WARNING: Some people are sensitive to pessimism. I understand completely. I appreciate people reading my stuff, but if you’re sensitive to pessimism, you may wish to visit somewhere else. But check back later, when I’ll be writing about the TV show “Petticoat Junction.”
I think I’m usually polite here. Despite outward appearances, I was raised to be a gentleman. Therefore, I try to keep my language free of the little nasties.
So forgive me for using the word “bullshit.” But I can’t think of an appropriate synonym, or another word that has the right zing. “Egocentric duplicity” doesn’t cut it. “Bullshit” has a tart and lively consonant structure, and when properly voiced, the sound of the word effectively mirrors the emotional intent. So here goes:
The older I get, the more impatient I become with what I view as being pure, unadulterated bullshit. When I was younger, much bullshit went over my head. I just accepted things. I smiled while I drank my Kool-Aid® and Funny Face®. Adults were physically larger and knew more than me, so they must be right (right?).
Time flies. Recently, I learned I’m going to be a grandparent. After almost 60 years on this beautiful but increasingly scarred planet, age has driven home the reality that children are bullshit-free. It’s their parents and grandparents who are full of it. Children are untainted, until infected by their elders. As the great Indian actor and philosopher Hrundi V. Bakshi once said, “Wisdom is the province of the aged, but the heart of a child is pure.”
Children are so often lied to, tricked, and bombarded with sarcasm, hypocrisy, and false information, that it’s only natural they evolve into adults who either “sling,” or are easily susceptible to being slung at. Since I’m an adult, I’m vulnerable to bullshit as much as anyone else. It’s a two-pronged effort. While I’m oiling my detectors to defend against the bullshit in others, I try to be on guard for the BS in myself.
History has seen a few great bullshit warriors. Philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians seem particularly adept at identifying bullshit. They have a talent for seeing through things to get to the crux of the matter. The Greeks, then the Romans, along with Eastern guys like Confucius, got the ball rolling. Then we had a rough patch called the Dark Ages, with lots of tribal warfare, land grabs, and religious crusading.
Then the sun came out and we had the Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment, and rock ‘n’ roll. Shakespeare, Swift, Melville, Dostoevsky, Sitting Bull, Twain, Wilde, Kafka, Hemingway, Orwell, Salinger, Vonnegut, Guthrie, younger Dylan, Lennon, Zappa, Johnny Rotten… all battled the armies of bullshit with originality and grace (well, Zappa and Rotten weren’t always graceful).
Interestingly, a lot of these warriors also battled depression.
On the opposing side are those who have PhDs in BS. You know who I’m referring to. I’m sounding like a disgruntled peasant belaboring the obvious here, but the data I’ve assimilated reveals that the biggest bullshitters are not cab drivers or small farmers. The greatest offenders reside in high places, like government, large business, and the plush corner office just past the water cooler. The higher up the economic ladder someone climbs, the more proficient they become in hurling the sticky stuff ($$ x h/c = BS³, where c is a constant). In advertising, bullshit-slinging is the name of the game (proof: the number of people who dislike American football yet who sit through the Super Bowl).
With few exceptions, these lofty figures don’t have to battle depression. On the contrary, they’re usually laughing on their way to the bank. At least, that’s what my strictly monitored scientific method has shown.
You’re probably anxious to see a few examples of whom I view – rather, what my analytical data has shown – as being the most flagrant purveyors of bullshit. Or, maybe you’re not anxious. Well, I’m anxious, at least. I’ll skirt around politicians, because BS is mother’s milk to them, and I’d be writing about their bullshit until the cows (or bulls) come home. And since I’m an American and unfamiliar with the bullshit in other countries, I’ll stick with local bullshit.
The American news press. If you’re a young person, you may not understand what I’m about to say: there once was a time when there was intelligent news, and only three TV stations. Scout’s honor! And America had talented news anchors with names like Murrow, Cronkite, Huntley, Brinkley, Chancellor, and Jennings. Most news then was reported with a degree of honesty and integrity.
Then, imperceptibly, a drift occurred. Maybe it was the success of “gotcha” journalism, initiated by the Watergate investigation in the 1970s (Specimen A: the offspring of Woodward and Bernstein). Coulda been the rise of trash TV in the 1980s (Specimen B: Morton Downey Jr. and Geraldo Rivera). Possibly harsh and one-sided conservative chatter that erupted in the 1990s (Specimen C: Rush Limbaugh and FOX News). Probably all of the above. But, today, journalism that’s responsible and relevant is the exception rather than the norm.
