If Cancel Culture Was Real, We Would Have Canceled Bill Maher By Now
Cancel culture is a myth and it’s only a matter of time until I’m forced to listen to another one of Maher’s offensive and terrible bits.
CW: Mentions of racism, sexual assault, fatphobia, and Islamophobia
By Reina Sultan
I am relieved that I live in a world where powerful people face consequences commensurate with the harm they cause, often after being called out on social media.
Scarlett Johansson, famous tree, has been canceled after whitewashing characters, defending Woody Allen, and trying to play a trans man in a movie. Her punishment: a standalone film in the MCU. How will she recover? Thank God we’re through with Lena Dunham and her white feminism. I couldn’t bear it if she was adapting the story of a Syrian refugee woman for film. After admitting to being guilty of sexual misconduct, Louis C.K. is playing several sold-out shows. I am simply giddy that justice has finally been served. Stanford’s star rapist, Brock Turner, is free after only three months in jail. Cancel culture wins again!
That amount of sarcasm frankly exhausted me more than the people on Twitter constantly decrying cancel culture and mourning its many, many victims.
The fact of the matter is that cancel culture doesn’t exist. The same people who lamented the surge of political correctness have moved their target to so-called cancel culture. This group wants free reign to mock or harm LGBTQ+ people, Muslims, indigenous folks, sexual assault survivors, and everyone else without consequence. That’s why they take aim at any perceived loss of freedom of expression, no matter how evident it is that that freedom was never lost in the first place. Marginalized people on Twitter expressing pain caused by powerful—often famous— folks are not depriving problematic people of opportunities, fame, or money. Social media has just given historically silenced people a platform on which to discuss the abuse we’ve suffered at the hands of powerful people.
Even with the ability to rapidly and widely share a person’s wrongdoing, it is immensely rare for anyone with real power or resources to face consequences more damaging than embarrassment. Often, they don’t even have to acknowledge causing harm.
Bill Maher is a frequent “victim” of cancel culture. It seems as though every time I open Twitter I am inundated with yet another instance of him being offensive, rude, disparaging, or vicious toward entire communities. If canceling people was so effective, why is Bill Maher still being paid for his bad opinions and tired jokes?
He has repeatedly been Islamophobic, upholding dangerous stereotypes about Muslims and the religion of Islam in general. Bill Maher spends significant time on his show espousing the idea that Islam is at its core antithetical to the Western way of life. He—and some of his guests— believe wholeheartedly that Muslims in the U.S. are perpetuating some kind of grand Clash of Civilizations. A passionate atheist, Maher claims that he despises all religions equally, yet I’ve never heard him describe Christianity as “the only religion that acts like the mafia—that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing.” That particular quote is from 2014, so I’m not quite sure this canceling thing is as effective as its critics would have us believe.
In 2017, he said the n-word on his show as part of a joke in his interview with Senator Ben Sasse. At that point, I actually had some hope that the world was finally recognizing Bill Maher for who he was. American Muslims had known for years that he was a bigot, but maybe this very public misstep would cause HBO to take action against him. Twitter was up in arms and #FireBillMaher was popping up all over my feed. Had HBO—like me—finally had enough? It turns out they thought his comment was “completely inexcusable,” but would be taking no further action against Maher apart from not airing the segment any longer. But the court of public opinion had surely helped him see the error of his ways. Right?
Earlier this month, Bill Maher took aim at fat people. Being Islamophobic and racist wasn’t enough, so he thought he might as well add fatphobia to his list of offenses. In this recent tirade, Maher claims that fat-shaming needs to make a comeback. A comeback? Fat-shaming never left. In fact, its harmful effects span from bullying to full-on medical neglect. Both can be deadly. Rather than doing a segment on the dangers of medical fatphobia—a documented and scary phenomenon—Maher uses his platform to further dehumanize a marginalized group of people who are already subject to constant harassment from the wellness industry, diet culture enthusiasts, everyday people around them, and social media trolls.
The fat-shaming incident had just blown over when Maher came out to criticize Democrats for rehashing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s illustrious career as an alleged sexual assaulter. He makes light of the accusations against Kavanaugh, boiling it down to a funny thing boys do at that age. His guests argue whether or not someone in the public eye should have to answer for every ill-advised thing they did in the past. In this debate, Maher continues to point out that Kavanaugh was just a teenager when he allegedly attacked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. This “boys will be boys” rhetoric is largely used to excuse men—mostly white—from their guilt in upholding and perpetuating rape culture, as Maher is doing now.
Despite all of this, Bill Maher still has a very successful show on HBO and a platform on which to continue spreading his offensive views. Millions tune into his show weekly and watch as he legitimizes the idea that you can be a so-called liberal and also hold extremely dangerous views without consequences. If canceling people actually worked, Bill Maher wouldn’t still be rich, famous, or successful. But cancel culture is a myth and it’s only a matter of time until I’m forced to listen to another one of Maher’s offensive and terrible bits.
Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine to five. A California native, she enjoys the beach, the sun, and complaining about the weather in D.C., where she now lives. Reina is passionate about smashing the patriarchy and eating the rich. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, and Rantt. Following @SultanReina on Twitter will provide you with endless hot takes and photos of Reina’s extremely cute cats.
Every single dollar matters to us—especially now when media is under constant threat. Your support is essential and your generosity is why Wear Your Voice keeps going! You are a part of the resistance that is needed—uplifting Black and brown feminists through your pledges is the direct community support that allows us to make more space for marginalized voices. For as little as $1 every month you can be a part of this journey with us. This platform is our way of making necessary and positive change, and together we can keep growing.