What Bill Maher and The Chair have in common


I’d like to know where Marty Essen has been for the last decade or so, because he has written an essay about how Real Time with Bill Maher has become unwatchable. Has become? It’s been ground zero for the worst liberal takes for what seems like ages. At least now he has finally seen the light.

Years ago, my wife, Deb, and I used to arrange our Friday nights around watching Real Time with Bill Maher, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and he performed his show from home, he became (to use his term) “a whiny little bitch.” He was so unwatchable that we made other plans for our Friday nights.

Knowing that Maher was back in front of a live audience, we gave him another shot last night. He just made us angry. First, he whined about vaccinations, saying he “took one for the team,” but doubted he’d get a booster. And that led into his nightly diatribe about how if Americans only ate better food we wouldn’t have so many health problems. Sure, many Americans would be better off if they got in-shape and lost some weight, but I can’t remember the last episode where Maher didn’t make the same point—over and over and over.

But what really pissed me off was when he and Andrew Sullivan pontificated about colleges being too woke. I have likely spoken at more colleges in the past 15 years than Bill Maher and Andrew Sullivan put together. The difference is that they speak at select elite colleges and I speak everywhere else. For instance, next week I speak at Hastings College in Nebraska.

I agree with Essen on all that: the vaccination hesitancy, to be as generous as possible, the contempt for American eating habits, and just the fact that he still has Andrew Fucking Sullivan on as a guest all the time should be clues that Maher is a tired old bore. The derision he aims at colleges and college students has also been around for a long time — he’s one of those “comedians” who doesn’t want to do college gigs because the audiences there don’t find him funny, which is obviously their fault, not his.

That brings me to The Chair, that Netflix comedy-drama about a liberal arts college that everyone has been telling me to watch. I unwound from our trip last night by seeing what it was all about.

I hated it. Sincerely, deeply, angrily hated it.

Why were people telling me this piece of shit was any good at all? It wasn’t realistic at all, nothing like any university I’ve worked at, and the writer was just puking up conservative cliches about universities. There are nasty internal politics that go on in university departments, but nothing like what was portrayed on the screen. The English department in that show was portrayed as a nest of doddering deadheads with no interest in education, resistant to any new ideas, determined to subvert any fresh new faculty. Individuals like that exist, but it’s not an accurate representation of how any department works. I can grant that a show like this would exaggerate stereotypes for comic effect, but I didn’t see anything that rang true, and it was clear that the writers knew nothing about the real foibles of a university.

My biggest gripe, though, is with the major conflict at the heart of the story, which was pure anti-wokist garbage. The story is about a bumbling, but presumably charismatic English professor who staggers into an upper level class with pretty much no plan, no idea of what he’s going to talk about, and only a course title, “Modernism and Death”, to guide his structureless ramblings. He sleeps late, he gets drunk, he misses classes, and only seems to occasionally find his way into the classroom — you know, the conservative stereotype of what college professors are like.

One day, he snaps briefly into awareness and tries to deliver some ideas to the students, and starts lecturing on the contrast between absurdism and fascism, and as he mentions fascism, briefly illustrates it with a Hitler salute as he’s talking about how under fascism all meaning is ascribed to the state, to mock the idea of a supreme leader. Nothing in this snippet of a poorly framed lecture suggests any sympathy for fascism, he goes on to talk about the 85 million dead, and segues to discussing Camus and Beckett, who both fought in the resistance. In a fraction of a second, he quotes “Heil Hitler”, students capture it on their phones, it gets edited out of context, and the core conflict of the show is about woke students trying to get a Nazi fired.

This is exactly the myth that conservatives try to promote with that “cancel culture” bullshit — that students are so hypersensitive that they go on full raging alert at even innocent, harmless mentions of their shibboleths. The show works very hard to make the offense trivial and obviously misinterpreted, and the student reaction to be over the top and ridiculous. Boy, those college kids sure are stupid. When the professor tries to explain, all the feminists and brown people listening to him ask leading questions and make extreme accusations and shout him down, because that’s what the writer thinks wokists do.

The fundamental disrespect for students was appalling. The lazy portrayal of college professors was disturbing. The plot was loaded with discursive elements that were never resolved, and the central storyline seemed to be all about those goofy liberals being hoist on their own petard. If you are sympathetic to the idea that liberal arts colleges are bad, you will like this series, because it will confirm every bias you’ve got. I’m not at all sympathetic to that kind of bullshit, so I didn’t enjoy it at all.

Comments

  1. weylguy says

    I guess I won’t be watching The Chair after all. Dr. Myers’ take is that it paints university professors as liberal eggheads who could care less about educating noble, dedicated students who are starved to learn the truth.

    My view on all this (and I might be wrong) is that many years ago your average Joe Sixpack felt bad about having not gone to college. Eventually, Joe came to believe that it didn’t matter much, provided he could support himself and his family–a college education might have been nice, but it wasn’t absolutely necessary. More recently, Joe came to believe that college education was actually a detriment to the American way of life. That attitude has now morphed into a feeling of pride about one’s ignorance, and that ignorance is far better than being educated about the real world or, as Joe might put it, woke.

