I was sorry to see that on Wednesday The New York Times Op-Ed page turned over a third of its precious acreage to Bill Maher so that he could offer some self-serving drivel about how America needs to be more accepting of dumb, vaguely insulting jokes.
At least that what he seemed to be saying. He led off referring to a lame joke that Robert DeNiro made at an Obama fundraiser about whether America is ready for a white First Lady, which caused professional mischief-maker Newt Gingrich to pause in his brilliant parody of a political campaign to demand that President Obama offer an apology. DeNiro tugged his forelock and everything was set to be forgotten when Maher chose to spotlight the event as Exhibit A in his campaign against Excessive Touchiness.
“When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like? In the last year, we’ve been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried, the Super Bowl halftime show and the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliché for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others. Who can keep up? ‘’
Surely I can’t; I wouldn’t pass the final if these questions were on Intro to Contretemps 101. But this appeal to reason was hardly Maher’s true agenda. Maher was camouflauing himself amid these minor offenders because just a couple of weeks ago, after Rush Limbaugh was roundly and soundly rebuked for his nasty and misogynistic vilification of the Georgetown Law school student Sandra Fluke, Maher found himself dragged up on similar charges. In the Daily Beast, Kirsten Powers cataloged the painfully large number of insults that supposedly liberal commentators used against women who happened to hold views different than their own. Among those she cited: Ed Schultz calling Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” on MSNBC ; Keith Olbermann saying on MSNBC that Michelle Malkin was “a mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick’’; Chris Matthews, again on MSNBC, calling Hilary Clinton at various times a “she-devil,” “Nurse Ratched,” “Madame Defarge”, “witchy,” “anti-male,” and “uppity”; and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, who wrote in his blog, “When I read [Malkin’s] stuff, I imagine her narrating her text, book-on-tape style, with a big, hairy set of balls in her mouth.”
“But the grand pooh-bah of media misogyny,’’ wrote Powers, “is without a doubt Bill Maher—who also happens to be a favorite of liberals—who has given $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. Maher has called Sarh Palin a “dumb twat” and “a cunt.’’ He called Palin and Michelle Bachmann “MILFs’’–“Morons I’d Like to Forget.’’
As is now all too obvious, Maher didn’t write the article because he was concerned about people being too insensitive; it’s because being a pig and a boor is a big part of his act, and he’s probably worried that if too many people start to call him on it, he’ll lose his HBO gig and find himself back in front of a brick wall at Mr. Laffs saying “Hey, tell me—what’s with chicks and shoes?’’
“I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone,’’ writes Maher. “If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything. . . ‘’
Is that what Maher is doing when he calls Palin a cunt? Being a little rough-edged? Supplying a little color? Emotion? I know it’s not spontaneity. Every one of those witless insults is measured for effect, calculated to get the meatheads in the audience to go “Woooooo!’’
These remarks are not clever, or witty, or even very entertaining, and certainly not brave. They’re just markers, a way Maher tells the audience that he and they are alike because none of them likes Palin, except that he’s a bigger truth-teller, because he’s willing to be bolder, more irreverent, and more obscene.
In fact, all he’s doing is being a pig. He may as well oink at his audience, and let them squeal at him in return. He may as well run as advertisement that says “I can’t help it if I’m not as smart as Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.”
Maker may contend that he treats men just as harshly as women, but he’s smart enough to recognize the weakness of that argument. Men are not laboring under the effects of centuries of discrimination and worse. He wouldn’t use words like nigger and kike, and for the same reasons, he shouldn’t use cunt or slut or twat. These words cut more deeply than we can see. A 2010 study showed that calling a female candidate such sexist names as “ice queen” and “mean girl” significantly undercut her political standing, and did much more harm than gender-neutral criticism based solely on her policy positions and actions. “Harder-edged attacks, such as referring to her as a prostitute, were equally damaging among voters,’’ reported USA Today. “The female candidate lost twice as much support when even the mild sexist language was added to the attack. Support for her initially measured at 43% fell to 33% after the policy-based attacks but to 21% after the sexist taunts.’’ The study showed that the drop was significant among both men and women, those under 50 and over 50, and those with college educations and without. “The sexist language undermined favorable perceptions of the female candidate, leading voters to view her as less empathetic, trustworthy and effective.’’
Maher says he doesn’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. I don’t think he’s in any real danger of that. What I don’t want is to live in a country where my wife or my daughters or my friends could stand up and speak their minds, and be slagged as a slut or a cunt by nitwits like Limbaugh or Maher. This isn’t Afghanistan or Iran. Women shouldn’t be ridiculed and degraded for speaking their minds.
Maher’s on HBO, so his piggery can’t cost him advertisers. But what it ought to cost him is the approval of free-thinking people. So here’s my question. It’s for Charles Blow Arianna Huffington Alexandra Pelosi, Andrew Sullivan, Russ Feingold, James Carville, Ross Douthat, Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Heilemann ,Eliot Spitzer, Al Sharpton Bill Moyers, Jennifer Granholm, Chris Matthews and all the other leaders who have been on guests on Maher’s program. Is whatever you’re selling so important that you will perfume Maher’s stench with your presence on his stage?