniently (for some) situated in white supremacy.
posted by rtha at 11:35 AM on April 3 [23 favorites]


“I just read this and you thought it was from Paul Ryan. Is something less true if a white person says that about black people?” -Bill Maher

Uhh yeah Bill Maher, they thought it was from Paul Ryan because you explicitly told them it was. And you were straight up lying about it. So maybe the truthfulness of white people isn't as unquestionable as you think.
posted by dogwalker at 11:38 AM on April 3 [39 favorites]


If you think it is just entertainment and can be dismissed, that's entirely your right.

Thank you for your permission, I feel better now. Dismissed seems too strong -- I meant what I said about taking it seriously. You can certainly watch it if you like it.

I want to like Stewart better because I agree with him (his show) more and he's funnier, but the times I've tried to watch a whole episode were just kind of painful -- in exactly the same way described here. Nothing was learned, it was all pandering to whatever constituency will watch, subtlety be damned.
posted by smidgen at 11:39 AM on April 3 [1 favorite]


Of course if you work harder and are born in poverty you will do better than if you work less and are born in poverty. And if you dream big and work at it and were born in poverty you will be better off than someone who doesn't dream big and doesn't work at it and is born in poverty.

Paul Ryan is being racist and Michelle Obama isn't because it is racist to conflate the agent (the individual impoverished person's work ethic) with the structure (systematic racist impoverishment). If Paul Ryan says that poor people should work harder to get themselves out of poverty, and this is the sum total of his attempts to help poor people, then he's being a dick and being racist when he talks about the 'inner city'. If Michelle Obama says, we are going to do our part (gov't programs to help the poor) and you do yours (work hard to get out of poverty) she isn't being a racist dick.

Maher of course is being a dick.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:40 AM on April 3 [38 favorites]


Thank you for your permission, I feel better now.

I apologize if it seemed like I was offering permission. I was simply proffering an alternative on YMMV.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:41 AM on April 3


I need a third rhyme with "offering" to really pull that sentence together.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:42 AM on April 3 [12 favorites]


He hardly got to speak.

Hardly. Panel shows, especially Real Time, always favor the practiced bloviators. (Which is why I never watch when a pol is on the panel, left or right.) I think the inequity of Bell's air time has more to do with personality than an active intent on the part of Maher or his producers.
posted by wensink at 11:44 AM on April 3 [2 favorites]


I read Michelle Obama's speech (thanks, TreeRooster for linking to it. In the context of that speech, that quote does not come off as racist *to me.* I see those words as a rhetorical device-- she's contrasting how hard people worked in the past even to be able to go to school with people today not caring about it, not seeing education as an opportunity to change their lives. But she also challenges her listeners to improve the schools-- she says, if the school's bad, don't accept that. Fix it.
posted by tuesdayschild at 11:44 AM on April 3 [2 favorites]


oh jesus this nearly happened to me. Got contacted by Australia's Channel 10 about appearing on some panel about whether racism is still a problem in Australia. The other 3 panelists? White comedians.

Asides from me having being based in the Bay Area at this point (I'm not sure how they found me), I didn't feel like being the Token. And told them that, as well as some pointers on how to find more qualified people to comment. Never heard back.
posted by divabat at 11:49 AM on April 3 [11 favorites]


muddgirl: I'm pretty convinced that Bill Maher (or his producers) have been reading the conversation between Chait and Coates, and their take-away was "Black People are racist! Let's use this on the show!"

This was a dick move on Maher's part, and I am disappointed by it, but I am 100% sure this was not his take away.
posted by spaltavian at 11:50 AM on April 3


Bunny Ultramod: "I need a third rhyme with "offering" to really pull that sentence together."

I don't know why I'm even boffering to help, but here you go.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:51 AM on April 3 [8 favorites]


Weak trolling. There was no need to lie, Bell would probably have tripped himself up if Maher had only referenced "political figures" then have two Republican quotes filled by a 1st Lady quote.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:52 AM on April 3


Yeah, this was Bill Maher at his worst.

In the second quotation, Michele Obama, An African American woman in a position of authority and influence, is speaking to a graduating class of young African Americans. The First Lady's entire speech centered around the theme that although there are still challenges today, because so many hard-won rights like equal education are not fresh in young peoples' minds, they may not have that hunger for education their forebears did. She was congratulating these graduates for NOT falling Into complacency and taking the easier route.

In the Paul Ryan quote, he clearly was painting African Americans and Latinos as lazy takers who don't want to work, probably in a calculated strategy to differentiate them from the white voters--many of whom are also out of jobs!--who are among Ryan's supporters. White politicians like Ryan habitually use 'inner-city' as a socially acceptable way to refer to minorities. I am not one of those people who ordinarily is comfortable with the term dog-whistle (I think sometimes it is knee jerky and assumes the worst intentions undeservedly) , but I have no trouble using it here.

TL;DR: as always, context matters!
posted by misha at 11:53 AM on April 3 [20 favorites]


Yes, there is nothing better than a white dude setting things up to make a black dude look bad, and even racist, haha oh man comedy gold. I can't imagine why anyone would be offended by that. Good one, Maher! Way to make sure both sides get it equally! As a white dude, you are so uniquely qualified to call out non-white dudes on their hidden racism! Shame on them! Good thing they've got you around to straighten them out.
posted by emjaybee at 11:53 AM on April 3 [20 favorites]


Bill Maher is just as qualified as John Stewart --- which is to say -- not really.

