On a recent trip, at the end of a long day, I dragged myself to a hotel room and sprawled out on the bed to unwind. Heh heh. Unwind? I made the mistake of turning on the TV, where the first thing I encountered was Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” with his sneering sarcarsm fully on display. I admit, I’m not a regular viewer (strange as it seems, we don’t get HBO) and I didn’t watch this episode for long. Frankly, I can’t stomach much from Maher.
Maybe he’s like Don Rickles; his TV persona is all spewing and venom, while in normal life he’s a decent guy. I hope so. All I know is that he appears to take a particularly cruel pleasure at launching invective at people he thinks are idiots, or are corrupt, or both.
I know HBO is supposed to be edgy and all that. I just don’t understand the popularity of Maher’s brand of “hip, incisive commentary.” Am I just not getting it? Does he want us to take him seriously? How does one laugh at his attacks, even if they include witty oneliners? Maybe my sense of humor is underdeveloped, but I swear, I don’t get the attraction. He was plain mean to the guests who tried not to agree with him, even to offer a challenge to his tirade. The “conversation” seemed a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.
Which brings me to my point. Bill Maher strikes me as a tragic indicator of American popular culture, which has become pervasively poisonous. The line between serious, if pointed, critique and downright character assassination has been badly breached. If this is really what we like to watch, then we as a society are slowing eat out our own souls.
There are several ironies for me in this scenario. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (may he rest in peace) were and are regularly excoriated for their judgmental hyperbole. They both have said some pretty inexcusable things on national TV. I can say without a shred of doubt, however, that there is no one more hateful than Bill Maher, unless, of course, there is someone worse, admidst the gazillion cable and satellite stations available to people willing to pay. He is unequaled in setting the standard for hate speech on television. It doesn’t seem to bother people much. And that’s what worries me.
We’d better start paying attention. May Bill Maher’s schtick shrivel and die for lack of viewers.