Image via HBO

Bill Maher Continues Attacks On Comics and Stan Lee, Doesn’t Bother to Check His Facts

Bill Maher doubled-down on his criticism of Stan Lee and his life’s work as childish things meant to be discarded. It’s likely it was done to inspire another round of articles and responses, like this one. Most of the segment just saw him quoting his critics and calling them fat nerds who don’t get laid. Not found in this editorial, unlike the few that make decent arguments, is any kind of real argument. He thinks comics are for kids and fuck you if you think otherwise. He does make one attempt to cite some kind of evidence to support his claim, but it’s just factually incorrect. He also doesn’t realize that rather than kids’ stuff, comic books are the best thing on the market to compete with the thing he hates most: religion.

In the segment (video embedded below), Maher reads the response to his original comments from Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment. In the polite missive, the writers point out that Maher did, in fact, insult Stan Lee. They also make the case that comic books are literature. Then they wrote:

“…[Y]ou have a right to your opinion that comics are childish and unsophisticated. Many said the same about Dickens, Steinbeck, Melville and even Shakespeare.”

Maher’s response to this was to mock them for being so hilariously wrong, which they would know if they “ever read a book without pictures.” Of course, Maher is the one who couldn’t be more wrong. Melville faced heavy criticism throughout his career. His contemporary critics called his work “hodgepodge,” “monstrous,” “bizarre,” “fanciful,” and all other era-appropriate terms for both “childish” and “unsophisticated.” Dickens also faced such criticisms. Some of his peers, like Thackeray, loved his work. Many others hated it. They suggested his themes were simplistic, his style was clunky, and that he was a sellout. Shakespeare also caught some of this heat from his fellows and even after. He wasn’t even really appreciated until about the 17th Century. (There’s also a fringe collection of academics who think Shakespeare didn’t write his plays.) He caught flak both from his contemporaries, like Robert Green, and from objectively great writers throughout the subsequent centuries.

What all three of those writers share, and Stan Lee as well, is that their work was loved and consumed by the “masses.” Maher, who famously called the majority of Americans “stupid” ten years ago, doesn’t even bother to do any criticial thinking here. If a lot of people love comic books and movies based on them, then it must be for dumb-dumbs and toddlers. He clumsily makes this connection by showing a few social media posts tagged with “#adulting.” These are meant to serve as examples that the younger generation is just a bunch of widdle babies. To do a pun bit from his rant better than he did: Apparently when Baby Boomer comedians get into their 60s, they are at an increased risk of irony deficiency. Maybe some people use that word/hashtag unironically, but the posts he showcased were obviously not sincere.

Throughout the rest of the bit, Maher inflicts relentless immaturity jokes on his audience. Yet, if Maher could resist his urge to pounce with rage and cruelty at his critics (like a certain President), he might have realized something important. For much of the past 20 years, Maher’s biggest cause celebre has been how damaging organized religion is to society. Perhaps if Maher read a book with pictures in it (specifically the works of Joseph Campbell), he’d realize that myth and religion are as human a need as cohabitation, laws, and everything else related to how society and culture is born. Religion isn’t going anywhere, because human beings need fantastical morality tales that give them something to believe in and be passionate about.

The world of superheroes and villains is no different than religion in that respect. These are tales of “gods” and “monsters” who have conflict, and that conflict is usually an allegory for some higher truth. You would think that someone who thinks America is full of, like, 329 million dipshits would appreciate a medium that reinforces the simple values we might forget.

Just to name a few:

  • Being different doesn’t make someone bad.
  • Help others when they need it.
  • Teamwork is good.
  • Avoid killing people.

These are simple, important concepts. Comics can be a kid’s first exposure to these ideas (outside of their parents’ influence). They also can be like a booster shot for those values when the audience is adults. The stories can also start new discussions about things like the balance between liberty and security. The figures in these films can serve as cautionary examples, especially when it comes to how a seemingly “good” person can actually be quite evil.

Marvel’s Black Panther presented their most fully-realized movie villain in Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. His motivations were complex and compelling, leading some fans to take to social media using another dreaded hashtag: #KillmongerWasRight. Only, it never failed that some fans (including your humble correspondent) would challenge that idea. In the film, Killmonger gains the same powers as the titular hero. He says his goal is liberate Black America from the yoke of White Supremacy. Even though he’s a thief and a murderer, the audience can empathize with his point-of-view. Yet, instead of creating a “Black Panther” for every neighborhood, he destroys the source of that power, so no one can challenge his authority. Not only did this bit of Spring-movie fluff offer an allegory for populist authoritarianism, it got people talking and thinking about it. Not bad for kids’ stuff, and it’s a very relevant tale to both the left and right in America today.

All of these movies offer the kind of values and morality one finds in religious stories, as well as warnings about hubris, carelessness, and even lessons about conflict resolution among friends. Yet, unlike religion, they don’t pretend that it’s a documentary. People go into these stories knowing that they are fiction, but the effect they have is the same. They can look to these movies for inspiration or comfort when the real world fails them (again). These stories can move us in any number of ways. For Maher, third lead in the film Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, that’s not enough. No, for it to be the kind of art or literature that’s “worthy” it can’t be something that’s both easily accessible and makes people feel good.

We are in a strange time for media. As a former political correspondent myself, I know that to survive in this media landscape, you have to keep your audience outraged to keep them coming back. Maher doesn’t care if they are outraged with him or at him, only that they are talking about him. This seems to be his focus, at least since Ben Affleck lost his shit on Maher and Sam Harris some years ago. Since then, he’s gotten lazy. It’s easy to get people angry at you or someone else. It’s much more difficult to think about something in a new way, including considering that his point-of-view isn’t exactly correct. Ironically, the very modern myths he’s deriding could perhaps help him understand that a bit better. Comic book stories offer people the kind of tales we’ve loved for millennia. If our reckless, wonderful, ridiculous species survives even another few centuries, there is no question that Spider-Man, Superman, and many others will adorn the ancient literature shelves with Tolkien, Homer, and Milton.

Watch the rant for yourself below:

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