I think that's fair. Both were also really skilled, talented comedians on the stand-up circuit. Subsequently both have carved careers in this political talk-show space, and I think Stewart has proven more successful than Maher at being able to exist in that space without letting his humor become soured and poisoned. But then, Stewart had some advantages. This stage of his career has been on Comedy Central and it started with relatively low expectations. By contrast, Maher had to contend with the pressures of late-night broadcast television, an unfortunate "scandal" and cancellation, and then a move to HBO, which is a very different climate than Comedy Central. So in fairness to Maher, nowadays I like him less than Stewart, but he's also beaten some tougher stuff than Stewart has.
posted by cribcage at 11:56 AM on April 3 [3 favorites]


Every time I'm reminded that Maher exists the world is a little worse. There was no point to this. ALl it does is falsely equivocate two very, very different sentiments so that Maher can feel smug for another second.

What an asshole. What a waste of HBO time. What a fucking waste.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:57 AM on April 3 [5 favorites]


The context of Obama's speech doesn't change anything. Her speech was "back then people tried / now people are lazy."
posted by jpe at 11:58 AM on April 3


But, contrary to what some are saying here, there's absolutely nothing inherently wrong with such "gotcha" exercises. Aside from questions about doing them publicly, and aside from questions about Mahr's motives, everybody would be better off if this sort of thing were done more.

So you're saying the real problem is that Bell isn't sufficiently thankful for this opportunity to learn and grow, right?

gotcha
posted by griphus at 11:58 AM on April 3 [4 favorites]


This was a dick move on Maher's part, and I am disappointed by it, but I am 100% sure this was not his take away.

Then their takeaway was that Paul Ryan's comment wasn't racist, I guess. According to Bell, Bill Maher's producers backstage encouraged him to talk about the racism inherent in Ryan's comment, and then Bill Maher asked, "Is something less true if a white person says it about black people?" Maher presented the two comments as equivalent.
posted by muddgirl at 11:58 AM on April 3


re: Jon Stewart derail...

For me personally, Jon Stewart taught me how to search for the truth - not to believe everything the talking heads say - to always consider that there are tons of sides to a story and that any kind of media (books, TV, blogs, etc.) has the power to sway one's opinion, if one accepts things at face value. Jon Stewart taught me to be a healthy skeptic.

And he does this successfully because he's not a jerk about it. Because he's kind. Because he's gentle. Maybe it's just me, but I guess I respond better to this type of education.

----------

The gotcha-type moments are fun for laughs, especially when it's one's foes that are victims, but it just humiliates. And no one ever grows for the better via humiliation. It's funny how we're all supposed to know this - yet we constantly look for it in public debates - we call it the "knock-out" punch.

Is debate a sport or an opportunity for growth?

I see it as an opportunity for growth, to understand the other point of view, to empathize, to make peace - either on my part or on "their" part.

I guess I'll stick to Jon.
posted by bitteroldman at 11:59 AM on April 3 [7 favorites]


Bill Maher is a smugbag.
posted by kozad at 12:06 PM on April 3 [8 favorites]


Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for conversations about race and racism in America. Well, I got played for a sucker.

You're a comedian W. Kamau Bell, next time make a joke. The problem with Maher's show is that too many people have been exposed as foolish or ignorant on it over the years that they can no longer get anyone of substance to do the show. Rick Lazio? His only contribution to American politics is walking toward Hillary Clinton on a stage.
posted by any major dude at 12:08 PM on April 3


skewed: "What about listening to his for about 30 seconds on tax policy, corporate personhood, environmental issues, economic mobility, etc.? I think he's an asshole, wrong on a lot of things, smug, contrarian, and fond of a superficial analysis, but to just dismiss him as 'right wing' is kind of ridiculous."

Bill Maher is one of the most execrable and stridently socially-conservative pundits on the American stage. In fact, it's almost silly to call him "socially-conservative," because he isn't really conservative in the true sense - there is no grand golden age he wants to return to; he just hates women, gay people, and black people. There's enough misogynist, homophobic, and racist stuff in this video, for example, to make Bill O'Reilly blush.

At least Republicans seem to have some code they pretend to live by. Bill Maher does not. He lives by hate, and there is no good reason why a vile and obnoxious human being like him should be allowed to shout on street corners, much less afforded a television show.
posted by koeselitz at 12:08 PM on April 3 [25 favorites]


This is what I don't like about these political entertainment type shows. They rely too much on snark and pomposity to get their points across. I don't like having conversations with people who operate like this and I don't really enjoy watching shows like this. They have to make someone look worse than themselves, or they're not very efficient at making their point, and the audience is full schadenfreude.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:09 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


For me, the real loss here is that people stopped talking about how much of a dick Ryan and his mindset is. Instead, Maher successfully re-directed the spotlight at himself. The better discussion point was largely cast aside.

I am glad, once again, that I don't pay for HBO. Clearly I am not missing much.
posted by lampshade at 12:10 PM on April 3


Bill Maher stood up to the Bush administration when it was at it's most menacing and evil. I will never forgive those who went along and I will never forget the tiny handful of Americans who stood up to that prick and gave us all hope in the darkest period in American history. For that he gets a lifetime pass.
posted by any major dude at 12:13 PM on April 3 [10 favorites]


The context of Obama's speech doesn't change anything. Her speech was "back then people tried / now people are lazy."

I'll pull some quotes for you:

"You don’t know how proud we all are of you. Just look at you. We’re so proud of how hard you worked, all those long hours in the classroom, in the library. Oh, yeah. Amen. (Laughter.) All those jobs you worked to help pay your tuition. Many of you are the first in your families to get a college degree. (Applause.) Some of you are balancing school with raising families of your own. (Applause.) So I know this journey hasn’t been easy. I know you’ve had plenty of moments of doubt and frustration and just plain exhaustion. "

Yup, she's clearly saying right now that people are lazy!

