As an infrequent viewer of Bill Maher's unfunny HBO chat fest Real Time (though when you pit Christopher Hitchens against Mos Def, it can't be all bad), I wasn't entirely aware of just how thick the comedian-cum-policy analyst is. Sure, I had heard him tell viewers that Type II diabetes and acid reflux were invented by drug companies to maximize profits, reveal that France's president was someone called Nicolas "Sakorsky," explain in his "ode to government" why we must all have faith in Washington, and argue that Obama wasn't actually liberal. But this column on why capitalism is destroying health care—all those medical innovations were, as all know, developed in Enver Hoxha's Albania—is wonderfully idiotic. A sample:
Because medicine is now for-profit we have things like "recision" where insurance companies hire people to figure out ways to deny you coverage when you get sick, even though you've been paying into your plan for years.
When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
If conservatives get to call universal health care "socialized medicine," I get to call private health care "soulless vampires making money off human pain." The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism, it's capitalism.
And if medicine is for profit, and war, and the news, and the penal system, my question is: what's wrong with firemen? Why don't they charge? They must be commies. Oh my God! That explains the red trucks!
As a true-believing atheist, it would follow that I would be somewhat eager to see a film skewering pious, sanctimonious, and deeply radical religious leaders that, in the Hitchens phrasing, "poison everything." But Maher's pious and sanctimonious film Religulous is enough to make one enroll at Liberty University. British journalist Peter Whittle, writing in Standpoint, had much the same reaction:
The governing principles of filming seem to have been set by the Louis Theroux and Ruby Wax school of factual programming. Find the softest targets you can, set them up and go in for the kill. Occasionally, this is entertaining in an embarrassing kind of way, such as when Maher interviews a spectacularly thick Evangelical Democratic congressman. But mostly the result is repetitive and demoralising. What possible point is served by interviewing—at some length—an actor who plays the part of Jesus in some tacky Holy Land theme park in Middle America? Is he going to talk himself out of a presumably much-needed gig? Why stroll into a tiny truckers' chapel on the edge of some highway and get chummy with the down-home guys, who are perfectly welcoming until the penny finally drops that they're being used as stooges? It's always a bad sign when film-makers determined to make a point resort to filming Speakers Corner in Hyde Park but on their global travels Maher and Charles and their crew leave no such cliché unturned.
Maher—the child of a Jew and a Catholic—is occasionally funny with his wry asides but the relentlessness of the overall approach is counterproductive. Something is wrong if, like me, you are an agnostic with atheistic tendencies and you find yourself rooting for the other side.