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Yet more Bullshit
April 27, 2007 3:22 PM   Subscribe

There's been plenty of Bullshit! on MetaFilter before, and now there's more: Boy Scouts [1, 2, 3] ("Duty to God ahead of country, others, and self, is the credo of suicide bombers."); Wal-Mart Hatred ("Wal-Mart is one of the great anti-poverty programmes in the country."); Circumcision ("By the end of this programme, one of these three will drop their pants and show us the restored foreskin on their penis."); and The Best ("Stupid? How many of you are searching for it on the web right now?").
posted by hoverboards don't work on water (46 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Warning: treat as comedy if you feel yourself being driven into a frothing rage, and treat as airtight academic research if you're not laughing.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:24 PM on April 27, 2007


I generally think they do a good job of a) presenting their case, and b) presenting all the relevant details needed to make their case.

Their Wal-Mart episode was severely below standard, though, and I don't say that just because I don't like shopping there.
posted by wierdo at 3:29 PM on April 27, 2007


Generally entertaining; points off for way too much gratuitous profanity. Loses it's effect after awhile.

Now get off my lawn.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:32 PM on April 27, 2007


It's a great show when they're not spouting Cato Institute nonsense.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:35 PM on April 27, 2007


It's a great show when they're not spouting Cato Institute nonsense.

So you don't like it, then?
posted by Doug at 3:38 PM on April 27, 2007


[insert obligatory snark about how all libertarians are 16-year-old Rush (the band) fans, or something]
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:49 PM on April 27, 2007


I really enjoy Penn's skillful magic, but I would appreciate his views on politics and morality more if he showed the least bit of skepticism of his own libertarian bias, and how it might adversely color his perception of the world. I think it's perfectly reasonable to enjoy Bullshit going in with that knowledge, however.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:52 PM on April 27, 2007


Their Wal-Mart episode was severely below standard, though, and I don't say that just because I don't like shopping there.

However, their episode on breasts was fantastic.
posted by ryoshu at 3:52 PM on April 27, 2007


This season has been a little weak. The Wal-Mart episode- eh. Didn't change my mind. The exorcism episode, easy target. The fat episode, MeFi threads about the fatties are more entertaining.

The only thing that kept it on my DVR list was the episode about breasts. That one I could stand behind, preferably with my hands reaching around in front.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:54 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


The swearing bugs me too sometimes. On the one hand, it's always fun (kiss my ass, adults and Rush h8rz!), but it's not a patch on the cleverness of South Park-style obscenity, and it hardly wins converts. A typical Penn & Teller sequence is a sneakily edited clip of the Bad Guy followed by a voiceover from Penn saying "Fuck! Fuck you, you evil fuck!" To their target audience, this is cathartic and funny, but if you've been brought up, say, to think unions are wonderful, the Wal-Mart episode is just going to bug you and bug you until you pledge eternal bitter war against the show's politics. And they must know this, so I'm pretty convinced that they're not too hung up on winning people over to their side, and that it must just all be for fun after all.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 4:05 PM on April 27, 2007


I find the show greatly entertaining, but remember; they are mis-directionists, and really really good ones at that. I always take what they are saying with a huge grain of salt (even when I agree with them) because I know that the whole point of the show is to sway the audience.
posted by quin at 4:25 PM on April 27, 2007


moe substance from the onset and less cute intro stuff that gets tiresome
posted by Postroad at 4:29 PM on April 27, 2007


I want to like the show but even when I agree 100% with what they're saying I see them using shoddy arguments and straw men. I think quin nailed it, they rely on misdirection more than research. It bothers me in the same way the American Family Association or Bill O'Reiley bothers me.
posted by substrate at 4:31 PM on April 27, 2007


I used to find Penn Jillette funny. Then... after a while... you realize: Just like the philosophy major guy holding court at the party, that he is just a blowhard asshole.

