Bill Maher vs. Comic Books
In keeping with his image of being a countercultural curmudgeon who isn’t afraid to speak truth to power — or something like that — Bill Maher has criticized the mourning surrounding the death of Stan Lee. As one might expect from Maher, his article’s snarky and dismissive in the extreme, not just of Stan Lee, but of comics in general, and views their increased cultural cachet as proof that Americans are refusing to grow up and become adults à la Bill Maher.
His article ends on this stinger:
I’m not saying we’ve necessarily gotten stupider. The average Joe is smarter in a lot of ways than he was in, say, the 1940s, when a big night out was a Three Stooges short and a Carmen Miranda musical. The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.
Nevermind the fact that Maher has spoken appreciatively of Trump in the past. That was back in 2015, and people can change. What’s frustrating about Maher’s comments is that, for all of his talk about being smart, open-minded, etc., he’s chosen to be surprisingly close-minded about the comic book medium. (Or maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that in 2017, he blamed superhero movies for Trump’s rise to power.)
To Maher’s mind, comic books are for kids and simply can’t be sophisticated literature — he writes, “the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures” — and therefore, he can poo-poo everyone else who might think that comics can be something more. Which just reveals his ignorance.
There’s a host of comics that Maher could check out if he wanted to enlighten himself concerning the medium’s potential and depth, e.g., Maus, Blankets, Persepolis, The Silence of Our Friends, Barefoot Gen, American Born Chinese, and even superhero titles like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and more recently, Ms. Marvel (though that last one’s depiction of modern Muslims might be particularly hard for him to get past). He might also consider the ways in which comics have been important for marginalized people. (I highly recommend reading Jason Johnson’s reminiscence of Stan Lee and comic books, and how they impacted him as a black kid.)
However, that would require Maher challenging a narrative that he’s created, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Maher’s crankiness and contrariness has, by now, become predictable. You didn’t even have to read his article to know that it’d be filled to the brim with snark masquerading as wit and thoughtful criticism. (A shame, as there’s plenty in comics culture worth criticizing. Maher just isn’t the one to do it.) In his article, Maher comes across as the secular equivalent of those conservative Christian pundits who are convinced that rock n’ roll is Satan’s tool for corrupting America’s youth. Both are busybody scolds, plain and simple, and their narrow views of culture, art, and entertainment are laughably similar, and similarly irrelevant.