I’m not sure many Americans even recognize the difference between news and propaganda anymore. Or if younger people even know there’s a difference, or what the word “propaganda” even means. We regularly bathe in our tilted information of choice, then cackle what we just heard on our social medium of choice with our ubiquitous handheld computers.
I earned a bullshit (B.S.) degree in journalism, so I know a little about this stuff. And my recent and highly empirical studies show that – right, left, or indifferent – most news today is info-tainment that’s beholden to advertisers and, therefore, scrubbed or manipulated to appeal to a specific demographic. Loads of bullshit information conveyed… scant knowledge obtained.
American entertainment is also bullshit. Lynn and I occasionally watch those strange British shows on PBS (high-quality programming – check it out, before the Republicans destroy it). We’ve both noticed how physically ugly many British actors are. And if they’re not ugly, they’re very old. In other words: they’re real people.
Why can’t the U.S. have more ugly entertainers? The only ugly American entertainers I can think of are criminally untalented: bigots like Phil “Duck Dynasty” Robertson and congenital liars like President Tweety Bird. Not surprisingly, Robertson was the biggest celeb at Tweety’s convention last summer (I don’t consider long-forgotten sitcom actors like Scott Baio to be celebrities).
Religion. This is dangerous territory, I realize. But I’m feeling emboldened, so I’ll put my head on the block. And, let’s be honest, religion has, for centuries, vied with politics for the coveted crown of Emperor Bullshit.
I believe anyone who believes his or her belief system, god or godless, is the only valid belief system, is full of bullshit. As my philosopher friend Cecil responded when I saw him in the break room and innocently said “What’s happenin’, Cecil?”:
“Nobody knows! Many think they do, but they really don’t. It’s all a big guessing game!”
So, Tweety, kick those conservative, fundamentalist mock-Christians out of our house. Yes, the White House is our house, the people’s house. You’re just a temporary tenant the janitor let in. If there’s any justice in the world, you’ll soon be permanently privatized.
My study findings probably make me sound like a cheap imitation of late comedian George Carlin. I definitely lack the eloquence of the individuals (except Johnny Rotten) that I listed at the top of this diatribe… I mean, study. My words are base and simplistic. But, gosh darnit folks, these bullshitters aren’t that smart, either! In fact, most are pretty thickheaded. They attain powerful positions because they’re specialists in one area, or were born into privilege, or have silver tongues and greasy palms.
“Make America Great Again”? More Bullshit (spelled with a capital ‘B’). “Hope and Change”? The change is being unraveled, and we’re looking more and more hopeless. Here’s my bumper sticker:
“Make America Bullshit-Free… For a Change.”
14 thoughts on “A Chimerical Study of Contemporary Bullshit”
“Can I have an Amen!”
Regards from Florida.
Thanks, Frank. When Rick Scott offers new data for study verification, just send it my way.
A well thought out piece, Pete!
Always appreciate your feedback, Mary Kaye. Thanks to a fellow grandparent!
Write on, Pete!
I believe that the advent of cable TV spawned the proliferation of lousy news media. Too many channels. Murrow, Cronkite, et al, must be spinning in their graves. Yes, Fox is obnoxious catnip for right-wingers, but MSNBC is the Fox-equivalent for obnoxious left-wingers. It cuts both ways, Pete. And why do you think Republicans are out to destroy British shows on PBS? Any evidence, or is this just a gratuitous dig at Republicans? Talk about BS.
Hi Tad. I agree that cable TV, with its myriad choices, has encouraged a dumbing down of news reportage. And MSNBC is the go-to for leftists who prefer their news tilted. I picked FOX News here because it’s consistently offered right-wing bias since its inception in 1996 with former Republican Party media consultant Roger Ailes as its head. MSNBC, however, only moved leftward around 2005, when Keith Olbermann began taking shots at Bill O’Reilly and Bush. And in 2015, MSNBC made a notable shift back to hard news, with all daytime opinionated shows being replaced by generic news programs (all this courtesy Wikipedia). Additionally, FOX has consistently been ranked the #1 cable news channel. MSNBC (at least in 2014) is only #3, behind CNN. So, FOX News clearly is the big man on campus when it comes to biased cable news reporting (and although MSNBC is indeed the leftist choice, they don’t advertise bullshit like “Fair and Balanced.” Which I’ve read has recently been dropped (finally) from FOX).