    This willful ignorance is regrettable, but to me science illiteracy is the absolute worst thing that has happened to this country. It prevents acceptance of much of scientific progress (including medical science), and its dumbing-down effect allows for the election of monsters like Donald Trump to the highest office in the land. My biggest fear, though, is that it’s likely to get far worse.

  2. revmatty says

    I really wanted to like The Chair. Sandra Oh is an astounding actress and the concept seemed like it might be entertaining. I made it almost 15 minutes in before I gave up on it as formulaic plot and cliche dialogue with no substance. I didn’t even get far enough to really grasp that it’s a sitcomish delivery platform for right wing talking points.

    Maher has always been a racist misogynist transphobe, it did take me until the mid-2000’s to really pay attention to that. He is not in any sense a liberal. Some of his best friends (Sullivan, Ann Coulter) are aspiring fascists which tells you all you need to know about him.

  3. fulcrumx says

    Finally! Someone hates the thing as much as I do. The writers must be total screw-ups as humans. The actors and sponsor, super shallow and sensationalistic morons.

  4. says

    I thought the same thing about “The Newsroom”. That opening scene where the college student asks a question that sets Jeff Daniels off on the typical Aaron Sorkin rant. And that was several years ago. Are there any positive portrayals of college students?

  5. Stars & Gutters says

    This Chair reminds me of David Mamet’s Oleanna also set in college. The latest theatre production is directed by Lucy Bailey as a commentary on the current #MeToo era.
    The plots of Chair & Oleanna are almost about the same conflict between professors & students, with their sympathy more towards the prof than the students themselves.
    Wondering if PZ also watched Oleanna himself.

  6. HappyHead says

    Haven’t watched it or looked it up, but wow, from your description, you’d almost think Kevin Sorbo was involved in the script writing somehow.

  7. consciousness razor says

    Maher has always been a racist misogynist transphobe, it did take me until the mid-2000’s to really pay attention to that. He is not in any sense a liberal.

    Uhh…. That’s definitely consistent with the traditional sense of the term, which is essentially about supporting individual “liberty” and limiting the ability of the government to violate the civil rights of individuals. (And specifically, it pertains to the ones that you’re willing to recognize as genuine rights, which need not include all actual rights.)

    So, it can be just as much of a hands-off, laissez-faire, “fuck you, I’ve got mine” type of political philosophy as libertarianism is, although it is true that many aren’t inclined to go very far in that direction or at least not about absolutely everything. (If they are, they’ll probably label themselves libertarians or something else.)

    It just doesn’t imply that individuals (or corporations, etc.) shouldn’t act in prejudicial ways toward members of marginalized groups. The government may not be able to do such things, at least not all of the worst or most harmful ones imaginable; but you yourself can still be a total asshole as a card-carrying liberal/neoliberal, because your view doesn’t even really need to involve any evaluation at all of whether such individual behaviors are good or bad. About the only thing you’ve got to work with is some kind of idea that individuals should indeed be “free” to act in such ways, as long as it’s not “too harmful,” but there’s no clear articulation of what exactly that is supposed to mean or why that should be the case.

  8. kathleenzielinski says

    I have not been on a college campus in probably 20 years so it’s likely that anyone else here knows more about the current state of academia than I do. With respect to PZ’s statement that “This is exactly the myth that conservatives try to promote with that “cancel culture” bullshit — that students are so hypersensitive that they go on full raging alert at even innocent, harmless mentions of their shibboleths,” the following link:

    https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Churchill-A-student-mob-shouted-down-economist-14849024.php

    certainly suggests that conservative complaints may not be entirely unfounded.

    I always thought that one of the points of going to college was to be exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints, on the theory that you might learn something from someone you disagree with. If this story — and numerous other ones like it — is true, then maybe wokeness and cancel culture are real problems.

  9. says

    @#8, consciousness razor:

    There’s a big divide between historical liberal economic views and non-economic ones. Most historical “classical” liberals were agreed that there were definite good policy goals which people should push towards, usually things which most left-leaning people would still agree with, and then went off the rails as soon as money got involved. The historical liberal economic view is that a free market will, left to itself, cure all of society’s ills — laissez-faire capitalism, austerity, and budget hawkery are all “liberal” ideas to begin with, even though we now associate them more with the likes of Ronald Reagan or Barack “GWB’s Third And Fourth Terms” Obama. Most historical liberals drew the obvious conclusion, which is that if you believe that a free market is the cure for all problems, there is a moral imperative to spread “the free market” to places where it does not exist, which means that it is okay to send the military off to invade places which won’t permit laissez-faire capitalism and force them to accept it, which is why “liberal” governments in the US have generally had terrible foreign policy.

  10. says

    Netflix has been pushing The Chair at me relentlessly, and despite liking Sandra Oh and academic-themed shows, I haven’t been interested enough even to watch the preview. Glad I didn’t bother.

    I’m reminded of an episode of You’re Wrong About that I linked to earlier this year. I believe it was this one: “Political Correctness.”

  11. consciousness razor says

    kathleenzielinski, #9:
    Art Laffer is a hack and a clown. That said, I’m pretty much okay with it, if you want to wag your finger at those students and say that they should be able to give Laffer and the audience clear reasons why he is wrong (during the Q&A, for example), rather than merely shouting at him. I still think it’s important to recognize that many other people have already done that work over many years, so there’s no real need for those students to do it all again, in that particular room on that day. Being able to provide good arguments/evidence/etc. is not a controversial standard, but it doesn’t mean they need to spend all of their time doing only that in all circumstances, because people may sometimes have other priorities. (Besides, what specifically were they shouting? For all I know, some of it might have been quite reasonable, not just a bunch of noise.)

