TV | November 13, 2021 1:40 pm

Bill Maher Ponders the Metaverse on a New “Real Time”

Plus discussions of political polarization and supply chain issues

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the November 12 episode of "Real Time."

“Where does the time go? I’m already watching all the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel!” So said Bill Maher to kick off the latest episode of Real Time With Bill Maher — an episode that, as he pointed out, was the penultimate one of the current season. “Is that believable?” he added — and went on to ponder the plausibility of “this white, rural American town where nobody wears a Trump hat” where so many of the channel’s original productions seem to be set. 

Maher’s opening monologue painted a grim picture of a nation beset by supply chain issues and economic concerns. “Either what you want isn’t there — or if it is, you can’t afford it,” he said. “It’s like I’m doing all my shopping at the airport.”

The mood summoned was, in a word, bleak. Maher noted that Republicans who voted for the recent infrastructure bill were facing death threats, and pointed out that COVID-19 has recent spread to the deer population — where it’s possible it might mutate again. “Everything’s scary,” Maher said. “Unless you’re a deer. If you’re a deer, this is a great story — ‘Remember that year when we thinned their herd?’”

Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary was the first guest of the night — and his introduction segued into Maher’s bafflement that he had brought his phone on stage with him. “I’m a real foodie now,” O’Leary explained, “and I’ve taken to monitoring my blood glucose.” 

“For the next ten minutes?” Maher replied.

Maher went on to bring up the subject of the economy in light of O’Leary’s wealth, and asked him if wealthy people really knew more about the economy. O’Leary’s response was a decisive “No.” He went on to argue that most absurdly wealthy people were very knowledgeable in one area and utilized that to make a fortune. 

Their conversation covered a lot of ground, from remote work to supply chain issues. And while Maher noted that he’s a firm believer in capitalism (as is O’Leary), he also expressed some alarm at the wealth of some of the world’s richest people. (Elon Musk’s name came up.) Things got contentious here, with O’Leary arguing that English colonists had come to North America due to concerns over taxation — and Maher disputing his account of events, and taking a more philosophical stance on wealth and taxes.

From there, Maher relocated to the table where the night’s panel had gathered — here composed of Representative Adam Schiff (author of Midnight in Washington) and radio host Tavis Smiley. Earlier on Friday, Steve Bannon had been indicted for contempt of Congress — a piece of news the studio audience greeted with intense applause. Schiff described this indictment as “an early test of how our democracy is recovering” — and evidence that “no one is above the law.” 

Maher then asked Schiff if the January 6 Commission would be subpoenaing Donald Trump. Schiff’s response? They hadn’t decided yet. “I’m not the chair of the committee and I’m not going to make that decision,” he added.

Smiley concurred with both men, but also added a critique of white privilege into the mix, arguing (persuasively) that it helped explain why Bannon had been able to ignore the commission’s subpoena for so long. He went on to make a case for the Justice Department to act quickly — something Schiff agreed with. And Maher went on to make a sobering comment — pointing out that the process now was important to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

From there, the subject turned to the 2022 elections, and whether or not historical trends forecasting Democratic losses would play out. Maher argued that this was likely; Schiff was more optimistic about his party’s chances in the midterm elections, and made a solid argument for why the 2010 midterms were not an apt comparison. And Smiley made an impassioned argument against voter suppression — and expressed his frustration that Democrats aren’t focusing more on local politics.

In the panel’s second half, Maher raised the issue of why many Republican politicians had adopted language wildly hostile to Democrats — not just characterising them as a political opposition, but regarding them as an existential threat. Schiff tied this to the rise of autocrats around the world, while Smiley concurred. “Incivility in our society is run amok,” he said, “but we’re all complicit in this.” He cited everything from the media building up Donald Trump’s public image to voters who recoil at this kind of behavior voting for the politicians who engage in it.

“Instead of paying off the national debt, let’s just put it on the cloud — and then lose the password” So said Maher in the midst of this episode’s New Rules. That was the prelude to the bulk of the segment, which found Maher wondering why so much of social media had been entrusted to “the most socially awkward creature in history” — i.e. Mark Zuckerberg.

“In the metaverse, you can tour the pyramids, or have a sword fight with a duck!” said Maher, and then paused, his expression a perfect distillation of “can you believe this?” He went on to describe his own experience with virtual reality as “like getting roofied by Walt Disney.” And he raised concerns about the rise of even more online spaces.

“We just went through a pandemic! The last thing I want is more virtual,” Maher said — and went on to cite the dangers of incels, and to speculate that more virtual reality would lead to a further concentration of that phenomenon. Is Facebook — or Meta — a fairly massive comedic target? Yes, but that doesn’t mean Maher’s critique of it felt off-base.