Comedian Bill Maher bashed what he calls the "unified theory of wokeness" on Friday's episode of his HBO show, garnering both criticism and accusations of racism as well as praise from viewers.
"New rule. You can get creative with a novel, a TV show, or a movie, but history books? That's not supposed to be fanfiction," Maher said to his audience. "How we teach our kids history has become a big controversy these days, with liberals accusing conservatives of wanting to whitewash the past, and sometimes that's true, sometimes they do. But plenty of liberals also want to abuse history to control the present."
On "Real Time with Bill Maher," the host pointed out that while liberals accuse conservatives of white-washing history, the left does its own fair share of rewriting the truth during the "New Rule" segment of the show.
Maher then began tearing into "presentism," or judging historical figures or events through a modern lens, by bringing up the near-cancellation of James Sweet, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and American Historical Association (AHA) president. Last month, Sweet published a column in the AHA publication, titled “Is History History? Identity Politics and Teleologies of the Present,” arguing that too many historians are practicing presentism, and in doing so, these historians stand to make history indistinguishable from other social sciences.
Sweet wrote: “This trend toward presentism is not confined to historians of the recent past; the entire discipline is lurching in this direction, including a shrinking minority working in premodern fields. If we don’t read the past through the prism of contemporary social justice issues—race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism—are we doing history that matters?”
The backlash to his column was so severe that the AHA released an apology and restricted their Twitter account.
"Last month, a scholar named James Sweet caught hell for calling them out for doing just that," Maher said in defense of the professor. "He criticized the phenomenon known as 'presentism,' which means judging everyone in the past by the standards of the present. It's the belief that people who lived 200 or 500 or 1000 years ago really should have known better."
"Which is so stupid," the comedian continued. "It's like getting mad at yourself for not knowing what you know now when you were 10. Stupid me, spending all that time raising sea monkeys, playing with slot cars, and jerking off to a playboy in the barn! Who doesn't have moments from your past that make you cringe? Who hasn't said I can't believe I said that?"
Maher then spoke about how we shouldn't be looking at the terrible things humans have done with our modern standards and views on race.
"Did Columbus commit atrocities? Of course, but people back then were generally atrocious. Everybody who could afford one had a slave, including people of color." At this moment, the crowd's laughter became a hushed murmur, seemingly taken aback by Maher's politically-incorrect take.
"The way people talk about slavery these days, you'd think it was a uniquely American thing that we invented in 1619. But slavery throughout history has been the rule, not the exception. The Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, Romans, the Arabs, British, the early Americans, all the way up through R Kelly," he continued, causing the crowd to laugh once again.
"The word slave comes from Slav because so many Slavic people were enslaved, and they're as white as the Hallmark Channel," Maher remarked. "What do you think gathered the slaves from the interior of Africa to sell to slave traders? Africans, who also kept their own slaves!"
Of course, plenty of Twitter users took issue with Maher's words, with several accusing him of defending slavery. Former CNN reporter David Heath was one of the detractors.
Maher went on to criticize leftist gender ideology, bringing up what's being taught in public schools and making historical figures non-binary.
"Portland Public Schools has a plan now to teach kids that the idea of gender being mainly binary was brought here by white colonizers. The curriculum guide says when the United States was colonized by white settlers, their views around gender were forced upon the people already living here," he said. The public school system in Portland, Oregon, has frequently been criticized for promoting gender ideology to students, even going so far as to place menstrual products in boy's bathrooms.
"It's like they finally discovered a unified theory of wokeness; incorporating all their ideas about race, gay, gender, and colonizers, like the New World was a great big diverse dance club and the pilgrims were the bridge and tunnel crowd who came in and ruined everything," Maher continued. He then brought up a new theatrical production on the life of patron saint of France, Joan of Arc.
"There is a play called 'I, Joan,' currently being presented in London, written by Charlie Josephine, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns," he said. "It portrays Joan of Arc as, surprise, non-binary with they/them pronouns. Which, if you think about it, makes even less sense because Joan, being French, spoke a language where every noun is masculine or feminine."
While the television host faced online backlash from liberals, historians actually thanked him.
"Presentism drives me up the wall and I’m glad you covered it because it’s a problem that’s slowly dumbing people down about the past," said one Twitter user who identified himself as a historian.
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