I didn’t say the GOP wants to destroy British shows. I implied they want to destroy Public Television, which sponsors British shows, and many other high-quality, though-provoking programs. Republicans have been trying to destroy the National Endowment for the Arts for years, starting with Ronald Reagan. Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich (all Republicans) have all attempted to abolish the NEA. And now, Trump’s 2018 Federal Budget proposals once again seek to scrap both NEA and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, significant funders of PBS.
I could elaborate on WHY Republicans want to abolish insightful shows like PBS Newshour, American Masters, Nature, Frontline, Nova, and so much great daytime children’s programming. But if I did, you wouldn’t like it, either.
No argument about bias at Fox and MSNBC. I generally avoid both, although I like Chris Wallace, moderator of Fox News Sunday. He’s a straight-shooter when it comes to grilling both Repubs and Dems, and his line-up of guests and panelists (including uber-lib Juan Williams) are indeed fair and balanced. As for MSNBC, Maddow and Olbermann make me want to puke.
I like PBS and NPR but there is a reasonable case to be made for cutting out government funding. That doesn’t mean anyone wants to “destroy” these programs. It means that they will have to seek other funding sources and get off the government dole. Why should taxpayers subsidize PBS with its spin-offs that rake in millions from licensing toys like Tickle Me Elmo, Big Bird, etc.? If sufficient demand exists in the media marketplace for PBS and NPR, then they will find financial support. As for the NEA, fraud and waste are rampant. Taxpayer dollars for “Piss Christ” and Robert Maplethorpe homoerotica? No thanks.
I encourage you to read this: http://www.investors.com/politics/commentary/big-bird-is-rich-so-why-does-he-need-taxpayer-money/
I’ll take your comments one by one, Tad:
1. I don’t watch FOX or MSNBC at all, unless I’m forced to when getting my oil changed or in the hospital waiting room. Both propaganda.
2. Since I don’t watch FOX, I can’t comment much on Chris Wallace, but from what little I’ve seen, I don’t like.
3. I get my news from NPR and PBS Newshour and don’t like Maddow or Olbermann, either. I’m surprised Sean Hannity doesn’t also make you puke. He’s the right-wing equivalent.
4. Profits from Sesame Street toys may go to Sesame Street spinoffs. But they don’t go to PBS.
5. Regarding the link you sent, here’s some clarification: “NPR’s news and talk programming…receives funding from a wide variety of other sources, including foundations and individual donors. But CPB’s grants to local stations enable the stations to license programming and help keep the stations on the public airwaves.” (http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/16/media/public-media-pbs-npr-budget-cuts/index.html)
6. Also in this article is the observation that CPB funding costs American citizens $1.35 per citizen per year. That’s your taxpayer subsidization?
7. The CPB’s portion of the federal budget is only one-one-hundredth of a percent. Not exactly a hefty chunk of “government dole.” http://mashable.com/2017/03/16/trump-budget-arts-pbs-npr-cuts/#1_2QYcB9oqqt
8. As for the NEA’s “fraud and waste,” I haven’t heard of any fraud, and one person’s idea of “waste” might be another’s treasure. It’s all subjective.
9. I know very little about “Piss Christ” (sounds disgusting). But Mapplethorpe was an incredible artist. I saw his infamous 1990 exhibit in Cincinnati and am proud I helped prevent Citizens for Community Values from shutting it down. The “homoerotica” works comprised a mere fraction of it. I didn’t care for that, like most people. But the rest was powerful and moving…in my opinion. I’m perfectly fine with NEA funding for talented artists who, without funding, might remain forever obscure. I guess it’s where our values lie, Tad.
As always, I appreciate your feedback, and the great discussion!
“Bullshit’ is one of the most frequently used words by CB. Why? Because it is everywhere. And when it’s not involved it is a real good feeling. I’ve eliminated most of my contact with the obvious choices (for years). I find even walking by a TV the bullshit meter starts going off the dial. CB is not 100% BS free but is working towards it. Starting with himself. Too many other non BS things to be doing. “Pete, don’t take any more bullshit man” Love the take.
Sounds like your detector is well-oiled, CB. You’re writing, too, is refreshingly free of a lot of BS (me… not so much). Bartleby the Scrivener, move over!
Keep venting. It’s healthy. Just wear all that bs a little more lightly. “Bartleby’ sounds interesting. On the list. Thanks.
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