Word got out this week about a blog post from “comedian” Bill Maher regarding the death of Stan Lee. He wrote:
“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.”
So Bill Maher is a condescending, self-important windbag; no surprise there. The thing is, a lot of people hold this opinion: that things cannot evolve. Comics have undergone a tremendous shift, both in the complexity and in the maturity of their stories. To say that an average comic book written today is no more sophisticated than one from the 1940s or 1950s shows a staggering lack of awareness, and an obvious lack of common sense. The whole world has changed in the last 80 years to such an overwhelming degree that I’m not convinced people who were adults in 1940 would even recognize half of culture today. Maher’s comments are no more than a scared old man screaming at kids to “Get off my lawn!”
However, they do emphasize an important point about our culture: we can’t let people enjoy the things they like. I had an English teacher in middle school who had nothing better to do than ridicule his students’ reading choices. He snickered at my reading Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels, despite the fact that I was reading for pleasure, which the vast majority of people don’t even do any more. How did he react when I instead read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment for a book report? Not one word. Clearly, he just needed to feel superior to someone to make his day brighter.
We all spend too much time making fun of someone else’s hobby. I’m just as guilty of that as anyone. But the fact is, life is hard: the horrors of daily life, given greater emphasis than ever to sell everything from news to security systems to political agendas, eats away at our souls. We need things to help us relax and recharge, to find common interest with other human beings and share experiences and emotions — even if only briefly. Making connections with other humans enriches our lives, and the more diverse those connections, the richer the life experience.
Bill Maher has made a living for decades sneering at others; it’s high time we stopped rewarding behavior like that and started finding our own joy in the things we do rather than criticize others for the things that make them happy.