"When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don't like?" That's what Bill Maher wonders in a New York Times op-ed, titled "Please stop apologizing," in which he rails against the hypersensitive people who were huffily offended by a lame Robert De Niro joke about Newt Gingrich's wife, David Axelrod's likening of Mitt Romney's advertising barrage to a "Mittzkrieg," and other highly publicized spats surrounding Hank Williams Jr., Growing Pains' Kirk Cameron, and "the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliche for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others." Such conniption fits accomplish nothing, Maher argues, and we'd all be well served by a "National Day of No Outrage," in which no one feigns offense over such slight affronts. Some see Maher's stance as a breath of fresh of air, while others insist that it's a misguided, transparent attempt to save face in the midst of his own controversial remarks. Does Maher have a point?
Maher is "right on the money": The media and politicians of all stripes are guilty of incessantly harping on the scandal du jour, typically making "a mountain out of a molehill," says Andrew Belonsky at Death and Taxes. And our self-righteous demands for apologies are "completely and utterly pointless," because the "I'm sorry" is often forced and insincere. As philosopher Nick Smith writes, "It matters why [the offender] apologizes." If it's because they have to, it means — and changes — nothing.
"Bill Maher calls for 'National Day of No Outrage'"
Maher's argument is totally "wrong-headed": "Suggesting a moratorium on outrage" is hopelessly flawed, says Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly. Sure, if you don't like Rush Limbaugh's ranting, you can just tune him out — but it's a mistake to "laugh it all off as part of living-and-let-living in a free society." People like Limbaugh who say racist, misogynistic, and other offensive things exercise real power that affects the way Americans think, act, and vote. The crucial point that Maher is missing is that while people should approach faux-controversies with a better sense of perspective, it would be harmful to discard their significance entirely.
Maybe Maher and Co. should quit saying offensive things: Here's a novel idea, says Taylor Marsh at her blog. Instead of demanding a ceasefire on apologies, let's demand the end of offensive speech. If Limbaugh, Maher, and other guilty parties stop using misogynistic slurs in order to wring laughs, "they'll never have to say they're sorry." Maher's op-ed compares apples and oranges in the worst way, insinuating that the ridiculous outrage over De Niro's silly joke is in the same league as "profane descriptions of women." Want a lifetime of "no outrage?" Stop defaming women in the name of comedy.
"Bill Maher: Please stop apologizing!"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Fall movie guide: All the films you should see in September
- Hey, grammar nerds! Stop freaking out about 'alot.'
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- Scottish independence is another financial crisis waiting to happen
- 10 things you need to know today: September 1, 2014
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- The elusive 'It factor' in presidential politics
- These real-life Rosie the Riveters changed the face of labor
Subscribe to the Week