Criticizing ”Politically Incorrect” is correct
One of the milder reactions I got to my recent review about the final days of Bill Maher’s ”Politically Incorrect” was: ”This Ken Tucker who wrote the column apparently has the intellect of a wood stump.” And it only got worse. ”Moron” cropped up, as did labelling me both right-wing and left-wing. Which goes to show a few things:
1. Maher attracts a broader audience than ABC may have given him credit for.
2. Calling himself a libertarian who’s culturally liberal (i.e., pro-sex, anti-censorship) and socially conservative (”I’m pro-death,” he cracks. ”I’m for anyone killing themselves [sic] any way they want — the freeway’s too crowded [as it is].”) pretty much sums up the kind of heartfelt, un-funny misanthropy that must make Maher a dull conversationalist at the Playboy mansion. Further, his longstanding hostility toward marriage suggests why he hangs out there in the first place.
3. Some readers think that any time you don’t like something they adore, your judgment is politically motivated in a direction that’s the opposite of theirs.
In the context of Entertainment Weekly, I would have thought it would have been pretty clear that I’m pretty much confined to being entertainment-motivated. As such, pointing out why ”Politically Incorrect” outlasted its entertainment value long ago would be, I thought, obvious, but maybe not. So here goes: Having set up a show in which a wide range of showbiz and political personalities would debate, Maher allowed ”P.I.” to tilt too far not to the right or the left, but to the showbiz. Which is to say, on most nights, any juicy, plump point made by, say, a Ralph Nader or David Horowitz (to choose two opposing idealogues) was burst into meaninglessness by the jokey pinpricks of a comedian like, say, Gilbert Gottfried or Howie Mandel.
To argue that Bill Maher was contributing to the national discourse by providing Ted Nugent with a forum is like saying we’d all be better off if we listened more closely to what Sean Young has to say about global warming — which I think is what I actually tried to do the other night, on ”P.I.”’s June 7 edition. It’s not that I don’t think some celebrities can be as enlightening as some politicians — it’s that the format of Maher’s show is set up so that the celebs are encouraged to deflate, distract, or erase the political subjects. And these days, most political commentators try to act like celebrities themselves, so as often as not, they’re trying out punch lines and put-downs just as fast as the pros on the panel are.
The result is a tiresome shout-fest, interrupted by Maher’s increasingly sententious speeches, all of which could be titled ”This Is What I Believe.” Knowing the end is nigh, he’s using his show as a platform to shovel us as much of his philosophy as possible, before ABC gives him the hook.
The result, no matter what your politics or mine, is a chaotic mess. I don’t think TV is going to be any more or less of a vast wasteland with ”Politically Incorrect” vanished from its landscape.
What do you think?