Monday, April 21, 2008

Why I Don't Do Political Posts, Part 23

So Bill Maher called the Pope a "Nazi" on t.v. (actually, he said the Pope "used to be a Nazi") and now Fox News, among others, is calling for HBO to take him off the air (actually, if Fox News is opposed to you, you must be doing something right).

Two weeks ago, on his HBO show "Real Time," Bill Maher did a comedic commentary on the recent arrests at a polygamist compound, noting that if the police really wanted to go after a child-abuse cult, they could start with the Catholic Church - after all, their leader "used to be a Nazi and wears funny hats," cutting to a picture of Pope Benedict in, well, a funny hat. Hey, it was a joke, okay? Chill out.

But Bill apparently got a lot of angry emails over that one, so the next week, last Friday, he admitted that he erred and that the Pope, in fact, hadn't been a Nazi, but was instead was only a member of the Hitler Youth Brigade back in the 1930s. "What 13-year-old could resist the peer pressure to join the group?," Maher asked rhetorically (um, the one who would become Pope?). Actually, Maher points out, the Pope hadn't pledge loyalty to the Nazi Party but instead to Hitler himself, "which actually is kind of worse."

So now several Catholic groups and Fox News are saying that Bill's "apology" didn't go far enough, and that he should be taken off the air. His remarks have even been equated with hate speech and the moral equivalent of anti-semitism, but directed toward the Catholic Church instead of the Jews.

What, Pope Benedict hadn't been a part of the Hitler Youth Brigade? There hadn't been an epidemic of child abuse by Catholic priests, and a conspiracy to cover the scandal up? Maher pointed out that if the Pope had been the CEO of a child-care company, he would not only have been fired but also indicted, and called the Catholic Church the "Bear Sterns of child abuse."

Those protesting his comments (which, remember, were supposed to be jokes) state that Bill's "hateful" comments ignore all of the good that the Catholic Church has done over the years - the education, the charity, the health care, and so on. True, they have done these things, but always with the ulterior motive of a "mission" - "You want some food? Well here, but are you ready to accept Jesus first?"

All of this is reminiscent of the flap that ensued after the talented and passionate singer Sinead O'Connor tested the tolerance of the audience on Saturday Night Live by tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul back in 1992. She tore the photo into pieces, urged the audience to "fight the real enemy," and threw the pieces towards the camera. On live t.v., while singing Bob Marley's War, a capella. Although she had intended the act to be a protest of sexual abuse of children by the church, her career went into an immediate tailspin, from which it never fully recovered.

Bill Maher has been championing the progressive view for many years, and has had the courage to say out loud what many people think, but fear to say (before "Real Time" his previous show was aptly called "Politically Incorrect"). It would be a shame to have his voice silenced by those same forces that silenced Sinead O'Connor. Sometimes, I feel a palpable excitement in the air on Friday nights knowing that Maher is going to be on the air, live, at 11 pm, saying something both outrageous and truthful, along with guests and a panel of thoughtful, articulate persons on both sides of the political spectrum.

So is it surprising that the intolerant right wants him shut down, and are using (and inflating) his comments on the Pope to wrangle his termination from HBO? They even hinted at a boycott of the station. "HBO costs me something like an extra $15 a month on my cable bill," complained one of the on-air hosts on a Fox News talk show. "I'm not paying that to hear this kind of rubbish."

Whatever. If you don't like it, don't buy it, but don't insist that others not be able to buy it just because it's not to your liking. And I thought the right was so in favor of a free-market economy.

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