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.