Like a lot of folks, I was a big fan of Penn & Teller’s Showtime series Bullshit. Why? Because I have a low tolerance for bullshit myself.
Penn & Teller are interesting guys. Their brash, profane demeanor on the show actually downplays their natural smarts – both of them are H. L. Mencken research fellows with the libertarian Cato Institute. They are both outspoken advocates for individual liberty, and both unabashed advocates of the American republic, although neither is above cutting criticism of that Republic where and when warranted.
Here’s a brief list of some of the topics they have exposed as bullshit:
- Alien Abductions
- Near Death Experiences
- The War on Drugs
- Conspiracy Theories
- Ghost Busters
- Signs from Heaven
- Prostitution (specifically, the prohibition of)
- Wal-Mart Hatred
- Gun Control
- The Tax System
- Easy Money Schemes
- Area 51
- Vaccination Denial
- Organic Foods
- Video Games (specifically, linking to violence)
And quite a few more – those are just some of my personal favorites.
Mind you, Bullshit! isn’t serious journalism – it’s entertainment. It’s fun, it’s profane, it’s engaging, almost every show features young attractive girls in varying states of undress. Why? Because it’s their show, and they obviously like pretty girls. Who doesn’t?
But like many of us with no tolerance for bullshit, they find one of the best responses to egregious bullshit is ridicule. It’s hard to have a serious debate with someone who honestly believes in something like ghosts; nothing you can say will dissuade them from what is fundamentally an irrational belief.
I have friends and family members who believe weird shit like this. When confronted by bizarre beliefs, my instinct is to reply bluntly; something along these lines:
Bizarre Believer: “You know, I saw a ghost once.”
Me: “No you didn’t.”
BB: “But I did. It was a ghost, and…”
Me: “No it wasn’t.”
BB: “It was, and you know, not long after that I was abducted by a group of aliens and taken to their ship…”
Me: “No you weren’t.”
Me: “No, you weren’t. You weren’t abducted by aliens. You didn’t see a ghost, a Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness monster. The Mossad didn’t carry out the 9/11 attack. Your uncle wasn’t possessed by a demon, your grandmother couldn’t cure cancer by laying on hands, none of that is true; if you claim it is you are either badly confused, delusional or lying.”
There is an old truism, first (as far as I know) put forth by the old Democrat Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” Moynihan was an unrepentant liberal but in this he was correct; Aristotle’s First Law of Thought states as much: “A is A.” Facts are facts. You can observe them, measure them, reproduce them.
Nothing Penn & Teller have put forth as bullshit meets any of those criteria. And that’s the primary value of their efforts in this arena; they have exposed a great deal of bullshit, done so to a wide audience, in a manner that was entertaining and interesting.
More TV should carry this much value.