"So back then, people were hungry to learn. Do you hear me? Hungry to get what they needed to succeed in this country. And that hunger did not fade over time. If anything, it only grew stronger."

So as time went on people grew more hungry to learn and change things. Clearly what this mean is that as the hunger grew, people just felt the hunger and didn't do anything about it and just got lazy as they got hungrier because being hungry is a well known cause of laziness.

"And then there’s Audrey Marie Lugmayer, another one of this year’s graduates. Audrey is the daughter of a single father, and her dad has struggled with some serious health issues. So after graduating from high school, Audrey worked full time for a year, because she couldn’t bear the thought of putting any more financial burdens on her father. She kept on working here at Bowie State, even while juggling a full course load. And today, she is graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA."

Clearly, lazy.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:14 PM on April 3 [48 favorites]


The context of Obama's speech doesn't change anything. Her speech was "back then people tried / now people are lazy."

Did you read the whole speech? She spends a lot of time talking about how, now, people at the school at which she is delivering her speech embody the same principals and put out the same effort as earlier graduates:
We need to dig deep and find the same kind of grit and determination that drove those first students at this school and generations of students who came after them. I am talking about the kind of grit and determination displayed by folks right here at Bowie State.
Her speech highlights how people, now, share a continuity with the past; the reference to how some people are lazy stands in contrast to her audience. The vast majority of the speech is about how hard-working her audience is, and how proud those students should be of their accomplishments. Taking that one line about laziness out of the speech really does remove it from important context, and twists its meaning to imply the opposite of what she was saying: that there are plenty of people today who are working hard to overcome the obstacles to success that life has put before them.
posted by cjelli at 12:14 PM on April 3 [5 favorites]


Also, am I the only one who didn't even think the speaker was referencing African Americans before learning that was a Michele Obama quote? Seriously, I know a lot of white kids who lie around playing videogames and would rather do that than pay attention to their studies. Didn't occur to me that anyone saw that as a young black Americans issue. Seems like a 'young Americans in general' issue.

We could maybe even take the young part out as well, come to think of it. Substitute Candy Crush or even Metafilter for videogames and....

I should probably be doing something more productive with my time right now.
posted by misha at 12:15 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


I mean, just look at the name of Bill Maher's old show - Politically Incorrect. He openly and emphatically despised the new liberal project of equality of opportunity and treatment. Why would anyone expect him to be anything but socially conservative? His apparent project throughout his career has been to make social conservatism acceptable within liberalism in general. Sometimes it has felt he has succeeded. More so in the 90s, however, when we were first waging these battles, and he could stand around and make ugly jokes about Monica Lewinsky, dog-whistling madly to all those old Democrats in the bleachers who were really unhappy with this "New Left" thing and the way it made queers and women and blacks feel like they could join the white men at the political table.

lampshade: "For me, the real loss here is that people stopped talking about how much of a dick Ryan and his mindset is. Instead, Maher successfully re-directed the spotlight at himself. The better discussion point was largely cast aside."

Paul Ryan is a better man than Bill Maher. He's also more socially liberal.
posted by koeselitz at 12:15 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


You're a comedian W. Kamau Bell, next time make a joke.

He also sits on the board of The Applied Research Center (now Race Forward), an organization dedicated to racial equality, and is a Ambassador of Racial Justice for the NAACP. So he may have the option of doing something other than making a joke on a show that purports to be a humorous but genuine attempt to address current politics.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:18 PM on April 3 [28 favorites]


I don't like smug know-it-alls...but I'll take them over partisans locked up in groupthink any day.

They are not really exclusive. Maher fits both quite well.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:19 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


Koeselitz, you believe Ryan is more socially liberal than Maher? In what ways?

His latest budget proposal (the stinkburger) seems to suggest he is pretty darn conservative.
posted by misha at 12:21 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


The context of Obama's speech doesn't change anything. Her speech was "back then people tried / now people are lazy."

Paul Ryan is saying that POCs are in the position they're in because it's their fault, and that it's endemic to them. Michelle Obama is saying that it can be crushing to be in that position, one that hundreds of years of oppression created, and that people like Paul Ryan are vigorously attempting to ensure.

Bill Maher stood up to the Bush administration when it was at it's most menacing and evil.

Bill Maher has always perfectly willing to let the US off the hook when it comes to terrorism coming from a pretty generic Islam, up to and including racial profiling. So, not really.

I will never forgive those who went along and I will never forget the tiny handful of Americans who stood up to that prick and gave us all hope in the darkest period in American history. For that he gets a lifetime pass.

Never mind the thousands who were arrested, the hundreds of thousands who protested, or the millions that voted against him. No, some dude paid to be an asshole on TV is the true hero.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:22 PM on April 3 [31 favorites]


koeselitz: Paul Ryan is a better man than Bill Maher. He's also more socially liberal.

tastes great, less filling
posted by lampshade at 12:22 PM on April 3


Is this where I get to post this image from a couple weeks ago? W. Kamu Bell did great on the show, weird how he'd get so much static over it.
posted by mathowie at 12:22 PM on April 3 [11 favorites]


I mean, just look at the name of Bill Maher's old show - Politically Incorrect. He openly and emphatically despised the new liberal project of equality of opportunity and treatment.

To be fair, the phrase "politically correct" has never meant a genuine effort for equality of opportunity and treatment. It's always been a derisive term for unthinking dogmatism.
posted by kafziel at 12:23 PM on April 3


To be fair, the phrase "politically correct" has never meant a genuine effort for equality of opportunity and treatment. It's always been a derisive term for unthinking dogmatism.

Right, and how convenient that the slingers of the term "politically correct" are the ones who get to decide what is "a genuine effort for equality" and what is "unthinking dogmatism".

