Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week, Bennett deconstructs polemicist Bill Maher’s rant on comic fans.
“Now, I have nothing against comic books — I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys,” he explained. “But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.”
Last Friday on Real Time With Bill Maher returned to the topic in the final six-minute "New Rules" segment of the program, the gist of which was Bill Maher to adult comic fans: ‘I’m not glad Stan Lee is dead, I’m sad you’re alive’. In part Maher said:
“You can, if you want, like the exact same things you liked when you were 10, but if you do, you need to grow up. That was the point of my blog. I’m not glad Stan Lee is dead, I’m sad you’re alive.”
During New Rules Maher explained his previous comments were “no way an attack on Mr. Lee but took the occasion of his death to express my dismay at people who think comic books are literature and superhero movies are great cinema and who in general are stuck in an everlasting childhood.
For those who haven’t seen it but want to, it’s available on YouTube under the title New Rule: Grow Up but I really can’t recommend you do. I’ve watched Real Time on and off for years and It was pretty much Maher’s standard schtick, a combination of cruel jokes and contemptuous rage. But I’ve got to confess I was a bit surprised by both the vehemence and volume of this particular rant. It made me think of something Spencer Tracy said in his role as John C. Macreedy in the 1955 movie Bad Day At Black Rock; “You're not only wrong - you're wrong at the top of your voice.”
Maher admitted his original comments about Lee had caused 40,000 of his Twitter followers to unfollow him to which he said, “good riddance, follow Yogi Bear.” But from the way he said it I got the impression this segment could be considered payback. Which sounds awfully petty I know, but then so is Maher. In recent years when one of his particularly brutal gags didn’t land (a stand-up comedy term for when a joke doesn’t get a laugh) he’s taken to yelling at his audience. While I don’t have Maher’s decades of experience as a professional comedian, I do know when you turn on your audience you shouldn’t be surprised if your audience turns on you.
I know the segment made a lot of people mad, but mostly it made me feel nostalgic for my youth, that bygone era when absolutely everyone knew comic books were crap meant for kids and any adults who read them were idiots. And as with so many of the other things “everyone knew” back then it was just a widely held mistaken belief. A preconceived opinion not based on facts, knowledge or actual experience; in other words, a prejudice.
Harlan Ellison used to say, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” What really bothers me about this isn’t that Maher said some derogatory things about comic books. It’s that he had the willful arrogant ignorance to judge both comic books and those who read them without knowing a damn thing about either. He may have thought, he could have felt, and I have no doubt that he believed, but he didn’t know.
For someone so adamantly anti-religion, Maher certainly seems to believe in a lot of things that can’t stand up to fact-checking. For instance, last January on an episode of Real Time, actress Zoe Deschanel was talking about how we need to do a better job of policing what goes inside our bodies. Which is when Maher interrupted, declaring, "Bread is full of mold!"* and a conversation turned into a rant about how terrible bread is and how he doesn't eat it. He made no attempt to defend his claim; he never even told us what kind of mold is theoretically in all bread. Instead, he just loudly reiterated “Bread is full of mold!”
Maher wants us to “put away childish things” (let’s take a moment to fully appreciate that the writer and star of the anti-religion documentary Religulous quoted from the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians for support) to “grow up.” Speaking for myself, I’m 59 years old and have a white beard that makes me look a little like actor Keenan Wynn during the Disney villain period of his career (for the youngs out there, he played crooked banker Alonso Hawk in the films The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber and Herbie Rides Again). This is as grown up as I’m going to get.
Maher generously allows “You can, if you want, like the exact same things you liked when you were 10”, as if we have any choice in the matter. That if we tried really, really hard we could actually stop liking what we like and being who we are, and if we could we should, because just by being here we’re ruining things for Bill Maher.
There has been no shortage of reactions from inside comics to Maher’s comments, for starters Comic Book Industry Reacts To Bill Maher’s Response To Stan Lee Backlash, Attack on Comic Book Fans. I almost elected not to give my opinion because I wondered, as I frequently do, what I could possibly add to the discussion that hasn’t already been written and written far better than I ever could. But think I finally came up with something.
* Due Disclosure compels me to reveal two online sources say Maher said “fungus,” not mold, while in a Facebook post I quoted him as having said “mold.” Unfortunately there’s no clip of this segment on YouTube to determine which one is correct. Usually I would automatically assume I was wrong, but my posts are at least more reliable than my memory. It’s gotten so bad when I want to know what I did last year I have to go check my Facebook history.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.