    Anyway, that’s not like getting one of your professors fired, by taking a gesture out of context and (either maliciously or very stupidly) turning it into something that it obviously was not.

  12. kathleenzielinski says

    Consciousness Razor, no argument out of me on Laffer; I think supply side economics is basically Alice in Wonderland irrational mumbo jumbo. If it worked, we would have had a booming economy when George W. Bush left office. So thus far we agree.

    The problem with shouting him down, though, is that it allows bullying to take the place of more appropriate pedagogical methods. The students doing the shouting made the decision for everyone else in the room that they would not be allowed to hear what Laffer had to say, or do the actual work of dissecting it and showing why it’s wrong. And the actual work of dissecting it and showing why it’s wrong is what education is all about.

    And the secondary problem with it is that it plays into the conservative memes about cancel culture and wokeness. Further, imagine the results if the roles were reversed; imagine if a leftist speaker were similarly shouted down by a bunch of Republican frat dude bros. That’s just not how education is supposed to work.

  13. hillaryrettig1 says

    I didn’t think it was so bad in the way it treated the students. I thought it showed them as mostly reasonable, with just a tad of excess. Especially given that Nazism relied heavily on imagery – and that Nazis are trolls who like to “sneak in” their message – the students were 100% right to object to the salute.

    And in an age of social media, you’d have to be incredibly dumb (or drunk, I guess) to think that that’s appropriate for a professor to do in a classroom. That was a stupid plot point. Speaking of which…

    The deeply cliched “tormented white male alcoholic genius writer” was a dead spot right at the heart of the show. It was incredible that they put this cliched sexist anachronism in a show that otherwise tries to be contemporary. I imagine that at least some of the producers couldn’t conceive of a show where a white man wasn’t front and center.

  14. kathleenzielinski says

    And the students who agree with you that dissecting Laffer has already been done and doing so again would be a waste of time can simply find other things to do than go to the speech. It’s not like anyone was dragged there at gunpoint to hear him.

  15. consciousness razor says

    There’s a big divide between historical liberal economic views and non-economic ones. Most historical “classical” liberals were agreed that there were definite good policy goals which people should push towards, usually things which most left-leaning people would still agree with, and then went off the rails as soon as money got involved.

    Well, true enough…. But that just sounds like cover for not actually doing anything very significant with these “goals” of theirs, whenever it actually costs them anything (whether that’s a monetary cost or something else). I don’t see much of an actual “push” in that, only a way to make themselves feel better about themselves and the purported correctness of their views.

  16. anthrosciguy says

    One thing students are often upset by when hack rightwingers like Laffer are invited to talk is who is paying the speaker’s fee ($50,000-100,000 for Laffer). In this case I do not know, but these are often paid by the university and therefore impact students’ costs.

  17. dstatton says

    I watched two episodes go the Chair, and I have no interest in continuing. That “charismatic” professor is not charismatic at all. Experts on Chaucer and Melville are made to look like fools.

  18. says

    kathleenzielinski, #9

    Define cancel culture and how it is anything different from freedom of association and/or public shaming and/or criticism.

    Idiots shouting down speakers has happened since time immemorial-with speakers from various camps and the hecklers being from various other camps- and the pearl clutching about the closing of the American mind (to quote a famous book title more than 30 years old) especially on college campuses has been a lurid reactionary talking point for at least 70 years. It is not thing to be concerned with as a epidemic or whatever. People in their early 20’s are silly and sometimes do silly things. Such incidents like what your link talk about should not happen-but neither should oh jaywalking or shoplifting. I’m not going to be overly concerned that occasionally a few idiots out of millions of students on one of the ~4500 college campuses does something silly.

    If you crunch the numbers, as this link does, ( https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/8/3/17644180/political-correctness-free-speech-liberal-data-georgetown ) you will see there are not a lot of these incidents and moreover, liberal/lefty speakers are-on the whole-are hit more often.

    “cancel culture” like virtually everything else the right talks about is-at this point of time-deeply rooted in lurid reactionary myths and/or trolling. The right were mad that Milo Yiannopoulos met with push back on his racist nonsense until they “cancelled” (whatever that means, I literally do not know) him when his seemingly pro-child sexual abuse comments came to light.

  19. consciousness razor says

    kathleenzielinski, #13, 15:

    Consciousness Razor, no argument out of me on Laffer; I think supply side economics is basically Alice in Wonderland irrational mumbo jumbo. If it worked, we would have had a booming economy when George W. Bush left office. So thus far we agree.

    Then we agree that there was nothing valuable for the students to learn from him.

    The problem with shouting him down, though, is that it allows bullying to take the place of more appropriate pedagogical methods.

    Art Laffer wasn’t a student there, and their job wasn’t to engage in any pedagogy, so that his life may somehow be enriched by the experience. He’s supposed to be the one teaching them something, but as we’ve agreed, he had nothing of that kind to offer. In other words, what people in that university would get from him is a sham “education,” a mockery of the real thing. There is certainly something inappropriate about that, no? Doesn’t he have any responsibilities here that are worth mentioning? Doesn’t the university? Why is the burden being placed on the students, to be his teachers, and very definitely not on anyone else?