(Related.)
posted by kagredon at 12:25 PM on April 3 [8 favorites]


The context of Obama's speech doesn't change anything. Her speech was "back then people tried / now people are lazy."

Sure it does: An explicit context of "then vs. now" in her case, is very different from an implied context of "black vs. white" in Ryan's case.

Quotation marks to set it off, not to imply a direct quote in either case
posted by tyllwin at 12:26 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


The difference between Obama's comments and Ryan's is the difference between "Stand up for yourself," and "Stop hitting yourself."
posted by Navelgazer at 12:28 PM on April 3 [10 favorites]


misha: "Koeselitz, you believe Ryan is more socially liberal than Maher? In what ways?"

Bill Maher has said that the main problem with America is that we're a "feminized" society. He explains this by saying that we value feelings more than truth, children more than adults, safety more than fun, and by saying that all his friends who've gotten married have been destroyed because women are innately restrictive and spirit-killing. He says being an unmarried man is the same as being an escaped slave, in that women don't want him to talk to their husbands because "they're happier if we keep them in the dark." He furthermore laments that any man who seems smart on television is extremely gay, and therefore "real men" clearly don't get any respect in society.

Paul Ryan might believe a few of those things, but he doesn't have the hateful audacity to actually say them out loud.
posted by koeselitz at 12:29 PM on April 3 [12 favorites]


To be fair, the phrase "politically correct" has never meant a genuine effort for equality of opportunity and treatment. It's always been a derisive term for unthinking dogmatism.

Right, and how convenient that the slingers of the term "politically correct" are the ones who get to decide what is "a genuine effort for equality" and what is "unthinking dogmatism".


Terms change with usage. My point is that it's never been a positive term, it's just been coopted as a slur for something different - stopped meaning "obsessive adherence to political purity" and today means "expecting me to not be racist or sexist or homophobic". People never described something they saw as desirable as "politically correct".

That said, Maher might call himself liberal, but by his actions he definitely seems to define himself more as a contrarian than anything political.
posted by kafziel at 12:30 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


The question "Are black people inherently lazy?" is as legitimate as "Is education going to make my uterus fall out?" and it is both depressing and amusing to see people taking it as anything other than that.

I wish it weren't horribly unethical to take some white children, raise them in a bizarro-world where they were treated as many black children are, then come back in 50 years and see that maybe environment matters. So we could talk about useful things instead of this stupid shit. Oh well. Back to being the only black/mixed woman everywhere I go, smashing stereotypes with one hand and supporting them with the other, because that's how humans do.
posted by dame at 12:33 PM on April 3 [4 favorites]


The difference between Obama's comments and Ryan's is the difference between "Stand up for yourself," and "Stop hitting yourself."

Geez, that's a surprise. One is a speech is delivered to a bunch of graduating seniors, and the other is an interview with a conservative radio host.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:34 PM on April 3


Right, and how convenient that the slingers of the term "politically correct" are the ones who get to decide what is "a genuine effort for equality" and what is "unthinking dogmatism".

I was just thinking about this the other day. Isn't it politically incorrect to criticize religion, gun rights, the military, and many other pet issues of the right wing? Couldn't people say Ted Nugent is too politically correct and "sensitive" about people criticizing the way guns are sold? Or Rush Limbaugh is too PC and emotional about Christianity?
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:34 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


Putting context aside, Paul Ryan addressed his comments to "inner-city" youths (i.e. black and latino youth), while Michelle Obama addressed her comments to youths in general. That's a big difference. The racism comes in the way Paul Ryan singled out a particular group.
posted by Hutch at 12:41 PM on April 3


Paul Ryan might believe a few of those things, but he doesn't have the hateful audacity to actually say them out loud.

No, the stuff he says out loud focuses more on how black people are genetically lazy and poor people should suffer the consequences of their choice to be poor.
posted by kafziel at 12:44 PM on April 3


Paul Ryan might believe a few of those things, but he doesn't have the hateful audacity to actually say them out loud.

For me, the "horrible person" bar is set at wildly different levels for Entertainers and United States Senators.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:48 PM on April 3 [11 favorites]


Paul Ryan might believe a few of those things, but he doesn't have the hateful audacity to actually say them out loud.

Ryan chose a career path that involves being careful about what you say out loud so you can try and get yourself to a higher run of the ladder of power over governance.

Maher chose a career path that involves saying audacious shit to keep your ratings up so you can keep getting paid to do comedy television.

I'm not disagreeing with you that Maher seems to proudly take some shitty positions, but it's not like it's a hot mic accident or something. As a basis for comparison of the two men it seems a little off the mark to focus on how willing they are to say provocative shit as if that's not fundamentally determined by the context of their work.
posted by cortex at 12:51 PM on April 3 [17 favorites]


this whole "whose worse" thing is kind of silly. I'd rather be punched in the face than stabbed in the gut, but you're an asshole for doing either.
posted by kagredon at 12:54 PM on April 3 [5 favorites]


"But, contrary to what some are saying here, there's absolutely nothing inherently wrong with such "gotcha" exercises. Aside from questions about doing them publicly, and aside from questions about Mahr's motives, everybody would be better off if this sort of thing were done more. "

Well, except that it was incredibly shallow and poisoned the well for any coherent discussion that could have been had. So, no, we wouldn't be better off if this sort of thing was done more often.
posted by klangklangston at 12:56 PM on April 3 [13 favorites]


Putting context aside, Paul Ryan addressed his comments to "inner-city" youths (i.e. black and latino youth), while Michelle Obama addressed her comments to youths in general. That's a big difference. The racism comes in the way Paul Ryan singled out a particular group.

