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Marion On March - 18 - 2010

One of the things I admire most about Bill Maher is the ability he has to make one think. He has a way with words – he would, having been an English major – that at first infuriates or intrigues a listener, but which then implants a thought in one’s mind that simply refuses to go away until the listener strikes obedience and thinks about the sense (or lack of) in the remark. It provokes an almost dichotomous thought pattern, because if you initially agree with something he’s said, by the time the next Real Time rolls around, you’ll be thinking otherwise; conversely, if you initially disagreed with his opinion, after a week’s cogitation, whilst you might not agree, you’ll certainly understand how he arrived at a stated conclusion.

I look and contribute to both Bill’s MySpace and Facebook pages, and I read a lot of the comments and criticisms made by other fans, and sometimes, they make me think too. This is what happened this week.

A regular commentator on the MySpace page criticized Bill’s handling of an incident which occurred during the panel discussion.

Amy Holmes was one of the panel guests on Bill’s show last week. She’s pretty much a dependable regular on Real Time, appearing at least once per season. I definitely get the impression that Bill’s having trouble securing panelists this season; as much as he had the same problem last year, this year it seems to be worse. Already, we’ve seen faces so familiar they probably have personal possessions stored someplace in the Real Time studios.

I’ve never been able to stomach much of Amy Holmes. Five minutes of listening to her regurgitate what amounts to rote-learned rehashings of whatever the current GOP talking points happen to be, drive me to embedding my fingernails into the fabric of the nearest wall. I find her, at worst, to be a snooty, entitled, walking advertisement for everything that’s pejorative about Affirmative Action – at best, to be the poster girl for Republican diversity.

But I always felt she had a bit of a crush on Bill Maher and that he had a thing for her also. He’s got form for conservative women, after all, considering his long friendship with Ann Coulter and his mommy-fixation on Arianna Huffington. (Look, she’s as Rightwing as Rush, only she hides it better. Leopards never change their spots). Whenever she appears on Bill’s show, she gets her points across in a sing-song-y little girl voice which reduces Bill to soft-peddling a retort which always begins with the exasperated phrase, “But, Amy, you’re so bright …

That phrase always niggled me, whenever he used it, and he used it almost exclusively with Holmes. I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why it annoyed me. She certainly is bright. She’s articulate. She’s got a more than decent education. The fact that he constantly felt the need to refute her party political rhetoric with an allusion to her intelligence just irritated me to no end.

And now I know why.

The panelists on Friday were Holmes, Gary Johnson, the Republican former governor of New Mexico, and the actor Hill Harper. Bill initiated a discussion about global warming, concentrating on the Right’s constant denials about this trend and illustrating it with the conservative magazine, The Weekly Standard, depicting  a cover cartoon with a nude Al Gore in arctic surroundings.

Holmes immediately took up the baton of the deniers, jumping into the fray with both feet, employing her usual tactic of talking points, emphasized with facts, figures and fiction – speaking loudly, interrupting and muscling in on anyone who dared to speak. The whole argument lasted around 8 minutes, and consisted mostly of Holmes going into meltdown (pun intended), Bill trying to get a word in edgeways, Hill Harper briefly making a point so sensible it was rendered forgettable by the Holmes machine in overdrive, and the ineffectual Governor just sitting in silence, only once interjecting a mild point in support of the denialists’ theories.

Inevitably, the subject green technology and job creation entered into the equation, which introduced China into the discussion and the fact that they were leading the way in both green technology and jobs, as opposed to the United States dragging its heels and bogged down in debates as to whether or not the actual condition of global warming existed. Holmes refused to admit China’s progress.

“I’m not seeing any of that,” she maintained.

Then came the killer punch from Bill: “Then you don’t read.”[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYXcco3573o[/youtube]

That wasn’t the end either. Later, whilst speaking with the fourth guest, author John Heilemann, Bill relayed an anecdote about an altercation on a plane between Presidential hopeful and Mormon, Mitt Romney and a rap artist, which resulted in the rapper being asked to leave the plane before take-off. The story illustrated nothing more than a third-class dust-up in the First Class section of a plane between two first-class pricks. As Hill Harper opined, Romney probably should have been asked to leave the plane as well, but Bill played up the racial aspect of it, bringing in – as always – a pejorative religious stance.

Remarking on the fact that Mormons allegedly view the black population as morally inferior, being descendants of Cain, their black skin evidence of the infamous “mark of Cain,” Bill tried to imply that Romney’s confrontation with the rapper had its roots in the Mormon belief of black racial inferiority.

Holmes made a back-handed attempt to defend Romney, and Bill’s verbal machinations resulted in her awkwardly defending the politico against racism as well. When she protested that she wasn’t wantonly defending Romney or Mormonism, Bill prissily sniffed, “I would hope you’d be defending black people!”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL2xx6p5WSI&feature=related[/youtube]

He almost sounded like a disapproving, maiden aunt.