    And the secondary problem with it is that it plays into the conservative memes about cancel culture and wokeness.

    I just don’t care what might play into conservative memes. Even if it weren’t the case that practically everything could qualify, meaning we could do practically nothing, I still don’t get why that should be such an important consideration.

    Further, imagine the results if the roles were reversed; imagine if a leftist speaker were similarly shouted down by a bunch of Republican frat dude bros. That’s just not how education is supposed to work.

    I agreed with you that you can wag your finger at them, if it makes you feel better. I still don’t think the students are teachers. They are not the ones whose job it is to provide education to others, so I don’t get how that argument is supposed to get off of the ground.

    (As an aside, there are plenty of Democratic frat dude bros too, and I don’t really know what that has to do with it…. Not sure what kind of picture that’s supposed to be painting, but it seems pretty distorted to me.)

    And the students who agree with you that dissecting Laffer has already been done and doing so again would be a waste of time can simply find other things to do than go to the speech. It’s not like anyone was dragged there at gunpoint to hear him.

    Of course they can do other things. But if you’re saying that they have no right to protest his destructive asshattery at an institution of higher education which should have much higher standards, then we definitely have a disagreement about that. Can you at least imagine that they might have a legitimate interest in doing that sort of thing, instead of attempting to teach a hopeless idiot like Art Laffer stuff about economics?

    Meanwhile, Art Laffer could also be doing other things with his life. Nobody dragged him there at gunpoint and forced him to be a bullshitter. What do we say about that, if anything?

  20. says

    Milo Yiannopoulos is a troll and he intentionally provoked lefty college students to have him get disinvited; we can debate whether or not the students should have taken the bait (they should not have) but I’m not interested in having that conversation if my interlocutor does not see the bad faith of such speakers as Milo “feminism is a cancer” Yiannopoulos. The ideal free speech, open forum in college settings is the exchange of ideas and arguments-Milo Yiannopoulos flinging insults left and right are not ideas or arguments . He is like a quarter of the conservative incidents my link talks about.

  21. kathleenzielinski says

    Consciousness Razor, you are completely mistaken that just because someone is wrong there is nothing to be learned from them. If you’ve taken a course in basic logic, you understand that teaching logical fallacies is an important part of it. Often, showing someone how not to do something is an important part of the curriculum.

    But my fundamental objection continues to be that the people who shouted him down made a choice for everybody else in the room what they can hear and which arguments they can be presented with. That’s not their right. I have the right to decide for myself, as do you, who you are going to hear from, and whose opinions will inform yours. So, next time, it will be a leftist speaker who gets shouted down by the right, because the right now feels tit for tat, what’s good for one is good for the other.

    Think of it this way: Suppose a dozen open racists showed up here en masse to make hundreds of comments promoting racism. So PZ bans them, and they come back with different sock puppet accounts, and do the same thing. Over and over again. So that no one can hear anything else because of all the noise they’re making. Other than that you disagree with their views, I do not in principle see anything different between that and what happened to Laffer. In both cases you’ve got people who’ve decided to shut down a forum that they don’t like.

    Sure, protest Laffer, but let those who want to hear him have the opportunity.

  22. says

    I know Marty and his wife Deb. Both are great people. Marty is a writer and photographer and has traveled the world capturing wildlife and landscapes with breath-taking beauty. Marty is no shrinking violet when it comes out to calling out folks who have passed their shelf-life date like Bill Maher. You would not make a mistake by reading more of Marty’s work.

  23. hemidactylus says

    As an aside on absurdism and fascism, Camus was in the Resistance sure. And when I think of absurdism I think of him.

    Nonetheless, a podcaster I often listen to started going on about Emil Cioran. I was all like…pessimism, absurdism…where has this guy been all my life. Before getting any books I did a wikilook and:

    “While in Berlin, he became interested in the policies of the Nazi regime, contributed a column to Vremea dealing with the topic (in which Cioran confessed that “there is no present-day politician that I see as more sympathetic and admirable than Hitler”,[7] while expressing his approval for the Night of the Long Knives—”what has humanity lost if the lives of a few imbeciles were taken”),[8] and, in a letter written to Petru Comarnescu, described himself as “a Hitlerist”.[9] He held similar views about Italian fascism, welcoming victories in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, arguing that: “Fascism is a shock, without which Italy is a compromise comparable to today’s Romania”.[10]… Although Cioran was never a member of the group, it was during this time in Romania that he began taking an interest in the ideas put forth by the Iron Guard—a far right organization whose nationalist ideology he supported until the early years of World War II, despite allegedly disapproving of their violent methods. Cioran would later denounce fascism, describing it in 1970 as “the worst folly of my youth. If I am cured of one sickness, it is surely that one.”[13]”

    Don’t think Camus had those types of skeletons. I’ll pass on Cioran, absurdist or not.

  24. anthrosciguy says

    Except that Laffer is the “dozen open racists” in this example. And he’s getting paid an enormous fee to speak there, a fee that comes from somewhere. He is also not someone who presents decent alternative, or even potentially good Econ. His stuff has been proven to be wrong.