She said, "instead of fantasizing about being a....lawyer or business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper."

I think that her comments were not at all directed at youths in general, but directly at black youths.
posted by flarbuse at 12:57 PM on April 3 [4 favorites]


I don't get it. why?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:59 PM on April 3


Yes, officer, it may look like like I am driving on the left side of the street, shooting guns and starting gasoline fires in defiance of the law, but in fact you'll find that I was give a lifetime pass by any major dude from the website "MetaFilter" for the fact that I marched in a protest against the Iraq war in March of 2003! See ya later!
posted by invitapriore at 1:04 PM on April 3 [8 favorites]


But, contrary to what some are saying here, there's absolutely nothing inherently wrong with such "gotcha" exercises. Aside from questions about doing them publicly, and aside from questions about Mahr's motives, everybody would be better off if this sort of thing were done more.

I respectfully disagree. There is a certain group of people that love the balance the world on false equivocation. These are the people who when confronted with a blatantly racist statement like Ryan's will counter with Ms. Obama's statement in a way to demonstrate that it's okay to say black folks are lazy if other black folks are saying it. It's similar to countering a David Duke comment with Bill Cosby, or saying that the Irish were treated poorly in America and England and therefore the Irish experience equivalent to slavery. It's countering the Holocaust with the Armenian genocide.

When you point out a bad thing, they are incapable of acknowledging Bad Thing without saying, "But this other bad thing happened too! First Bad Thing isn't the only bad thing in the world! Therefore your concern about First Bad Thing is overwrought and you are a silly person!!"

Maher's little "gotcha" only adds fuel to that maddening fire and allows the conversation about race to be derailed *yet again* by some white asshole trying to distract us from the real issue.
posted by teleri025 at 1:04 PM on April 3 [16 favorites]


Michelle Obama: "The fact that my husband beat me to the punch by suggesting the legislation is great."
Maher: "I'll just put you down for 'The fact that my husband beat me...is great.'"

I don't find this incident surprising, as it's the kind of thing that made me stop watching Maher's show(s) before I really started watching them. The whole setup for his show is geared more toward delivering the best one-liner or high-five line for audience applause than fostering any real debate, truth, or education on a particular subject. Add to that the fact that it all slants really cynical and mean-spirited, and I can't find anything to enjoy about it.
posted by Brak at 1:10 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


She said, "instead of fantasizing about being a....lawyer or business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper."

I think that her comments were not at all directed at youths in general, but directly at black youths.


I've never fantasized about being a baller, but, as a fan of rap since the early 80s, I certain have fantasized about freestyling over the wheels of steel. I've never wanted to be a lawyer or a business leader.

I'm a 45-year-old white dude.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:20 PM on April 3 [5 favorites]


And that's ... the rest of the story.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:21 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


Oh. Come. On. Are we really going to pretend that "ballers" and "rappers" aren't overwhelmingly associated with black culture?
posted by BobbyVan at 1:22 PM on April 3 [6 favorites]


I've never fantasized about being a baller, but, as a fan of rap since the early 80s, I certain have fantasized about freestyling over the wheels of steel. I've never wanted to be a lawyer or a business leader.

I have also aspired to being a little bit taller, being with a girl who looked good so I could call her, having a rabbit in a hat with a bat, and a '64 Impala.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:24 PM on April 3 [38 favorites]


In the context of an post partly about words being taken out of context, it would it be great if we could maybe not pick apart the precise meaning of a few words in one sentence of one paragraph of an entire speech, pulled out of the context in which they were written.
posted by cjelli at 1:27 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


Are we really going to pretend that "ballers" and "rappers" aren't overwhelmingly associated with black culture?

She was speaking to a black audience. I suppose if she was talking to a white audience she might have chosen different aspirational choices.

Anyway, as cjelli points out, it's not about the specific word choice, it's about the narrative being communicated. Ryan's is one rooted in an idea of guilt -- that there is something that inner-city poor (mostly people of color) are not doing that they should, and this is the cause of their poverty.

Obama most certainly is not telling that story.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:30 PM on April 3 [5 favorites]


Also she's talking about the education of black youths because that's explicitly, obviously the context of the whole speech. The "baller or rapper" part wasn't a dog whistle, it was speaking to a black audience that fully understands the escapist fantasies that many lower income black kids have - and the way the media encourages those fantasies by signalling those are the only viable routes out of poverty for them.
posted by naju at 1:30 PM on April 3 [14 favorites]


He's proven something, but not what he thinks he's proven.
posted by Violet Femme at 1:32 PM on April 3


I'm pretty sure the opinion of a relatively privileged black woman, the First Lady, is going to be more in line with a fellow bureaucrat (of any race) than it would be with the opinion of someone (of any race) who has lived in the inner city, in poverty.

She grew up the daughter of a city water plant employee in the predominantly black South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. I don't know if she is entirely as disconnected from the students she addressed as you suggest.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:37 PM on April 3 [14 favorites]


Ryan's is one rooted in an idea of guilt -- that there is something that inner-city poor (mostly people of color) are not doing that they should, and this is the cause of their poverty.

Obama most certainly is not telling that story.
Such wisdom might help us move ideological bickering and serve as the basis of a renewed effort to tackle the problems of inner-city poverty. We could begin by acknowledging that perhaps the single biggest thing we could do to reduce such poverty is to encourage teenage girls to finish high school and avoid having children out of wedlock. In this effort, school- and community-based programs that have a proven track record of reducing teen pregnancy need to be expanded, but parents, clergy and community leaders also need to speak out more consistently on the issue.

