Gordon C. Stewart www.gordoncstewart.com March 23, 2012
Ya gotta love Bill Maher. Well, actually, you don’t have to, but I do.
I rarely miss “Real Time with Bill Maher” (HBO). Why? Because he’s real. So are his guests. Is Bill’s language outlandish? Is his tongue stuck in the 7th grade locker room? Yes. Despite the frequency of the ‘f’ word, the saintliest, as well as the unstaintliest, mouths from left , right and center consider it an honor to sit on the panel or be a featured guest. on Real Time. Go figure how Madeleine Albright, Amy Holmes, Cornel West, Herman Cain, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Rep. Keith Ellison, P.J. O’Roarke, Michael Moore, Andrew Sullivan, and David Frum appear on Maher’s show. They accept the invitation because it’s one place where manure is called what it is and where the real gutter talk is exposed for what it is. He’s not interested in being nice. He’s interested in truth. And he’s not afraid to engage the opposition in matters political, economic, or religious.
“If it weren’t for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn’t get any exercise,” he wrote (“Offense Intended – and that’s OK,” Star Tribune, 03.23.12). “I have a better idea. Let’s have an amnesty – from the left and from the right – on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, placated hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone said and pretend you can’t barely continue functioning until they apologize.”
Maher wasn’t born or raised in Minnesota where we’re proud of Minnesota Nice, most of the time .But you don’t have to have been raised elsewhere to know that Minnesota Nice often leaves us itching for some unpolished reality. How else do we explain the election of a tough-talking, often crude professional wrestler radio talk show host as our governor? Jesse Venturawas elected because he said what he thought and meant what he said in a world where candidates for political office rarely say what they mean or mean what they say. Underneath Minnesota Nice is a volcano of Minnesota mean, as well as nice.
Jesse is one weird dude. And that’s partly what attracted the people who were tired of taking Minnesota Nice too far. We want civility, but sometimes we get a little tired of not really talking about what we’re really talking about.
None of us really wants to live in Pleasantville. Remember “Pleasantville” – the film about two 1990s teenage siblings, Jennifer and David, who get sucked into their television set where they become characters in the make-believe town of Pleasantville, David’s favorite TV show? Nothing much ever happens in Pleasantville. There is no conflict, no real feelings; just polite, mannerly sameness that is insulated from and apathetic toward anything that might smack of unpleasantness. Pleasantville is a nice place – happy, smiling, repressed and suppressed, orderly…without color.
As Jennifer and David play along in the perfect and pure little town of Pleasantville, their presence soon cracks open the boredom of gray uniformity. Color begins to break through the grayness as the citizens of Pleasantville discover sex, art, books, music and the concept of non-conformity, leading the Mayor to campaign to turn Pleasantville back to what it once was – a nice place where nothing much ever happens, and no one speaks like Bill Maher.
Maher’s Op Ed piece concludes:
“I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends someone. That’s why we have Canada. That’s not for us. 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 say nothing but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we’ll get Mitt Romney.”
This morning Unedited Politics posted an excerpt from 1994 Romney-Kennedy Debate on health care, veterans, spending, deficits.
I love Bill Maher, too. He upset me a couple of times tonight which surprised me, but I’ve been a little touchy lately. I wish I’d been there to mention a couple of points that no one on the panel did. Of course, he made me forget that with “New Rules.”
I watch Real Time a lot too, and like Bill Maher, though he occasionally ticks me off.
There are some things that need to be called, but some are a stretch. Let it go!
I watch him because the conversations are so unvarnished. My favorites are shows where Cornel West does some fancy footwork with Bill’s anti-religious fundamentalism. “Now, Bill…Bill, Bill, Bill…” with that great smile. It’s quite a tango with the two of them. The “New Rules” segment is worth the whole show.
Thanks for this, Gordon. The fact is, nice very often is cowardice — fear of not being liked, or worse, getting in trouble at work, or even, heaven forbid, making someone mad at us. On the other hand, nice, courteous behavior is essential to healthy community as we both argued in the “Me and him going to the movies” thing. I guess what we need is the word “honesty.” When “nice” conceals real feelings and ideas it is dishonest. When nice reveals an attitude of genuinely recognizing the value in others, it’s honest.
Good analysis of the problem of civility and genuineness. Unless a person is native to a culture, one doesn’t pick up the subtleties. In MN, “not too bad” means “pretty darn good” and “interesting” may mean “You’re nuts!” but you have to be a mind reader to know for sure. Is that uncourageous, or just being respectful?
Wow – you clearly expressed what I have been discovering of late: there is a completely different language here! I have heard both of your examples used in exactly that context. I have also heard “would you like to have some ice cream?” which actually meant “while you are up, would you get me a bowl?” or – social awkwardness as I try to assess which situations are ‘hug’ situations and which not (I made some big oops’ when I first moved here 6 years ago). I am from New Mexico/California of course where hugging and expressing yourself in no uncertain terms are both social expectations. I only recently grasped the fact that I have to learn a whole new language – glad I am not alone 🙂
So Ted likes ice cream. I see. Do you get it for him? Have you learned to ask TEd? You have to understand these things! Glad you’re over the “oopses”.
well said, Mona.
She kind of hit the nail straight on. Thanks, Karen.