  25. anthrosciguy says

    And let those who do wish to hear him pay his fee. For that matter, why should his disproven bs get the benefit of association with the university (which necessarily hurts the university’s rep) instead of hiring a hall somewhere, again, with the money from those who do want to hear him spout his disproven bullshit.

  26. kathleenzielinski says

    anthrosciguy, my point is that it’s just as wrong for one side to shut down forums they disapprove of as it is for the other. It would be wrong for a dozen open racists to show up here, and it was wrong for a bunch of bullies and thugs to shut down discussion of Laffer. No one has the right to decide for anyone else which viewpoints they get to hear, and if you find someone’s views offensive, don’t listen to them.

  27. says

    @22 et al kathleenzielinski

    Are you sure you’re on the right blog? Last time I saw you here you were promoting TERF ideas and other conservative gender nonsense with the same hand-wringing “we must not go too far” rhetoric. Now you’re doing the same thing about another one of the right wing’s favorite bullshit sob stories.

    I am in deadly earnest when I ask: are you just an agitator, here to try to insinuate regressive talking points into the conversation? You don’t ever seem to say anything else.

  28. consciousness razor says

    Consciousness Razor, you are completely mistaken that just because someone is wrong there is nothing to be learned from them. If you’ve taken a course in basic logic, you understand that teaching logical fallacies is an important part of it. Often, showing someone how not to do something is an important part of the curriculum.

    I’ve taken a logic course, but it did not resemble a speech from Art Laffer. I doubt it was an outlier in that respect.

    You are sorely mistaken if you honestly think he is trying to set an example by showing others what not to do. I’m almost as certain as I can be that you don’t honestly believe that, because you are just fallaciously using it in this argument. Why you think anybody would ever buy it, I have no idea.

    But my fundamental objection continues to be that the people who shouted him down made a choice for everybody else in the room what they can hear and which arguments they can be presented with. That’s not their right. I have the right to decide for myself, as do you, who you are going to hear from, and whose opinions will inform yours.

    No, it certainly is their right to express themselves, to assemble, to protest, and so forth.

    And in fact you can still decide whose “opinions” you want to hear. You still have all sorts of choices like that.

    And it’s pretty weird for you to think this is about individuals having totally undisrupted and unfettered access to various “opinions,” no matter how destructive and just plain wrong they are, given that this started out with a lot of educational values regarding what’s actually true about the world or what’s good or what’s conducive to a productive learning environment. If there is no real educational value in what a prospective speaker has to say, a university has no good reason to invite them and pretend like that’s not the case. Because it isn’t just any old venue with a stage. It’s a university. If Art Laffer were doing a stand-up comedy routine, and people wanted to hear his opinions there, they could go to a comedy club which is willing to host him.

    Why should the students have to accept that their university is legitimizing that crap? Why should there be no standards like that? Didn’t we start with some standards like that, but now they’ve been quietly tossed aside when a different argument had to be made?

    So, next time, it will be a leftist speaker who gets shouted down by the right, because the right now feels tit for tat, what’s good for one is good for the other.

    They have always done that anyway. You’re telling a story here that has little or no connection with the real world.

  29. kathleenzielinski says

    abbeycadabra, I lurk here far more than I post. I am more to the left than to the right, but perhaps not as far left as others here. In other words, I’m more of a friend than a foe, which is not the same thing as saying that I always agree with where some on the left end up.

    Agitator? No, I see myself in the role of urging the left not to go off the rails, and there are specific issues on which I believe the left has done that. But just because someone tells you something you don’t want to hear doesn’t make them your enemy. Sometimes it means you mostly share the same goals and someone is urging you not to shoot yourself in the foot.

    And this is a good example. Like it or not, American politics is decided by the middle. Shouting down Laffer, while it may be emotionally satisfying, is a massive public relations debacle. It makes the left look like authoritarian thugs. It ultimately accomplishes little. And it gives our enemies a public relations coup: Oh see how the intolerant left promotes censorship.

    Since you raise trans issues — which I had decided not to comment on again here — the problem is that the bar for calling someone a transphobe has been set so incredibly low, that essentially anyone who disagrees in any way with anything is a terrible transphobe. So, we now have all these bathroom bills passing across the country. You’ve completely lost the middle, and it’s not because they’re transphobic.

    Am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth? No. I don’t want you driving us over a cliff.

  30. says

    “(J)ust the fact that he still has Andrew Fucking Sullivan on as a guest all the time should be clues that Maher is a tired old bore.”

    Corollary, the fact that Sullivan is on Maher so frequently speaks to how much he’s trying desperately to hold onto a semblance of relevance, and, likely, as to how many people are politely shooing him off rather than give him their own airtime.

  31. unclefrogy says

    And this is a good example. Like it or not, American politics is decided by the middle. Shouting down Laffer, while it may be emotionally satisfying, is a massive public relations debacle. It makes the left look like authoritarian thugs. It ultimately accomplishes little. And it gives our enemies a public relations coup: Oh see how the intolerant left promotes censorship.

    I am not sure what you have been seeing but what passes for the right-wing as illustrated in the post just makes it up anyway. All of their arguments have shifted from reason and principles to cartoonish exaggeration and distortion with the “occasional” outright lies.
    They have shown no interest in those lofty democratic ideals seem to be holding in such high regards.
    Is rejecting nazism without any argument at this time cancel culture?