We should also acknowledge that conservatives - and Bill Clinton - were right about welfare as it was previously structured: By detaching income from work, and by making no demands on welfare recipients other than a tolerance for intrusive bureaucracy and an assurance that no man lived in the same house as the mother of his children, the old AFDC program sapped people of their initiative and eroded their self-respect. Any strategy to reduce intergenerational poverty has to be centered on work, not welfare - not only because work provides independence and income but also because work provides order, structure, dignity, and opportunities for growth in people's lives.

-- The Audacity of Hope, Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, Barack Obama (pages 400-401, paperback edition, emphasis mine)
posted by BobbyVan at 1:41 PM on April 3


How is this even a "gotcha"? It's not like he elicited responses condemning the "Paul Ryan" quote and then made the surprise announcement that it was really from Obama. He read the quote, paused momentarily for effect, and then immediately gave away the game and issued his prompt to the panel: "it sounds like Michelle Obama is agreeing with Paul Ryan."

Well. There are all sorts of conversations one might want to have about this topic, many of them probably too nuanced for a cable talk show. But it's not particularly a trick question -- certainly it's par for the course for this sort of thing -- and it's not particularly hard to come up with a reasonable response that succinctly makes some of the points mentioned in this thread. In fact, Bell himself did a pretty good job and came off just fine.
posted by eugenen at 1:41 PM on April 3


BobbyVan,

Read the next sentence that you bolded:

In this effort, school- and community-based programs that have a proven track record of reducing teen pregnancy need to be expanded, but parents, clergy and community leaders also need to speak out more consistently on the issue.

Ryan wouldn't say that. Ryan doesn't believe that there is a role for society or publicly funded programs or government to play. He thinks its all about individual choices and people. Obama thinks its both individuals and the larger structure.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:44 PM on April 3 [13 favorites]


...also, different Obama. I mean Christ, at least pretend to be posting in good faith.
posted by kagredon at 1:49 PM on April 3 [9 favorites]


You're right, MisanthropicPainforest. Ryan thinks less of government programs than Obama does. It's a fine debate to have.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:49 PM on April 3


It's a fine debate to have.

Yeah, claiming that the real problem with employment in America is that black men don't want to work, that's definitely someone who wants to debate the important policy issues of the day. Its definitely not someone signalling to the white racist wing of his party that he's their man.
posted by goethean at 2:10 PM on April 3 [11 favorites]


Yes and Ryan just doesn't think that Goverment is incapable of fixing poverty, he thinks that black people's laziness is the central problem
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:22 PM on April 3 [4 favorites]


I shouldn't participate in this conversation because it elevates my blood pressure to dangerous levels.

I work in a busy downtown restaurant. My customers range from neurosurgeons from the medical center a block away to folks from the projects three blocks away. A majority of my coworkers are African-American.

I wish Paul Ryan would sit at my bar and watch. What he'd see is AN UNENDING PROCESSION OF BLACK GUYS LOOKING FOR WORK. Every single day I hand out applications to people who tell me "I'm a trained cook, but I'll wash dishes" or "I'm a junior at [local university] and I need to pick up some tables to make it through the month". Every. Single. Day. I am not exaggerating when I say we receive DOZENS of applications EVERY WEEK, and the VAST majority of them are those shiftless lazy black guys Paul fucking Ryan is so worried about.

What a lying piece of smug worthless shit that man is. The problem isn't "black culture" or any of that nonsense. The problem is THERE ARENT ANY JOBS FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO WORK.

Gah. I'll stop now before I hit capslock and really go on a rant.

Oh, and Bill Maher? Who cares. I fart funnier jokes than his whole goddamn staff. Fuck him.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:33 PM on April 3 [109 favorites]


I think some time ago I figured out that I can't stand to watch TV news or politics because it reminds me of the pre-fight trash talk on professional wrestling where wrestlers attempt to convince the audience they hate each other by over-emoting. Not too long ago, there was an interesting article on religious debate which suggested that it's less about explicating a reasonable position and more about appealing to the audiences with the right rhetorical flourishes. I think that applies here. I think there's a difference between Stewart and Colbert on the one hand openly mocking the self-important truthiness of TV politics, and Maher and Jillette on the other who position themselves as the guys willing to say "uncomfortable truths."

Michelle Obama, speaking to a historically black university, is expressing ideas about education and civil rights that created that university to start with in 1865. It's one of the things that both King and Malcolm X agreed on, and one echoed by hip hop icons themselves. The conservative ideology that African Americans are poor because they're lazy and want the wrong things is just as traditional. Equivocating between the two ideologies because they both happen to be critical of aspirational pop-culture messages requires a certain degree of blindness.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:40 PM on April 3 [6 favorites]


Maher's little "gotcha" only adds fuel to that maddening fire and allows the conversation about race to be derailed *yet again* by some white asshole trying to distract us from the real issue.

I thought this was a really interesting post, thanks. Television punditry is designed to shock, divide and conquer. The format begs for quotes to be taken out of context, and for commenters who are skilled at "sounding smart" to chime in with a big impulsive take and no time to investigate the information they've been given. Maybe the real conversation about race isn't really happening on the airwaves. Notice how thing aren't exactly moving in the right direction.

It's a shame really to sort of tangentially refer to "white assholes" as a "group of people that love the balance the world on false equivocation." This is the sort of sentiment that is perfect for TV. I'm also bowing out of this conversation before really getting into it because I believe the world is far, far too complicated for me to be reduced to having a debate framed by such wild animus.

If any young person is looking towards others on TV to learn how to act and behave around other people, perhaps it's time to start thinking for yourself.
posted by phaedon at 2:48 PM on April 3


Equivocating between the two ideologies because they both happen to be critical of aspirational pop-culture messages requires a certain degree of blindness.

