It’s been a tough week in the world, and that posed a difficult challenge for Bill Maher on his Real Time show on Friday. How do you conduct a show built on political comedy when the subject matter is so grim?
But Maher navigated the thorny issues with grace, finding the humor in throwbacks to old reliables like Kanye West and Donald Trump while keeping the focus on whatever solutions might be gleaned from his guests.
Maher made no secret of his allegiance, stating up front during his panel discussion that he believed Israel has the moral high ground in this conflict. That was challenged at times by James Kirchick, columnist for Tablet Magazine, writer-at-large for Air Mail, and author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, and particularly Matt Duss, executive vice president at the Center for International Policy and former foreign policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.
Maher was particularly agitated by the campus protests supporting the Palestinians.
“It’s amazing that the American left throws in with (Hamas),” Maher said.
Kirchick agreed. “I was a gay man who lived in Berlin. This is a level of masochism even I can’t comprehend.”
Duss countered that campus protests were not representative of the majority of leftist views. “College is where you you go to say these things,” he said. “Don’t overrepresent this as part of the American left. They are not the majority. They are not close to a majority.”
“I think we should shut down Harvard University until we figure out what’s going on,” Kirchick said in one of the best lines of the night.
“They’re not sending us their best,” Maher joked.
Earlier in the show, Maher talked with Tristan Harris, a tech ethicist, cofounder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Center for Humane Technology, and a cohost of the podcast “Your Undivided Attention.” The discussion centered on the exponential growth of artificial intelligence and the dangers it poses.
“AI is so hard to wrap our head around,” Harris admitted, saying it holds “promise and the peril” in how it is used.
Maher wondered where AI will be in five years, give its explosive growth. He also prodded Harris to tell him how it might lead to an extinction event. He never got a clear answer from Harris despite several questions, with the guest leaving it up to all to look it up on the internet.
In his “New Rules” editorial, Maher took on another troubling trend – the growing insularity of society, in which more people are staying home and relying on the internet or phones for their communication with the outside world.
The studies show the health consequences of social isolation “are staggering. It’s too easy to isolate now.” After all, Amazon delivers, there are movies streaming on TV, and “even when we do go out, the ear buds stay in.”
Technology has increased fears that the outside world is not safe. “Britney Spears can’t even dance in her own home without a couple of knives,” he joked.
Maher likened the condition to the fearful old lady in the original Twilight Zone, who stayed inside in fear of letting death into her home.
“What’s killing you may be you staying inside,” Maher said. “The strategy of social distancing and staying home to work and for school made us into different people.”
“So to quote every mother since the dawn of time – go play outside,” Maher concluded, adding that 20 years ago, “The top TV show was Friends. Today, it’s Naked and Afraid.”