  32. consciousness razor says

    kathleenzielinski:

    Like it or not, American politics is decided by the middle.

    I’m sure you would like it that way, having positioned yourself in “the middle.” Very self-serving.

    But how do you think you know this? Because I’m pretty sure it’s decided by the wealthy, and they really don’t mind at all if you somehow came to think that you’re in control of anything.

    Shouting down Laffer, while it may be emotionally satisfying, is a massive public relations debacle.

    To you (maybe, if you’re not just a concern troll). I will bet real money that very few living, breathing humans actually give a shit about some obscure incident at SUNY Binghamton involving that clown. For most, it’s definitely not as big of a deal as the absurdly unjust system that people like him helped to create.

    And it gives our enemies a public relations coup: Oh see how the intolerant left promotes censorship.

    And then they point at this thing which isn’t censorship? I”ll grant that this tactic might actually confuse some people like you…. But on the other hand, it’s not obvious what sorts of things we could do which wouldn’t be subject to problems like that. Could you maybe just try to be a little less confused about shit?

  33. Akira MacKenzie says

    Bill Maher is what he has always been: A spoiled, selfish Boomer brat who came of age during the sexual/chemical hedonism of the 70s and 80s and chaffs that anyone or anything who might stand in the way of his excesses. He’s not an “atheist” out of any genuine philosophical consideration of the question “Does a god exist.” No, he’s more than willing to play into evangelist’s stereotype of a Bacchanalian non-believer who dismisses religion because its rules would interfere in his fun. He’s a “libertarian” in the sense that he doesn’t like “anyone” to tell him (and him alone) what to do, regardless of how legally and morally justified those authority figures are. He doesn’t’ like those doctor’s telling him whatever illicite pharmacutcals he indulges in might harm him, so why should he listen to them about vaccines and even the germ theory of disease. The wanna-be porn starlet he met and screwed at a party last week told him that pot-and-acai-berry smoothies will protect against COVID, cancer, and chlamydia, so that’s good enough for him.

    Bill Maher is for himself and himself alone. That’s all you need to know and why you should ignore him.

  34. beholder says

    Has become? It’s been ground zero for the worst liberal takes for what seems like ages.

    Maher discovered which audience gives him more attention, and therefore more money. It’s a pretty sweet gig if you’re shameless about pandering to the grievance-of-the-moment with the fragile-ego demographic.

    @22 kathleenzielinski

    Think of it this way: Suppose a dozen open racists showed up here en masse to make hundreds of comments promoting racism. So PZ bans them, and they come back with different sock puppet accounts, and do the same thing. Over and over again. So that no one can hear anything else because of all the noise they’re making.

    What a suspiciously specific hypothetical. Suppose they spend the rest of their days tone-trolling threads like these, so everyone else wastes time arguing with their silly points. Surely, this is a theoretical circumstance.

  35. KG says

    In other words, I’m more of a friend than a foe – kathleenzielinski@31

    That’s really not for you to say. As for me, and I don’t think I’m by any means alone in this, you’re just a tedious, pompous, self-important pain in the arse, constantly spouting bothsiderist crap.

  36. kathleenzielinski says

    KG, the fact that “both sides” is frequently wrong doesn’t mean it’s always wrong. Sometimes there really is some validity to it.

    Consciousness Razor, I’m not in the middle. Not even close. But the suburban voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida who actually decide presidential elections sure as hell are.

  37. birgerjohansson says

    So Netflix is going down the same route as the low-budget Christian films with plots that involve colleges and universities? I nominate Kevin Sorbo for a role in Chair.
    (Add strawman atheist professor that is secretly working for the ‘globalist’ conspiracy but is thwarted by Chuck Norris and you are attracting another viewer demographic. Remember: the bad elite guys shall have Jewish names)

  38. says

    Suppose a dozen open racists showed up here en masse to make hundreds of comments promoting racism. So PZ bans them, and they come back with different sock puppet accounts, and do the same thing. Over and over again. So that no one can hear anything else because of all the noise they’re making.

    Are you new here? Been there, done that. We’ve been invaded by creationists and misogynists and all kinds of nasty creeps. I ban them. They make new sock puppets. I ban them some more. I’ve got the advantage in that it takes about two clicks to get rid of the idjits.
    Eventually they get bored/frustrated, and because I make the deletions public, they get to face nonstop mockery and contempt when they try to come back.
    I’ve got a couple of trolls in the wings right now who keep trying to get comments through, but my blocklist is sufficiently thorough that they can’t, and it just means I can occasionally browse the spam queue and chortle.

  39. says

    It has some entertaining performances and a good cast, but it’s such a mess of a story it never gels in a memorable way.

    Big hint: the creator of the series is Amanda Peet, David Benioff’s wife, and Benioff is a producer. That asshole is responsible for the chaotic mess of the final season of Game of Thrones, and this show is about as sensibly organized as that rushed season of GoT. It might have been more badly entertaining if a dragon had shown up to burn the college down.

  40. says

    So, next time, it will be a leftist speaker who gets shouted down by the right, because the right now feels tit for tat, what’s good for one is good for the other.

    Still laughing at this.

