On the Latest “Real Time,” Bill Maher and Guests Reckoned With Masculinity
Plus a deconstruction of "Top Gun: Maverick"
Bill Maher took to the stage of Real Time in a Los Angeles where the heatwave that has affected the city showed signs of abating. It led Maher to describe the area as “Death Valley with In-N-Out Burgers.” Citing forecasts of 36 hours or rain on the horizon, Maher said, “Does anyone remember when people used to come to this state for the weather?”
It took a few minutes, but Maher eventually got around to the subject of Queen Elizabeth II’s death — which led to some rapid-fire jokes about graves at Bedminster Golf Club, inbreeding and whether or not Elton John would write a song to mark the occasion.
Wynton Marsalis was the first guest of the night — which prompted Maher to ponder the relationship between jazz and marijuana, and for Marsalis to weigh in on the benefits of legalizing weed. Though he also said that he was not a smoker himself — “I’m a brass player,” Marsalis said. And he also gently pushed back against Maher’s assertion that weed can make you more creative.
“I’m going to have to make a big reassessment of a lot of things,” Maher quipped.
The bulk of the conversation didn’t focus on music as much as it on politics, with the two sharing tour stories and discussing political polarization in the country. (Then again, Marsalis has written plenty of music that’s wrestled with American history over the years, so it’s not as though the two are very far removed for him.) Marsalis brought his thoughts on society and perception back around to music with an extended metaphor. “Jazz is about sharing space,” he said. Though he also observed, later in the discussion, that “you have to want to share space.”
Marsalis ended on a more philosophical note, talking about relying on the members of his band in areas where they have expertise rather than trying to control everything himself. It was an insightful look at his working methods now, as well as how Marsalis’s relationship to music had changed over the years.
Podcast host and Reason Editor at Large Matt Welch and professor and author Scott Galloway joined Maher for the panel. (And for Overtime, for that matter.) After an initial exchange on the Queen’s legacy, Maher turned the discussion to Joe Biden’s recent speech warning of the dangers of fascism. “Joe Biden is an old dog that can learn a new trick,” Maher said — though he also digressed briefly to opine that the expression he’d just cited didn’t make much sense.
Maher described himself as liking the fact of Biden’s speech but taking issue with the manner in which he did it. (Though he also spoke of his frustration that large networks hadn’t carried the speech.) Maher went on to argue that Biden should have criticized some on the Left in his speech. Galloway was skeptical, saying that he felt that was “a false equivalency” and speaking of the importance of “holding people accountable for their actions and their words.”
The debate remained at a fairly high level of intensity throughout — with Galloway making a particularly strong impression by clearly stating his position on certain issues and then defending it. The conversation about politics gave way to one about masculinity. Maher put forth the proposal that fantasy football was to blame for the challenges facing men in this country, while Welch argued that young men weren’t working enough.
Galloway argued that working from home hasn’t been good for the socialization of a number of young men. Maher, for his part, inveighed against smartphones — and, specifically, dating apps. “Online dating is disastrous for mating and for men,” Galloway said. “It’s terrible.” And later, he clarified that dating apps have been terrible for everyone.
Marsalis joined the panelists for a wide-ranging Overtime, which found Galloway arguing for TikTok to be banned outright in the United States and speculating that the growing popularity of socialism over capitalism is part of a concerted geopolitical effort. The segment closed out with Marsalis discussing the changing generational attitudes regarding pornography — a sentiment Maher seconded.
New Rules found Maher discussing junk mail, Harry Styles and oral sex at baseball games. The bulk of the segment used the success of Top Gun: Maverick to make two points, one more successfully than the over. The first was Maher expressing disbelief that critics who had given numerous films flak for being insufficiently “woke” had applauded a film that is, shall we say, hawkish in its worldview. Here, the argument seemed a little strained, and Maher seemed to have conflated professional critics and people being critical of films on Twitter — not necessarily the same thing.
Maher pivoted from there to a discussion of the U.S. military’s various flaws — from environmental damage to massive sums of money spent on projects that don’t work terribly well. “We conflate defense with defense contractors,” Maher said — and traced the steady growth in military spending over the years. He circled back again on the film, citing the absence of a clearly named antagonist in the film as emblematic of a larger national problem, and wondering whether restoring a sense of national unity was possible.
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