Oooh making fun of the lower-class, devoutly religious dirty people! A real class act, that one.
posted by basicchannel at 4:34 PM on April 27, 2007


I like it. The episodes about religion bug me, but I guess that's expected.

I don't really think they use misdirection. They actually listen to the arguments their subjects are making, unlike another fat documentary-maker I could name.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:52 PM on April 27, 2007


Wow - thanks, I hadn't seen the august link before, and I am a big Penn fan - used to read his print articles "back in the day".
posted by jkaczor at 5:24 PM on April 27, 2007


roll truck roll, here is a site that tries to debate the points raised in one of their episodes (The "Environmental Hysteria" one, natch.)

I'm in no way trying to diminish the entertainment value of the show, as I said, I get a kick out of it. I just go into it knowing that I'm watching two people who have made their careers on making me believe something is true when it's not.
posted by quin at 5:56 PM on April 27, 2007


Still waiting on Bullshit: The Free Market.
posted by washburn at 6:21 PM on April 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


Exorcism:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEQEsKzgR3k&mode=user&search=
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCm4-7_ZVYM&mode=related&search=
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6gzfZK4ynM&mode=related&search=

Immigration:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INb40jTP6t4&mode=user&search=
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQKCiEQutd0&mode=related&search=
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPdX04ZElHg&mode=related&search=
posted by CaptMcalister at 6:40 PM on April 27, 2007


roll truck roll: I disagree. They don't listen at all, and they pick out the most useless and annoying stooges possible to offer the "other side," and they do it to bolster their own argument.

On some subjects, there is no reasonable disagreement, and those shows are funny. On others, their style is incredibly irritating, but still funny.

The other "fat" documentarian does not even pretend to show you the flip side of his argument, and is therefore much more intellectually honest, IMO. That said, his documentaries are much less entertaining than Bullshit! (or as TiVo calls it, Bulls...!)

As I mentioned earlier, they do a good job of laying out a coherent case for their side of the debate. They do a lot better at that, than say, Bill O'Asshat or many of the other Fox "News" opinion-yellers. They usually don't go beyond labeling the other side "stupid fucks" or "ignorant fucks," which I find a decided improvement over questioning things other than someone's intelligence, which is so common these days. Hell, half the time the mouth-breathers they find to represent the "other side," really are stupid fucks, regardless of the merit of their chosen position.

It's greatly entertaining, and presents a good overview of one side of a subject. Just don't rely on them to tell you both sides of the story. That said, they are usually attacking the "popular" opinion, so much of the time you should already be familiar with the merits of the other side of the coin.
posted by wierdo at 6:48 PM on April 27, 2007


Penn's style is kind of like that of Ted Nugent: counter-productive at winning hearts and minds due to over-the-top abrasive attitude. Thus, they are poor spokesmen for their respective causes.

Teller, though, is probably the most genteel man I have ever met.
posted by Tube at 6:49 PM on April 27, 2007


Teller is the talent. As often is the case, he's just not showy about it.

His writing is intimate and quite sweet. He's also one of the funniest practical jokers I've ever read about.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:13 PM on April 27, 2007


Wow. Okay, quin's link pointed out something I honestly never knew before, in that, far more than just "spouting" CATO's talking points, Penn Jillette is in fact a research fellow for them. He doesn't just agree with them, he cashes their paychecks.

I'm all for arguing the points Penn & Teller make in the show, but one would think a show where the whole theme is how Penn is a white knight defying the agenda-backed purveyors of various rhetoric might actually mention that.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:19 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Y'know, I've enjoyed some of their topics in the past (bottled water was good for a chuckle), but watching it now, good god, Penn's too acerbic.

The circumcision one in particular strikes me as pretty far wide of the mark -- especially considering that the WHO just recommended circumcision because it significantly reduces the risk of contracting HIV.

