I’ve been thinking about this since I first read about that Bill Maher blog post within which he calls into question Stan Lee‘s legacy, the intelligence and maturity of comic book fans, and the continued relevance of comic books in today’s world. I’ve been thinking that I didn’t want to write about the comedian who makes a living pissing people off, who’s only relevant in controversy, and that I didn’t want to add another article pointing to his blog.
But then, in a quiet moment, I realized I was a little bit miffed at his words, and decided to try and find the blog post in question to see if he had been ever so slightly misrepresented. He hadn’t been. His words, which a vast majority of comicdom have taken umbrage at will be pasted at the end of this post should you want to read them without visiting his blog post.
Given that this was posted less than a week after Stan Lee’s passing, there have been numerous articles covering Maher’s November 16th blog post and the reaction to it. There has been a lot of vitriol and anger. People have called him callous, attention seeking and irrelevant, but that Maher made such tasteless comments shouldn’t really surprise anybody. In what I understand to be a standard case of saying dumb things to provoke people and get a reaction because he’s a “comedian,” Maher has stayed remarkably true to who he is.
He is, like all of us, entitled to his opinion. And if he thinks that the young adults of this world are basically over grown children because of comics, well, then fair enough. If he wants to casually dismiss the death of a man who many of us hold in extremely high regard (even if he had his faults), then that’s his right. To do so after cashing a paycheck for Iron Man 3 is a bit hypocritical. Possibly he’s still bitter over being fired by ABC, which is also owned by Marvel’s parent company Disney.
But to do so whilst getting some pretty key things wrong? That really makes me laugh. With anger. Within his first two sentences, he has some pretty large, but easily researched, errors – and this is what, I believe, is the source of the anger directed at him.
The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.
Firstly, Stan Lee didn’t create Hulk or Spider-Man alone, and never claimed he did (though there are valid arguments as to how much he contributed, this is neither the time nor place for that). Claiming he did invalidates the contributions of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, two men with legacies that should rival Lee’s, and who inspired just as many as Stan did. Stan Lee inspired millions of comics fans to do a lot more than just watch a movie. A half hour of research would have turned up so many examples of this – whether it be industry professionals or fans like you and I, Stan Lee (and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) touched the lives of millions across his decades in comics.
But sure. Say he inspired us to, I don’t know, go see a movie. What has Bill Maher inspired anybody to do? His career high was DC Cab in 1983. That’s a genuine question by the way, because I’ve never really paid much attention to him before.
Which may also be part of the reason for his blog post. Maybe he’s angry at the outpouring of grief over of Lee’s death, or maybe he wanted to use Stan Lee’s death to further a political agenda against millennials making America dumber. That is, after all, what the majority of the blog post is about. Once he grabs our attention with his casual disregard of Stan Lee’s death, he hits us with a treatise about millennial stupidity, blaming it in part on comics. Because comics are the One Thing that millennials didn’t give up and consequently remained dumb.
And that, my friends, is also a little out of touch.
He also makes the leap that somehow a public that’s interested in comics and comic related entertainment is a factor in our current state of politics. This ignores the history of comics that have been regularly progressive and forward thinking, far ahead of society. From Superman’s fight against political corruption, to Captain America advocating for entry into World War II a year before the US did, to discussing issues like drug addiction, the AIDS crisis, advocacy for LGBTQ rights, and so much more. A society truly into comics wouldn’t result in the election of Donald Trump. Maher doesn’t seem to know that but that hasn’t stopped him from opening his mouth on the topic. But, that’s a regular thing for Maher, whether it’s vaccines, Islam, or his inability to challenge his alt-right guests who he provides a platform (when even tech platforms are deplatforming them). Again, Maher speaks on a topic he knows little about but seems to hold comics impact on a level they just aren’t.
Fewer people read comics than, say, watch sports. Or play videogames. The latter has also seen a surge in popularity over the past three decades, but isn’t mentioned in the blog post. Probably because nobody famous enough in videogames died the week Maher wrote his blog post. But Stan Lee did, and so comics became his target.
But I don’t need to tell you millennials aren’t dumb. Nor that comics are a form of literature. You know this. Maher doesn’t, or doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that he has the wrath of comicdom coming down on him because right now we’re all talking about him.
So screw you Bill Maher for using Stan Lee’s death as a launching pad for your inane tripe. Screw you for using the death of a legend to try to bring yourself to relevance.
The text below is directly from Maher’s blog post. A link to the original post, and the hundreds of angry comments is further down.
The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess. Someone on Reddit posted, “I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee.” Personally, I’m grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own. Now, I have nothing against comic books – I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.
But then twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature. And because America has over 4,500 colleges – which means we need more professors than we have smart people – some dumb people got to be professors by writing theses with titles like Otherness and Heterodoxy in the Silver Surfer. And now when adults are forced to do grown-up things like buy auto insurance, they call it “adulting,” and act like it’s some giant struggle.
I’m not saying we’ve necessarily gotten stupider. The average Joe is smarter in a lot of ways than he was in, say, the 1940s, when a big night out was a Three Stooges short and a Carmen Miranda musical. The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.