... and pretending that that equivocation constitutes interesting debate, or really any way to do actual political discourse, as opposed to sophomoric rhetorical point-scoring, requires... something else. I'd say 'malice' but I suppose you could also make a case for mere situational sociopathy.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:51 PM on April 3


This is why we end up having conversations about "talking outside the family"; black people can't even talk too loudly amongst themselves for fear a white person will hear it and take it out of context.
posted by Eideteker at 3:01 PM on April 3 [19 favorites]


It's a shame really to sort of tangentially refer to "white assholes" as a "group of people that love the balance the world on false equivocation." This is the sort of sentiment that is perfect for TV.

Phaedon, I'm sorry. You're exactly right. I let my temper and emotion get the better of me and there was really no reason to include the "white assholes" in the comment.

My poorly made point was, for me, Maher's "gotcha" tactic of equating what Michelle Obama said with what Paul Ryan said is yet another incident of a commentator trying to deflect or refocus a discussion of racism and it's long standing legacy in this country. I've done it myself as a youth, to help myself deal with the very uncomfortable issues surrounding racism. It's far easier to say this person said a stupid, bad thing and this other person said something similar, so it's not a big deal for this stupid bad thing to be said.

It's the "everybody's doing it" defense of a child and it frustrates me to see it continue to happen over and over again.

But you're totally right, my overreaction did nothing to further my point and, in fact, hurt it. So, I'll take a page from your book and bow out as well.
posted by teleri025 at 3:25 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


It's actually really good to trip people up like this in order to shake them out of their confirmation bias and tribal allegiances.

America has been tripping people who have tribal allegiances since before it even existed.
posted by srboisvert at 3:25 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


Maher has been such a dick since his face started melting.
posted by MikeMc at 3:41 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


In the economy of 2014 Michelle Obama should not be encouraging anyone to dream of being a lawyer.
posted by steinsaltz at 4:02 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


Mad props to Bell for keeping his cool and not immediately walking off of the set like I would have wanted to do.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:44 PM on April 3


I really like Bill Maher (especially Religilous, which I'm actually in, briefly)

Religulous is in its way a remarkable achievement: a film whose premise I agree with that I still found completely repellant.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:31 PM on April 3 [14 favorites]


i generally like maher, but i'm disappointed at how often he weighs in on a story in a way that makes it obvious he doesn't know much about it beyond its headline or whatever twitter post he saw about it. and how he puts down republicans for ignoring science and expertise, but then he'll have a guest on who gives an expert opinion and he will just as easily dismiss it (particularly when it's on one of his pet issues).
posted by fallacy of the beard at 6:01 PM on April 3


What really irks me about Maher is how he shouts down anyone who offers a non-fundamentalist reading of scripture, because it doesn't suit his atheist vs fundamentalist frame.
posted by goethean at 6:40 PM on April 3 [9 favorites]


Maher is ridiculously unfunny on his show. I cringe every time he waits for applause. Which is pretty much every time he tells a joke.
posted by dobbs at 7:00 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


WHY WAS THERE A BREAKING BAD SPOILER IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT WHAT THE HELL W. KAMAU BELL
posted by Kwine at 8:10 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


I can't stomach Maher's show; it always makes me feel like I'm watching a contrarian circle jerk. But I am grateful for his contribution to VICE, which is excellent.
posted by homunculus at 8:58 PM on April 3


MetaFilter: Like I'm watching a contrarian circle jerk.
posted by Eideteker at 9:01 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]


Bill Maher has said that the main problem with America is that we're a "feminized" society. He explains this by saying that we value feelings more than truth, children more than adults, safety more than fun, and by saying that all his friends who've gotten married have been destroyed because women are innately restrictive and spirit-killing.

This is why Ann Coulter loves him and provides blurbs for his book jackets. Bill Maher is the epitome of the white guy is angry that anyone would dare make himself consider anyone but himself, these whiny fun-spoilers.

I had completely forgot about the manly man stuff. Maher looks really frail and weak, so I just gave the tough guy stuff a nonplussed pass the first few times I heard it. But no, he actually has the same obnoxious attitude as Rich Lowry. (Who, incidentally, ducked a fight challenge from Al Franken.)
posted by ignignokt at 9:45 PM on April 3 [5 favorites]


... Rich Lowry. (Who, incidentally, ducked a fight challenge from Al Franken.)

Wonderful. And just to remind people, Al Franken.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:57 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


Maher, for all of his smugness, doesn't know that much about public policy.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:05 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


This felt a bit like that segment on his show a couple years ago with Alexandra Pelosi where she went and found the black welfare moocher that the right since Reagan has been on about. It had the same icky racial overtones and bizarre false equivalence that this segment linked in the FPP has.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:15 AM on April 4


Maher's always had a mean streak. He can be funny, he can be right, but he reverts to being an asshole far too often. But Ryan's a far more dangerous and vicious character.
posted by theora55 at 1:42 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I'm a super liberal atheist and I hate Bill Maher more than I hate just about anyone. I saw Religulous and it was just total exploitative garbage. It may be a north/south thing ... I am Southern (US) and that sort of smarmy NY/New England know-it-all schtick is a huge turnoff. I don't want him on my side.

I do sort of want to punch him in the mouth though.
posted by freecellwizard at 6:32 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]


Later in this episode, Bill was shitting all over the movie "Frozen" in particular and animated films in general. I REALLY wanted Josh Gad to defend "Frozen," but he didn't, and that made me sad.