  41. birgerjohansson says

    The series needs to properly ‘jump the shark’ to get a bigger audience.
    All black students will be into hiphop. The born-again students are harassed by Finkelstein the biology professor.
    During Christmas, ‘happy holidays ‘ is the only permitted holiday greeting.
    Some goth kids are getting alarmingly weird after starting with ouija boards, the gateway drug to Satanism.

  42. consciousness razor says

    kathleenzielinski, #38:

    I’m not in the middle. Not even close.

    You were explicitly saying that you are between the right and the left.

    And you’ve been urging moderation to the left. That is what you see yourself as doing here, so you said.

    But the suburban voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida who actually decide presidential elections sure as hell are.

    Is that where all of the wealthy people are? You learn something new every day, I guess.

    Can I ask you something? Are you ready to do some more punditry for us? These “suburban voters” you speak of … clearly, you have some deep knowledge of the inner workings of their minds. Would you explain why they care so much about something that happened nearly two years ago? I don’t even remember hearing about it at the time, and I was bored with it after five minutes earlier today. So, what gets them so riled up about it?

  43. brucegee1962 says

    kathleenzielinski, just wanted to come out of lurkage to agree with you completely. Like you, I know plenty of right wingers who think I’m a raging, flaming lib, and I think “If you saw of the folks in the FtB comments yanking at the Overton window, you’d see that I barely make it past the center line.”
    If you don’t like a speaker, you can campaign against their invitation and speakers’ fees if you want. Carry signs outside their venue. Hand out leaflets — go to town. But drowning out their ability to speak is unacceptable — not least, as you say, because it sends the message that we don’t have any actual arguments left, so we have to resort to thuggishness. If both sides stop speaking and resort to yelling, then fists are next, then guns, and guess which side has the most of those?
    As for CR and the rest of the mob here — once again they attack centrists, then wonder why the center-left is slow to embrace their favored candidates and why half-sane politicians keep losing due to low turnout.

  44. kathleenzielinski says

    CR, what I actually said is that I’m more to the left than to the right, though not as far to the left as some here. You then interpreted that to mean I’m in the middle, and I’ve noticed you’re very free with interpreting what other people say, usually to mean things they never said at all. If you honestly think “more to the left than to the right, but not as far to the left as some here” means middle, then I can’t help you. And if you know better than to honestly think that but you said it anyway, then that’s a you issue.

    And whatever strings big money may pull from behind the scenes, they still have to get their candidates past the voters. Thanks to the electoral college, presidential elections are generally decided by suburban voters in the three states I mentioned, which is why nobody bothers to campaign in California or Texas.

    People may not remember any specific incident, but they do get swept up in memes, and the idea that the thuggish left censors and cancels people with dissenting views is a pretty popular meme right now, thanks to all the feeder streams that keep it alive, such as what happened with Dr. Laffer at SUNY. No, people may not recall that specific event, but after they’ve seen and heard enough of them, the meme sticks. You may not recall, chapter and verse, every idiotic thing Trump said while he was president, but you’re well aware that he said lots of idiotic things. This meme works that way too.

    And at the end of the day, politics is 90% public relations. You may not like it; I don’t either. I’m opposed to shutting down Laffer, partly because I do think it’s important to hear all viewpoints, but also because it’s bad public relations. You’ve already said you don’t care. Fine, but that attitude helps elect Republicans.

  45. says

    @47 brucegee1962

    “If both sides stop speaking and resort to yelling, then fists are next, then guns, and guess which side has the most of those?”

    Any leftist, liberal living in America who hasn’t taken prudent steps-up to and including buying a gun- to defend their lives by force is a fool. Perhaps the American “left” should not unilaterally disarm?

    And as a more general comment, memes are not facts. They are propaganda. Trumpists have convinced people that there was massive voting fraud when there is none and have turned a semi-obscure academic lens (critical race theory) into a boogeyman with little connection to reality in seemingly days. This talking point of the intolerant left is decades ago. So yeah no the incident with Laffer is immaterial-the right would be bleating about “cancel culture: with or without the incident.

  46. flange says

    I agree entirely with PZ and revmatty. I too wanted to like anything with Sandra Oh in it. The three old, has-been professors were a tired cliche from the 70s. Rather than protest a prof giving the Nazi salute as an illustration, I think college students would laugh, cheer him, think about it, and discuss it. Their Republican parents would of course be outraged.
    Bill Maher calls himself an “Independent”, or Libertarian”— someone who’s a Conservative or Republican, but can’t quite buy into the most reactionary Republican bits. He doesn’t really care about American eating habits— He’s just a fat-shamer.
    Bill Maher fits my definition of “Conservative.” It’s not about economic or any other policy. In essence, Conservatives just don’t give a shit about people, other than themselves, family, or friends.

  47. consciousness razor says

    brucegee1962:

    As for CR and the rest of the mob here — once again they attack centrists, then wonder why the center-left is slow to embrace their favored candidates and why half-sane politicians keep losing due to low turnout.

    No, I don’t have to wonder about that at all. That shit continues to not surprise me.

    kathleenzielinski:

    If you honestly think “more to the left than to the right, but not as far to the left as some here” means middle, then I can’t help you.

    I’ll help you instead. Draw a picture of that and then explain why the word “middle” can’t be used correctly as a description of the position relative to those other points. (Because there is no absolute middle at some mythical origin point, so a relative meaning is your only real option here.)

