I’ve been anti-Bill Maher for a few years now, ever since POLITICALLY INCORRECT transitioned from a unique and contrarian TV show to a vehicle for the no-brain comments of whatever four ABC sitcom actors the show was able to book at the last minute. A more notable flashpoint, though, occurred in the early 2000s. Maher said something dumb about medicine or pharmaceuticals and delivered the remark with such an odd combination of arrogance and ignorance that I wrote him off forever.
Then the Braying Little Man received an over-generous gift: a bumbling, inarticulate American president…at war, no less! Deliciously, for Bill Maher, every day of George W. Bush‘s post 9/11 presidency was caked in controversy and incompetence (whether real or perceived). A gold mine for inconsequential comedians everywhere.
Thus, Maher became Johnny One Note. Joke-telling became a simple matter of “Which ‘Bush is Dumb’ Gag Do I Go With Tonight?” The display reeked of intellectual laziness. Shooting cetaceans in a barrel. Naturally, it worked extremely well. Maher’s TV audiences laughed on-cue and Maher became an ass-kicking weisenheimer fighting for the good of the Left! Fuck yeah!
Not everyone was so easily fooled. You might recall that Christopher Hitchens once confronted Maher on his Bush-is-Dumb shtick to great effect. And some of us wee commoners in the blogosphere have pointed out Maher’s lameness for years, a practice that usually netted derisive sneers from our liberal friends.
We were in the minority, though. Maher was a pop culture hero; a frisky champion of “correct” politics who espoused faux-skeptic views to the delight of faux skeptics everywhere.
For me, the biggest cringe moment didn’t arrive until Maher made Religulous. As an atheist and an admirer of such legitimate and genuine skeptics as James Randi, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait and Penn and Teller, I worried that Maher’s popular film would wrongly perpetuate his status as a “person of reason.” And it did. Worry confirmed.
THEN! EVEN WORSE!
Along came theAtheist Alliance International yahoos with a big trophy for Maher: the 2009 Richard Dawkins Award. I felt a crushing blow of sadness and frustration when Dawkins, of all people, revealed that he was “delighted” to have Maher receive the honor.
But, dammit, a few determined voices would not abide this profanity. “Hold the fucking phone,” is what brilliant medical blogger Orac seemed to say in a series of scathing anti-Maher posts at Respectful Insolence. Orac took a sledgehammer to Maher’s ridiculous views on “Western” medicine, vaccines and pseudoscience. Respectful Insolence soon became a white-hot scalpel that cut through the idiot flesh of Maher Quackery.
Orac’s hyper-articulate diatribes woke up the slumbering giants of the skeptical community. Such lefty skeptics as PZ Myers seemed to get the message: Maher had been given a free pass. Worse, he’d been granted, for all intents and purposes, the Dawkins seal of approval. This did not look good.
Thus, many angry atheists and skeptics decided that Maher needed to take his medicine. And this time it would be “Western”…administered rectally. The arrogant little clown was going to suffer for exposing woo-proof skeptics. Maher did something kind of remarkable, after all — he revealed that lots of skeptics fit the criteria of skeptic only nominally. Many of them see no problem with Bill’s PETA ties and anti-vax craziness but will go after Ben Stein or Sylvia Browne with fangs bared and mouths frothing. Does anyone besides me find this troubling?
So, for most of September and October, the criticism rained down hard on Maher. Worse, the little dummy added fuel to the fire when he “clarified” his junk views on REAL TIME. Maher was setting himself up for a big fall.
Soon, the pièce de résistance arrived: Michael Shermer, blogging at the Huffington Post, of all places — Maher’s home turf, basically — sent a brilliant open letter to the braying little man, pleading for him to re-think his horseshit take on vaccinations and “Western” medicine.
Shermer’s letter was excellent. It drove home a number of good points. But after reading it a second time, this passage gave me pause:
…Bill, please consider the odd juxtaposition of your enthusiastic support for health care reform and government intervention into this aspect of our medical lives, with your skepticism that these same people–when it comes to vaccinations and disease prevention–suddenly lose their sense of morality along with their medical training. You excoriate the political right for not trusting the government with our health, and then in the next breath you inadvertently join their chorus when you denounce vaccinations, thereby adding fodder for their ideological cannons. Please remember that it’s the same people administrating both health care and vaccination programs.
This is a fine point, and it forced me to scrutinize my own views.
In some ways, my take is the flip side of Maher’s. I’m against nationalized health care yet I’m pro-vaccination. So, am I all that different from Maher? A bit, because my beef with health care reform is not based on a distrust of government, per se (although the current administration has several ignoble pipsqueaks whose behavior I find…disconcerting).
Instead, I fear that health care reform will diminish my autonomy and make seeing my doctor a less-than-economical proposition. If I have to pay through the nose more than I already do to see my preferred provider, then I’m not left with much of an option at all.
So, strangely enough, I find myself sharing common ground with Maher. I even feel a little sympathy for the jerk despite the fact that my “inverted” version of his position has more to do with diminished consumer rights than government conspiracy theories. Thus, I’m going to lay off of him for awhile; the Maher-bashing bandwagon is getting a little crowded. Plus, it’s worth noting that Shermer provided the dolt with a perfectly honorable resolution: admit that he is wrong. If Maher does that, I may soften my stance and start watching his show. (He does have good guests on occasion, despite the omnipresence of such annoying contributors as Matt Taibbi and Janeane Garafolo.)
In sum…Bill Maher: peace be with you. Just don’t dispense medical advice to your loyal viewers. Like Oprah‘s legion of dimwit housewives, your audience of 30-something snark-fucks does whatever you tell them to do; thinks whatever you tell them to think.
Be careful, jerky.