Bill Maher is the kind of guy who is cynical about "Frozen," which really tells you all you need to know about him.
posted by jbickers at 7:05 AM on April 4


Its a mistake to think that W Kamau Bell or Maher speak for their races, and as comedians, have anything of extraordinary value to add to public policy discussions. All the players in this vignette, including Ryan and M Obama are adding to the fog of lazy stereotypes regardless of of the bits of truth and sincerity that their comments might encompass.
posted by sfts2 at 7:12 AM on April 4


I suppose I feel that in a democracy, we don't exclude people from public discourse because of lazy assumptions about what they have to offer based on their profession.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:30 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I feel like "Gotcha" moments have their limited purpose - when dealing with obstinate policy-makers or others who are refusing to look truth in the face because of ulterior motives, for instance. Putting people in power in positions where they are forced to admit things they'd rather ignore has value..

That's not what happened here, though. Kamau Bell isn't a household name (yet. hope hope hope) and this anecdote makes it clear that he wasn't brought on because he was W. Kamau Bell. He was brought on because they wanted a black intellectual to be the butt of this little joke. So they get Bell, they tee him up, and pull the "Gotcha!" moment and that's it, that's what he's there for. Because Maher wanted to do a bit where he invites a black man to talk about race in America, makes fun of him, dismisses him, and moves on.

Maher brings nothing to the table. He's unfunny, which should be the kiss of death for a comedy show, but because he's a contrarian, he'll always be saying something that a bunch of people agree with and think isn't being said enough. But he doesn't do anything with that. He doesn't help the conversation, he doesn't actually rile up the debate, he does nothing.

And a lot of that is because Maher is one of the ugliest shades of ignorant. He's seen just enough of the picture to form a high opinion of himself and is not interested in any of the rest of it. He has confused smug with smart and surrounded himself with yes men.

There are a few people here who apparently like him. I honestly can't see a single reason why that should be so.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:46 PM on April 4 [6 favorites]


I watch his show, wishing his writers had a better mouthpiece than him.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:34 PM on April 4


> I wish it weren't horribly unethical to take some white children, raise them in a bizarro-world where they were treated as many black children are, then come back in 50 years and see that maybe environment matters.

The fact that this would be considered unethical kinda answers the question already, doesn't it? :(

But on a smaller scale, this experiment has been done by Jane Elliot in her Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes exercise. As part of a lesson on MLK, Elliot divided her all-white 3rd-grade Iowa classroom into privileged/unprivileged groups based on the students' eye-color to illustrate to them the effects of racism. The results were, sadly, everything one might expect: children in the out-group became withdrawn, & their performance plummeted. And that was after only a few hours of simulated prejudice! It's utterly terrifying how quickly and profoundly discrimination destroys minds.

[kirkaracha's MeFi post on it is superb -- the links even have mouseover hover text! Every link is worth following, especially the full-length Frontline documentary. Unfortunately, though, its first link is dead, so here's the Wayback Machine's cache, and here's a totally different Smithsonian article that I found while searching for it.]
posted by Westringia F. at 2:42 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


Bill Maher saved my life once. He told me so after he stopped himself from pushing me in front of a bus.
posted by Casimir at 6:22 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


"I really like Bill Maher (especially Religilous, which I'm actually in, briefly) but this gotcha thing isn't productive because there's no real depth or understanding to it."
Everything shitty about this prank is pretty much the essential quality to what Maher does, almost especially in Religulous.

I suspect that if you were to re-watch Religulous it would end up being like how Heinlein novels are for a lot of people who read them as teenagers but know they wouldn't want to spoil them by re-reading them, where it is inherently absurd and profoundly shitty, but in a way that speaks eloquently to a specific stage of development. The white teenage boys Heinlein novels are marketed to are just naturally pretty blind to the deeply violent and terrifying misogyny, the racism that isn't nearly so self-reflective as it thinks it is, or the way that the libertarian arguments in the books aren't really so much about justifying freedom as the freedom to oppress others, and in a lot of ways perhaps thats really ok. His books speak to the kind of understanding of these issues that someone who hasn't really thought about them as an adult for very long would have, and Religulous does the same kind of thing for people who haven't really thought about religion from a non-religious perspective for very long.

Maher works really really hard in that film at removing anything with any real depth or understanding to it, carefully avoiding arguments with anything actually insightfully critical of religion in favor of potshots at the sitting ducks he parades on the screen. The whole thing is seeping with the exact same kind of smugly proud simplistic understanding of a complex system that this shitty gotchya prank is, and while a blindness to that kind of asshattery is kind of natural to expect from teenagers its really unbecoming in grownups.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:52 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


The Color of His Presidency - "Optimists hoped Obama would usher in a new age of racial harmony. Pessimists feared a surge in racial strife. Neither was right. But what happened instead has been even more invidious."
A few weeks ago, the liberal comedian Bill Maher and conservative strategist and pundit Bill Kristol had a brief spat on Maher’s HBO show, putatively over what instigated the tea party but ultimately over the psychic wound that has divided red America and blue America in the Obama years. The rise of the tea party, explained Maher in a let’s-get-real moment, closing his eyes for a second the way one does when saying something everybody knows but nobody wants to say, "was about a black president." Both Maher and Kristol carry themselves with a weary cynicism that allows them to jovially spar with ideological rivals, but all of a sudden they both grew earnest and angry. Kristol interjected, shouting, "That’s bullshit! That is total bullshit!" After momentarily sputtering, Kristol recovered his calm, but his rare indignation remained, and there was no trace of the smirk he usually wears to distance himself slightly from his talking points. He almost pleaded to Maher, "Even you don’t believe that!"


"I totally believe that," Maher responded, which is no doubt true, because every Obama supporter believes deep down, or sometimes right on the surface, that the furious opposition marshaled against the first black president is a reaction to his race. Likewise, every Obama opponent believes with equal fervor that this is not only false but a smear concocted willfully to silence them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:17 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


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