On HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, host/comedian Bill Maher rarely revisits or responds to a subject in a short time, but he responded to the pushback he received following insensitive comments made when asked to respond to the death of comics great Stan Lee on a November 2018 edition of his show.
And he wasn't backing down–if anything, he tripled-down by telling fans to "grow up" during his "New Rules" segment:
"#NewRule: To every person on social media who's asked me since November, 'Bill, what do you have to say about Stan Lee?' – and to every paparazzi outside a restaurant who's still shouting at me, 'Bill, what about the Stan Lee thing?'…Okay. Your day has come." – @BillMaher pic.twitter.com/5KyF2SaVnl
— Real Time with Bill Maher (@RealTimers) January 26, 2019
To every person on social media who's asked me since November, "Bill, what do you have to say about Stan Lee?" – and to every paparazzi outside a restaurant who's still shouting at me, "Bill, what about the Stan Lee thing?"…Okay. Your day has come…I'm not glad Stan Lee is dead. I'm sad you're alive."
Maher continued taking shots at director Kevin Smith, a frequent guest on his programs in the past, and took issue with the response he received from Lee's company, POW! Entertainment.
Maher referenced this line in particular for his attack: "We are grateful that we can say you have a right to your opinion that comics are childish and unsophisticated. Many said the same about Dickens, Steinbeck, Melville and even Shakespeare." Maher unleashed his response: "No, they didn't! Nobody ever said 'Moby Dick' and 'King Lear' were unsophisticated, and if you ever read a book without pictures you'd know that!"
To those readers who say comic books taught them about "social justice and racial tolerance," Maher shot back, "Ok, but now you have pubic hair. Read James Baldwin. Read Toni Morrison. Read Michael Eric Dyson." Quoting the Bible's "put away childish things…" proverb, the Real Time host added: "…like comic bed sheets."
— Real Time with Bill Maher (@RealTimers) January 26, 2019
Contemporary culture hasn't allowed for much meaningful dialogue online and on social media, ironic when you consider a show like Real Time is supposed to be a debate program with panelists. In Maher's closing New Rules segment, his one-sided diatribes have stopped being interactive with viewers and more of a collection of personal pet peeves. Maher's feelings on contemporary comic culture show a woeful ignorance of the community he attacks–based solely on painful stereotypes and an obscene level of close-mindedness.
This coming from the man who didn't seem to have a problem "slumming" by filming a fake Real Time segment for Iron Man 3–maybe his staff should research how "sophisticated" and legitimate the medium truly is.
Wonder if he'll return the paycheck so he can maintain his "intellectual superiority"…
Maher charges ahead without regard or a sense of responsibility to his entire audience–when the vast majority of his fanbase takes every word he says as gospel, those words do nothing more that perpetuate the kind of "group think" ignorance he claims to fight against. Writers and comics creators such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, Fiona Staples, Gail Simone, and Rumiko Takahashi took Maher to task for his simplistic views on comics' history of challenging social norms and political movements.
Simone summed up what she saw were Maher's intentions on Twitter:
Here's a thing, even if you don't care about comics.@billmaher saw a mass of people grieving and thought, 'Hey, how can I make this about me?'
Probably all anyone needs to know, really.
— Gail Simone (@GailSimone) November 17, 2018
Gaiman dismissed Maher's "trolling" almost as a form of jealousy:
Maher's just trolling, and lots of people are rising to the troll. (Julie Burchill did it better 30 years ago with her "There aren't any adult comics because adults don't read comics" line. ) More people cared about Stan Lee's death than care about Bill Maher alive. https://t.co/yRzFCYQBzl
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) November 17, 2018
Maher's position is particularly perplexing given how many guests Maher's had on his show from the comics entertainment industry, from artists to film. One of those was Smith, who also responded to Maher on Twitter:
Yes, @billmaher took a shot at me during his show last night, in the midst of his latest rant about @TheRealStanLee and adults who like comic books. No, I'm not mad at all. Bill may talk tough but he's a stoner like me and a real pussycat when confronted: https://t.co/LRNdNeI2vr pic.twitter.com/VEf3fYi3b4
— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) January 26, 2019
While it's easy to ignore someone like Maher, it's not easy to ignore the impact and influence his audience can have. When someone like Maher looks down on others because he regards adult comic book readers as unsophisticated trash, others will share that message on their platforms.
Alex Jones is one such example: he didn't invent conspiracy theories, but he's been one of the strongest voices to circulate them out there, like the "crisis actor" agenda that attacked the families of mass shooting victims. While Jones may find himself responsible legally, it hasn't stopped others who carry the message.
Maher's naive message against adult comic fans diminishes the value of generations of visionaries that paved the way for the future. Comic books are beyond just superheroes, encompassing fantasy, science fiction, romance, westerns, historical-based stories: all serving as loose societal templates of what could be. Comic book generations have proven themselves to enamored with the mysterious, the hypothetical, and a future ripe with possibilities. Without envisioning the future, we wouldn't have NASA, smartphones, or even Star Trek.
With Maher taking the low road against adult comic fans and geek culture in general, he's shown his card as yet another aging voice, angry and bitter at his inability to keep up with shifting societal norms.
Or to quote one of Maher's favorite authors:
"I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."
– James Baldwin
Comic books have always been and will always continue to be society's "change agents" because they were meant to challenge the status quo. For me, comic books are to literature what punk rock is to music. Maher is free to continue spouting his ignorance–it's his right and clearly, HBO likes what he's doing–but by doing so, he will do more to divide his audience then bring them together in reasoned conversation. He's made up his mind about comics – now it's up to us to educate his audience on the facts before Maher makes up their minds for them, too.