Ok, I’ll admit it. Sometimes, I’m a bit too similar to those past professors I swore I’d never become. You know them, we all know them, you might even be them. Which, you ask? Oh, you know them. Here’s an example of a conversation:
Gun-shy graduate student (attempting to curry favor): So, did you see on TV last night where [some random event that might be applicable to what we’re studying] happened?
Gun-Shy Grad: (Stammering) Oh, well, you know.. on this show.. and this came up.. and Heidegger..[downward glance]
Professor: I haven’t owned a television since 1975. I’d rather read Joyce. [Cat-like flouncing exit]
In my defense, I own a television, I have cable. I love netflix and Dancing with the Stars is like American Gladiators with sequins. All this to say: yah, Religulous is from 2008. I just watched it this morning with coffee, cat, and pre-final giving glee.
Bill Maher amuses me…usually. He’s witty, he’s snarky. So, I though I’d stream the mockumentary. I liked Jesus Camp from (what seems like) eons ago. I don’t have the answers (I honestly don’t care). Religion, its history, or rather the course it took throughout history, doesn’t seem so mysterious or special to me. It seems obvious, mostly. Faith is different, I think. Faith, like Truth (with that annoying capital T) is a personal thing – neither of which I have significantly deep thoughts on (the Philosophy department is down the hall). Having been raised both Italian and Catholic (oh, the guilt!), I’ve settled into one of those post-faithful loves of the kitsch bi-product.
Now, I’m skirting the liberal-ivory-elite-tower-of-doom label here in writing about the great Taboo (look, another captial T). Experience has shown that the zealous rarely argue on academic terms. Likewise, we’re (usually) professional, refereed debaters. It’s two separate conversations, isn’t it?
Maher is not part of the club, either club, as it were. He’s no rube, but is educated enough to use it as a weapon. This is where I had my problem. On his television show, he stacks the deck in one direction or another, throws some juicy meat on the table and lets the teeth-gnashing wonks off the leash to verbally eviscerate each other in prime time. Good fun. They opted into this. In his film, he takes on a U.S. senator, Mark Pryor. Fair game, as far as I’m concerned. I snickered delightfully at his question to Pryor, “Can you think of anything else that we cleave to from the Bronze Age?” More good fun. Where I grew uncomfortable was with the non high profile people – those who were not sect leaders, not public officials, not scholars, not Vatican uppers. He uses his knowledge as a weapon, and not in the good way. The exchanges come off as little more than a condescending, demeaning one-sided fight. In this period of anti-bullying conscience, is he any better?
Don’t get me wrong. These men may have very well been on record with hateful agendas or any number of reasons to attract Maher’s attention (Though, I suspect it had more to do with making a chapel out of a semi truck trailer). But, they weren’t framed that way. At least not in what I saw. What I saw was a stereo-typically(not mine, Maher’s) southern congregation, blue collar group of men from the Trucker Chapel. Is it fighting fair to show up with cameras, an expensive suit, book learnin’ and make them look like idiots? Does that really serve the end-goal (which I presume to be a revolution of consciousness in some HBO sponsored Neo-Enlightenment? Sign me up if it ever happens.)
Academics are no strangers to the conservative media attention we get. For all-certain news-affiliate viewers know, we are Commies ready to collapse the capitalist system in the U.S., make their kids gay with our liberal ways and our logic, and burn all the [insert faith tome here]. Do we really need any more effigies burned?
I think what this serpentine reflection is (poorly) attempting to get at is this: fight fair. I’m no stranger to a good debate. I’ll bring it, yo. But, I don’t want to debate someone who isn’t coming armed with the same type of weapons. ‘Sporting’ would seem to be a good word here. I can’t debate personal Faith or Truth, that’s not sporting – or fruitful, for that matter. Maher was shooting at unmoving targets from a duck-blind. That’s not funny. That’s embarrassing.
Don’t do us any favors, Bill.