Bill Maher Reckoned With Generational Differences on a New “Real Time”

His interview with author Jean M. Twenge went to some surprising places

February 17, 2024 2:08 am
Bill Maher
The latest "Real Time With Bill Maher" explored generational shifts.

Watch enough Real Time With Bill Maher and you’ll begin to notice one of the show’s recurring motifs: Maher criticizing the youth of America. Whether it’s for their approach to politics or their penchant for technology, Maher’s often found a way to make plenty of segments about Millennials and Gen Z. 

So when Jean M. Twenge, author of Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents — And What They Mean for America’s Future, appeared on this week’s episode, it felt like an example of turning into the skid. Their conversation didn’t find Maher pulling an about-face on his previous stances, but it did feature the rare occasion of him being genuinely surprised.

It didn’t hurt that Twenge was aware of her own generational positioning, pointing to Gen X and declaring, “We’re the middle child of generations. We like it that way.”

She went on to argue that technology, rather than historical events, are responsible for the differences between generations. That doesn’t just apply to computers and smartphones; as she explained, every generation has differed from its predecessor in part due to technological advances. She and Maher discussed “the slow life strategy” — essentially, that one effect of people having longer lifespans means that certain milestones in life are simply happening later.

Maher noted that the rise of television may have kicked off the decline in reading books. Twenge agreed, saying that, over time, “the trend lines on this are really straight down.” 

Maher was surprised at some of Twenge’s findings, including data that reveals that Millennials are better off financially than he’d believed. “I did a thousand jokes about them living in their basement,” Maher said. Twenge pointed out that Millennials are doing better financially, but that that applies primarily to those members of the generation with college degrees.

It all ended with a bit of media critique, with Twenge observing that “social media and online news pulls for negativity.” It was an unexpected note of optimism in an episode that covered a lot of terrain.

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Some other notable moments from the episode:

  • Maher’s opening monologue took a dig at Joe Biden’s recent foray into TikTok by…making a joke about the Tide Pod Challenge. Later in the same segment, a bit about Presidents Day mattress sales ended with a punchline about Johnny Depp. Not exactly the timeliest of references, in either instance.
  • To be fair to Maher and his writing staff, though, this week’s news — which included both a mass shooting at the Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade and the death of Putin critic Alexei Navalny — was especially grim.
  • The aforementioned mass shooting also came up during the panel discussion, where Maher’s guests were Van Jones and Ann Coulter. Maher asked the two to keep things civil at the start of the segment, and they mostly did — though some of Jones’s reactions to Coulter’s commentary were reaction gifs waiting to happen.
  • At one point, Coulter referred to police unions as “very liberal,” which was the kind of moment that makes me wish this show had a real-time fact-checker. 
  • Jones on immigration: “Every immigrant I know works harder than I do, and I work pretty goddamn hard.”
  • Maher, bringing the panel to a close: “Let’s all end on a cordial note. We all, at this table, hate Trump.”
  • New Rules found Maher critiquing hyperbolic partisan takes — pointing especially to Republicans criticizing the state of the country under the Biden presidency. “We have numbers for this stuff!” an exasperated Maher said.
  • Real Time is off next week and returns on March 1.

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