“You can’t be afraid to speak in America,” said host Bill Maher last night at the top of his HBO series, Real Time. He was talking about his views on one of the week’s big stories in entertainment, the Dave Chappelle controversy over language in The Closer.
But as later conversations in the show would prove, Maher was also talking about how polarization in this country’s politics and language has to end, a process that may be the only way to move forward.
Maher said he was a Chappelle fan, but added that doesn’t mean he hates trans people. His guest panelist, author and NY Times newsletter opinion writer John McWhorter, likened such polarization as akin to a religion, wherein people view things in ways that point to one absolute and final truth.
Andrew Yang, the former presidential and New York mayoral candidate, said that most people would agree on policy much more than you would imagine. But he, too, blamed language for the deep divisions in the country, as “coded” words draw a dividing line.
McWhorter concluded that Chappelle is a comedian, which means it’s sometimes nuanced and symbolic. Yet it’s presented in some quarters as “instead we’re told to read it as it’s ‘The Three Bears.’ ”
Earlier, Maher engaged with Saru Jayaraman, director of UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center and author of One Fair Wage: Ending Subminimum Pay in America. She vociferously argued for a $15 minimum wage, and blamed wages for the current reluctance of many workers to return to low-wage jobs, calling on Congress to finally do something about it.
To close, Maher reminisced about a Bosnian cab driver who told him that the ugly strife he saw in his native country is being mirrored in the US.
“When people despise each other, it doesn’t matte what the issues are,” Maher said, urging all to “take it down a notch. Is that really so hard? It’s up to all of us to deescalate.”
To make that point, Maher turned to the recent space exploration by William Shatner, which was politicized by some as another example of privilege and other ills.
“How about this,” Maher said. “Just enjoy it, that William Shatner went for a rocket ride and came back. Not everything has to be political. You want to heal America – shut the f**k up for once.”