Whilst I’ve no liking for Holmes and, in a purely political sort of way, I enjoyed the smackdowns, I enjoyed them in the sense of watching an articulate conservative being deftly and effectively silenced by a more articulate, intelligent liberal. I even commented as such on Bill’s MySpace page, and another commentator, also a woman, made a similar remark.

But someone else saw it differently. A male commentator, an ueber-liberal, himself, saw Bill’s behaviour toward Holmes as rude, citing her intelligence as deserving of respect, whilst at the same time, reminding Bill of his own chivalrous defence, the previous year, of Meghan McCain, in the face of a smackdown by Paul Begala.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qec37zVWsXs[/youtube]

The commentator went onto shame Bill for his rebuke of Holmes, whilst castigating him defence of McCain, who – he said – really was stupid and deserved to have her ass verbally smacked by Begala for making what was, essentially, an immature remark.

And that’s when I realised that Bill had essentially patronised and disrespected both women on this occasion, and that it was wrong of the commentator to chide Bill for what was two cleverly exhibited facets of the same type of behaviour: misogyny. Equally, it was wrong of the commentator to deem one woman deserving of respect because of her alleged intelligence and the other deserving of scorn because of her stupidity. In a curious way, he was being patronising too.

First of all, both Holmes and McCain have Ivy League degrees – Holmes from Princeton and McCain from Columbia. In fact, I’d go as far as guessing that both women each probably graduated with grade point averages superior to any accumulated by Bill Maher at Cornell. Bill’s grammar, syntax and spelling in some of his writing are nothing short of disgraceful in someone who got a degree in English.

Secondly, Holmes is a good decade older than McCain, who – at 24 – was the youngest panellist to appear on Real Time. McCain’s nervousness was apparent for all to see; in fact, she twittered in the hour before the show that not one of the waiting guests bothered speaking to her, except for the journalist, Joel Stein. It’s easy to imagine Begala and Katty Kay, the only other woman on the panel, cosying in a corner of the Green Room, exchanging whispered bitcheries about McCain.

When she made a particularly puerile observation in her nervousness, Begala pounced, but Bill’s over-exaggerated defence of her from ‘that bad, bad man” was not only patronising, it was humiliating. In one instant, she’d become the kid at the adults’ table, whose presence was suffered with great patience and forebearing, but who needed, now and then to be reminded of her rightful place. She was the dumb blonde, the bimbo.

This is a woman, who is an Ivy League graduate, an author and a columnist in her own right. She may have got a leg-up from her old man’s name and political position, but having got the leg-up, she’s managed to stay where she is and hold her own.

With Holmes, the treatment meted was more openly meaner and just as undeserved. The remark about reading, whilst linked to Holmes’s party line defence of the climate change deniers, also implied a wider stupidity. It bought into the standard attitude assumed by the Left that anyone who is on the Right side of the political fence is ignorant, benighted; that that ignorance is willful and, therefore, deserving of disdain.

In her previous appearances on the show, Bill’s reaction to Holmes’s rhetoric was weary bemusement. He was the kindly, tolerant liberal guide trying to ease her into seeing the error of her ways. Now she was just another soulless member of the Dark Side, and her cack-handed attempts to respond to Bill’s assertion that because Mitt Romney was a Mormon, he must also be a racist (as assumption any other conservative would have treated with the contempt it deserved) resulted in her being tacitly identified and exposed by Bill as being an oreo, ashamed and almost admitting to bearing that ubiquitous mark of Cain.

The treatment meted both these women was derogatory and a mixture of pity, revulsion and condescension, a view that both were ignorant creatures who needed either protection from themselves or exposure of their inadequacies.

Neither of these women deserved this, and it’s difficult to imagine Bill treating Tucker Carlson or Michael Steele the way he reacted to both these women.

I’m not surprised at the level of misogyny prevalent today, either in the media or in politics. After all, Bill’s fellow Cornell alumnus, Keith Olbermann, was recently taken to task by Jon Stewart for referring to Michelle Malkin, another obnoxious conservative voice, as having a face “like a beaten-up piece of meat with lipstick”. And if Bill ever bothers to read John Heilemann’s Game Change, so prominently displayed on the bookshelf behind his desk, he’d realise that the two most intellectually astute people in the Senate recently, besides Ted Kennedy, were Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and the one most universally disliked and disdained was Clinton.

Pussy fear? More than just a bit all around.

Categories: Observations, TV

17 Responses so far.

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  1. dildenusa says:

    I don’t have cable or satellite TV so I don’t watch Bill Maher very much except on the net but very infrequently. You’re correct however that there is still a lot of misogyny in American media today. Also one fact of Obama and health care is the republicans do not like the idea of a black man passing health care reform. I believe this is why they are so against it and not idealogically opposed to health care reform.

