Bill Maher vs. fluff!

Bill Maher does not like comic books.

A couple of years ago, he declared a culture which loves superheroes naturally leads to President Trump. Last year after Stan Lee’s death, he reported the point and told comics fans to just grow up. He hasn’t changed.

As The Mary Sue points out, loving comics is no more juvenile than, say, obsessing over sports or playing fantasy football. But more than that, who cares if it’s juvenile? As C.S. Lewis once put it, part of being an adult is learning not to care that people think your idea of fun is childish.

For the most part superhero comics are fluff (though that doesn’t stop them making political points). But I like reading fluff. If I want gritty realism, I can read the headlines or browse many excellent nonfiction books about the darker side of our past. When I read fiction I want to enjoy myself. That doesn’t necessarily mean fluff, but it frequently does. So what?

The resistance to fluff runs deep in some people. The late Joanna Russ once wrote a column comparing people who read escapist fiction to drug addicts. Lots of comics, like long stretches of X-Men have embraced the view that life is dark, dark, dark and full of suffering thereby proving they’re mature and sophisticated. Happiness, as Ursula LeGuin once put it, is seen as something shallow. Or as Carlie Simon said, “it’s hip to be miserable/when you’re young and intellectual.”

And some people need a break from the real world way more than I do. They’re battling depression, their parent has cancer, they’re about to be homeless, they work with terminally ill babies. As Preston Sturges said in Sullivan’s Travels, sometimes laughing at a movie is all people have. Mystery author Cindy Brown makes the same point.

So here’s to everyone who writes fluffy, upbeat books and stories that make me, or you, or someone else feel better for a while. I’m glad there’s other kinds of fiction, but joy is more important than Maher seems to think.

Two more thoughts, once from screenwriter Richard Curtis: “I’m sometimes puzzled by the fact that when I write films about people falling in love they are critically taken to be sentimental and unrealistic. Yet, four million people in London are in love tonight and today, all around the world, hundreds of thousands of people will fall in love.”

And author KJ Charles on why she likes fluff:  “I want and need to read about a world where a woman can get emotional support from a man who respects her, or a queer couple can have a happy ever after, and I know everything will work out absolutely fine. More than that: Sometimes I want stories where those things go without saying. I want books where a woman’s problems in the workplace don’t include misogyny or sexual harassment. Where the big obstacle to the gay romance isn’t homophobic relatives but the need to find the stolen diamonds. Where the trans spaceship captain’s gender is an aspect of the character, not the plot. Where black women wear the best floofy dresses to Regency balls; where the bad guy’s aim is to steal the family estate rather than rape; where women and POC and LGBT+ people and all the intersections thereof can exist without being harassed, bullied or hurt for their identity just like white cishet male characters can all the goddamned time.”

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6 Comments

Filed under Reading, Writing

6 responses to “Bill Maher vs. fluff!

  1. Zosimus the Heathen

    I’m not that familiar with Bill Maher myself given where I live, but I’d have to say that a lot of the things I’ve heard about him have turned me off him, from his reputed anti-vaccine stance to his shameless fawning over Milo Yiannopoulous, and belief that the latter individual is some bold and excitingly transgressive thinker (rather than what he really is: an attention-seeking idiot whose “provocative” and “revolutionary” opinions are really just mindless regurgitations of the latest wingnut talking points). Hearing that he also doesn’t have any time for comic fans only reinforces the unfavourable impression I have of him, for while I don’t read comics much myself, I have watched some film and TV adaptations of comic series that I’ve greatly enjoyed (eg Supergirl, Wonder Woman and Black Panther).

    I hear you on unashamedly liking upbeat, even “fluffy”, works of fiction, and growing weary of the relentlessly downbeat stuff. One area where I’m getting particularly tired of all the cynicism and negativity that seems so popular nowadays is, ironically enough, horror movies; I’m heartily sick of the way that genre seems to have embraced the cliche of the “obligatory unhappy ending” (particularly when the unhappy ending in question comes across as ridiculously lazy or contrived). I want to see more horror movies in which the characters actually triumph in the end (and *don’t* all subsequently get killed off within the first five minutes of some stupid, pointless sequel), and in which the director isn’t essentially laughing in my face and saying, “All that stuff the heroes did to defeat the monster/bad guys/whatever? It was all for nothing! Hahahahaha!”

    • While I don’t watch a lot of 21st century horror, I’m not surprised by this development. I see the same thing in mainstream stories treated as a mark of some kind of maturity — look, our protagonist went through all that character growth, but then he got hit by a meteor (not kidding on that one)! And yes, it sucks.
      The right wing delusion they’re edgy thinkers saying edgy things no-one else will dare to (like “maybe men run everything because they’re just superior to women!”) is quite common. Some of them are definitely sincere in this belief, but with a lot of them I suspect it’s just marketing, like the conservatives of the “intellectual dark web.”

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