As a passionate proponent of free speech and the free exchange of ideas, I have a great amount of respect for Bill Maher. He consistently draws the ire of left-wing critics because he dares to provide a platform to conservative thinkers like Ann Coulter despite the disapproval of many of his own fans.
I appreciate the value of disagreement. Without disagreement, there can be no debate. And without debate, there can be no progress. Maher understands that, which is why I like him. Unfortunately, though, even the people we like say stupid things from time to time. And as he’s kindly reminded us twice in the past three months, Mr. Maher is no exception.
It all started with a blog post he published last November after the passing of the iconic Stan Lee. In the post, he belittles adults who regard comic books as “sophisticated literature” and laments how “twenty years or so ago, something happened — adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff.” This past Friday, he again took aim at the geek community by expressing his “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.”
As he made clear in that November post, Maher’s argument hinges on the assumption that comic books are strictly for kids. And while that may have been true at one point in time, it obviously isn’t true anymore. Maher forgets that it isn’t just people who evolve, but industries as well. That’s particularly true of artistic industries. Thirty years ago, when video game culture was in its infancy, parents who wanted to sneak in a round of Duck Hunt had to wait until the middle of the night when the neighborhood was fast asleep and there was zero chance of getting caught in the act. Nowadays, we’ve got 82-year-old grandmothers livestreaming Skyrim on YouTube. Oh, how the times have changed!
It’s not just the video game and comic book industries that have evolved and matured over time; it’s also our understanding of adulthood. The rise of geek culture has sparked something of a rebellion in mainstream American culture, a rebellion that’s unfolding at comic book, fantasy, and science-fiction conventions all around the country. It is at these conventions where adult human beings with adult jobs, adult responsibilities, and adult personalities are coming together to shamelessly celebrate the stories, characters, and artistry that inspired them in their youth and continue to do so today. Maher’s disapproval notwithstanding, adulthood and geekhood are no longer mutually exclusive; the former has evolved to include the latter.
The irony of Maher’s inability to acknowledge that evolution isn’t lost on those of us who have been watching him for a long time. When social conservatives tether themselves to the “good old days,” standing in steadfast defiance of society’s evolving attitudes on everything from gay marriage to marijuana, liberal critics like Maher transform that stubbornness into the punch line of a joke. But Maher’s apparent contempt for adults who dare to enjoy a form of art that was once considered the exclusive domain of children reminds us that even open-minded liberals are susceptible to the get-off-my-lawn traditionalism that they themselves are so frequently eager to ridicule and criticize.
The most amusing aspect of all this is that society’s standards for what constitutes legitimate art have always been just as arbitrary and pretentious as Maher’s characterization of adult comic book fans. Remember T.J. Khayatan and Kevin Nguyen? They’re the two teenagers who in 2016 made countless attendees at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art look downright foolish. During their visit to the museum, T.J. and Kevin came up with a clever prank; they took Kevin’s glasses and placed them on the floor in their own separate space to see whether people would treat them like a genuine exhibit. And it worked like a charm. A number of spectators stopped to admire the glasses, and a handful even took the time to snap some pictures. The teens tweeted about their ingenious experiment, and the story went viral shortly thereafter.
Now call me crazy, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that my 1989 debut issue of the Dino-Riders comic book series is infinitely more valuable — not just monetarily, but also artistically — than a pair of rimless glasses sitting on a museum floor. Then again, what do I know? I’m just a guy who enjoys a good story regardless of the medium through which it’s told, not some crabby talk show host clinging desperately to an archaic conception of adulthood that has long been destined for the dustbin of history.
P.S. I still like ya, Bill! You’re just wrong on this one, and that’s okay!