  2. KQuark says:

    Good article Marion. I have not seen the show in a while but I will try to see this episode. I hate do defend Maher here, especially since I did not see it and I have seen Maher patronize women in the past but I’ve never seen him as being a misogynist. I also think it may be a case where Holmes hit one of Maher’s hot button issues which is organized religion so I don’t know if it was about them being females at all.

    For the record Mormonism is a religion founded on a very very racist premise and racism and sexism is prevalent in many members. That being said I don’t know if Romney himself is racist because I don’t know what’s in his heart.

  3. msbadger says:

    Good article, Marion, and it clarifies all the conflicting feelings I’ve always had for Maher. I used to like him a lot when he did his comedy pieces, but now I think, in addition to his misogyny and huge ego, he has gotten an even bigger head and it’s increasingly to be found up his arse. I have lost respect for him, and I don’t get HBO but I wouldn’t watch him anyway. Now I conciously realize why. Thanks!

  4. Questinia says:

    I suppose a misanthrope is also a misogynist. But toward women he actually seems to need and be able to channel the meanest girl we all knew in seventh grade.

    Let’s face it, a simple misanthrope just couldn’t do the job.

    • KQuark says:

      Not even a KO “Worst Person” award. You are right if a right leaning pundit the left would be all over it. That’s one of the double standards with left leaning people in the media.

      It goes to people reading intentions and left leaning people just ASSUME their favorite pundits did not mean it in a racist way. Frankly I see allot of subtle racism coming from the left today.

      In fact I just read where teachers being fired in RI hung a “doll” President Obama in effigy. Do you really think they would hang Bush for the same thing?

    • javaz says:

      Hi Blues Tiger!

      Maybe Maher doesn’t have that big of an audience?

      I read several blogs and news sites and I can’t recall ever reading much about Maher, except for the days I read HP.

      Seems the left and right ignore him!

      He should be vilified for that remark. I agree with you on that one.
      I’d stop watching him but we’ve never watched him to begin with!

      And from reading Marion’s posts about Maher, I wouldn’t watch him even if we could.

  5. FrankenPC says:

    Very nice breakdown. I was pretty uncomfortable with Bill’s behavior as well. But, then again, I’ve always known Bill was a pot smoking, egocentric misogynist. I put up with his more abhorrent behavior to hear his ingenious breakdowns of common social, economic, and environmental issues.

    Also, I have an enormous amount of respect for his ability to compile facts and hold incredible stand up routines based on these facts which are entirely applicable to modern problems.

    Maybe Bill should dump the panel lambasting and just stick with his shtick.

    • Marion says:

      Franken, somebody told Bill it would be cool to do a Ustream online chat recently. Big mistake. The only people who respond to that sort of thing are kids, but Bill obliged. He wasn’t stoned, but he’d been drinking enough to get him mellow. Someone asked if he were stoned, and he actually replied (seriously)that he didn’t smoke pot anymore, but had recently started smoking tobacco again. Then some kid remarked that he’d been clocked in an In and Out Burgers in LA, and he actually fessed up that he felt the need for junk food a few times a month. (Notice the he’s laid off the eating lectures this year).

      I’ll grant you he’s got a problem with women. He definitely feels intimidated by those from his own social peer demographic, which is why he seeks the company of much younger women. That’s a self-esteem issue and THAT stems from his relationship with his mother. Bill’s got mommy issues.

  6. choicelady says:

    Hi Marion-

    I do have to agree, though I think ordinarily Olbermann is superb with and about women’s ideas and statements. Maher never is. I’ve seen him be disdainful to men, but not with the same sense of exhaustion at their cute stupidity. It’s one reason I dislike Maher a lot.

    As a woman purveying public policy, I hold my own pretty well, but every now and then… I probably get lots more disdain due to my employer (large, progressive faith organization) than my gender, but the two combined, well… I have colleagues who think all I do is read the Bible. Man, are THEY barking up the wrong tree! So periodically I trot out the fact that I taught courses in global capitalism’s impact on our society for Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations Program for 15 years, and that sort of squelches the disdain -- for a moment or two.

    I find as I get older that I have more cred. Age is a factor in the male disdain, but it does not extend to young men as it does to young women, and that’s observable.

    Two of the most amazing minds with whom I deal are in the persons of absolutely beautiful women. They are outstandingly brilliant and effective at what they do. They, like most of us who deal policy, simply stand their ground and deal with fact. They have earned the respect they get. I do think that part of the problem with Maher’s show and the women guests is that while they may be smart, they are not actually very well informed, and as far as Holmes, she is trying to purvey views that have no substance or scientific support.

    That said, Maher has male guests that are dumb as ditchwater, and yes, they get more respect from him than do women. But he’s arrogant and mean to anyone whom he disdains, so it might say more about HIM than about society as a whole. He may never be able to respect any woman as he does not respect people with differing views, but honestly, that is HIS problem.

    With luck, the women will mature and get better and better. It’s a pretty good bet Maher never will.


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