  48. John Morales says

    Heh. Left, Right. Very binary, that. Lots of shoehorning needed.

    (Perhaps there are more axes?)

  49. bcw bcw says

    I was thinking a better storyline for “the Chair” would have been to probe the backstory of Clint Eastwood’s Republican Convention speech.

  50. consciousness razor says

    John Morales:

    (Perhaps there are more axes?)

    Sure, plenty of dimensions to talk about, at least in theory. However, pro-capitalism or anti-capitalism tends to be extremely useful as an indicator of how someone probably thinks about the rest.

    In this case, the idea that college students have the right to protest (in the US, protected by our 1st amendment) is prima facie neither. And it’s not extreme or radical in any meaningful sense — hardly something for “centrists” to be frothing about for years on end. But when the protest is directed at somebody like Laffer, all of that just sort of melts away. Very often, it all still boils down to how much the person thinks we should cater to the wealthy.

  51. unclefrogy says

    But when the protest is directed at somebody like Laffer, all of that just sort of melts away. Very often, it all still boils down to how much the person thinks we should cater to the wealthy.

    needs to be repeated

  52. John Morales says

    cr:

    Sure, plenty of dimensions to talk about, at least in theory. However, pro-capitalism or anti-capitalism tends to be extremely useful as an indicator of how someone probably thinks about the rest.

    In this case, the idea that college students have the right to protest (in the US, protected by our 1st amendment) is prima facie neither.

    Duh. That’s more on the authoritarianism axis, the attitude to which is no less informative than the attitude to your supposed capitalist axis.

    Point being, left-right is too simplistic a basis upon which to opine, nevermind forge policy.

    (Then, there’s tribalism)

  53. John Morales says

    [meta]

    FWIW, in my estimation, the likelihood is that what kathleenzielinski is doing basically concern trolling. But then, that’s hard to distinguish from naive well-meaning foolishness, so I might well be wrong.

  54. kathleenzielinski says

    “I’ll help you instead. Draw a picture of that and then explain why the word “middle” can’t be used correctly as a description of the position relative to those other points. (Because there is no absolute middle at some mythical origin point, so a relative meaning is your only real option here.) ”

    OK, now you’re just being disingenuous. There may indeed be a mid point between the racist who thinks all blacks should be lynched and the racist who merely thinks they should all be sent back to Africa, but I very much doubt anyone would claim that mid point can fairly be called “the middle” if we’re discussing racial attitudes generally. You don’t put both of your comparison points at the far end of the graph and then expect anyone to buy that the point between them is the middle. Otherwise, you, too, can be “the middle” depending on where we put our reference points. For that matter, you too can be the far right depending on where we put our reference points.

  55. KG says

    People may not remember any specific incident, but they do get swept up in memes, and the idea that the thuggish left censors and cancels people with dissenting views is a pretty popular meme right now, thanks to all the feeder streams that keep it alive, such as what happened with Dr. Laffer at SUNY. People may not remember any specific incident, but they do get swept up in memes – kathleenzielinski@48

    Can you really be stupid enough to believe that the “memes” Fox and other Trumpist liars spew are in any way dependent on actual events? I ask purely out of idle curiosity.

  56. hemidactylus says

    As “pied noir” Camus may stand in a rather difficult position per the Algerian resistance, from a post-colonial framing. That’s my hot take based on bits and pieces poorly gleaned here and there. The shooting of the nameless Arab in The Stranger is troublesome.

    Per whatever that teacher represents, I dunno, bogey “cultural Marxism” cannibalistically consuming itself? Pomo and critical theory have been taking potshots so maybe an ironic lampoon appealing to dimwits (eg- people who take Maher or Sullivan seriously).

  57. kathleenzielinski says

    KG, no, I don’t believe Fox and the Trumpists, but there are plenty of people who do, so the less ammunition given to them, the better. I’m talking about how people actually do act, and not what they would do if they were actually rational.

    I’m a trial lawyer, and it’s the same reason I wear a suit to court instead of showing up in my underwear. My arguments would be just as good, but they wouldn’t be taken seriously, because the judge and jury wouldn’t get past the fact that I’d shown up in my underwear. Like it or not, impressions matter.

  58. Rich Woods says

    I enjoyed The Chair. I thought it was taking the mickey out of pretty much everyone short of Sandra Oh’s character, who was stuck in the middle trying to cope with the mess without abandoning her principles.

  59. forensical says

    The “Heil Hitler” storyline sounds similar to the recent story of USC business school professor Greg Patton who was teaching a course on public speaking and used the Chinese word “nèige” (which means “that”) as an example of a filler word, and getting complaints and calls to be fired over it because it sounds too close to the n-word.

    https://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/usc-professor-slur/

  60. unclefrogy says

    @62
    OK I see that you are sincere and not just talking shit. it is hard to tell sometimes on the internet. The problem or the difference is we are not in a court room nor in a debating hall this is in the street in the public square the court of public opinion if you will. The opposition is not playing by any rules except winner take all and has not shied away from cheating and lying any chance they get. While I think we should stay close to principles I do not think we need to be so strict and “proper” in our response all the time and a little “rudeness” is appropriate some times when facing people like Jim Jordan or Lafer

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