Besides, Dave Barry's old column on this ("The Unkindest Cut") was funnier.
posted by theoddball at 7:28 PM on April 27, 2007


I found the episode on the Boy Scouts of America to be a good one, if obviously an opinion piece. On one hand, you take an incredibly homophobic pro-Scouting advocate; on the other hand, you set up an extremely touching conclusion. Don't get me wrong: I agree with the opinion they take, all the way, and I was glad they pointed out that the individual decisions that individual adult Scouters make throughout the nation are in many cases unbigoted and without prejudice.

I grew up with Scouting; I joined Cub Scouting in (probably) '82 and stayed in it through earning Eagle during my last days of Boy Scouting in '92. The organization, during my time in it, did not seem to really advocate a heavily religious-right aspect; I'd disagree with the suggested timeframe on that being in the '80s. It seemed to be more of a transformation that seemed to begin in the late '80s and much more actively in the '90s.

You'd think someone who grew up with Scouting for as long as you can would be a prime candidate to volunteer as an adult. But I'm not going to join the adult leadership of, or give money to, a program that says "gays aren't morally straight" and that and that atheists aren't welcome. Four of the twelve Scout Law tenets are "helpful", "friendly", "courteous", and "kind." I think they've lost their way.
posted by WCityMike at 7:45 PM on April 27, 2007


On "the best" episode, they did just a bad job. Wine pricing is not a linear function of quality. Going from a cheap box wine to a $150 Merlot is going to be a bigger difference than the value added per dollar from $150 Merlot to $1000 trophy wine. I'm not a wine connoisseur but cheap wines have visual cues to their lack of quality (try swirling a cheap and nice red wine in a glass, see the difference). You could probably give me a $75 bottle and a $300 bottle and I'd be unable to tell the difference, simply because of my lack of knowledge on the subject (that's sort of like asking a non-reader between Dan Brown and Umberto Eco ... of course someone whose experience in reading is limited is unable to discern the subtle nuances and literary techniques which more experienced readers will enjoy).

I've been to nice restaurants before where the bread tasted a little stale or I didn't think the quality was up to par, that's why I don't know -- you know -- return to those restaurants. It doesn't mean I told the waiter to take it back during the middle of a date (I pity anyone whose date started making a fuss of the food) or complain in front of the wait staff. If I'm a frequent visitor to a restaurant and have established a quality baseline and was sure the dish was off, of course I'd mention something as politely as possible, but that's not the case here. Instead of getting random schmoes who probably don't have something to compare the dishes to it would have been much more interesting to get an LA Times critic or equivalent.

There's my angry foodie rant.
posted by geoff. at 7:48 PM on April 27, 2007


Penn's style is kind of like that of Ted Nugent: counter-productive at winning hearts and minds due to over-the-top abrasive attitude. Thus, they are poor spokesmen for their respective causes.

Tube: your forgot to mention Richard Dawkins.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:09 PM on April 27, 2007


WCityMike: I'd disagree with the suggested timeframe on that being in the '80s. It seemed to be more of a transformation that seemed to begin in the late '80s and much more actively in the '90s.

I think it has more to do with individual troops. I was in scouts during the mid to late '90s, and as far as I could tell, scouts was just an excuse to let little kids play with knives and fire while the adults get drunk. Oh, and I learned about first aid.
posted by !Jim at 10:14 PM on April 27, 2007


Yeah, the BS of A wasn't always a bastion of Christian morals. When I was a Boy Scout (early 1980s), my troop went on a camping trip to a small upper Wisconsin town. After a day and a half we got bored and set about an interesting intellectual exercise; we decided to figure out how to take the town.

First we were going to stage a robbery at the bank, this would have drawn off the police from the rest of the town. Then we were going to take over the phone building so we could control the hard-line communications. Then the remainder of our troop of 25 or so kids were going to seize the now weakened sheriff's station. Once we had that, we would have firearms and the ability to dictate policy.

Ah, to be 12 again.


For the record, I remember my time in the Boy Scouts more as like being in a street gang then any kind of religious camp. Pity they have moved away from that, because it taught me a lot.
posted by quin at 10:46 PM on April 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


Honest to god whatever, that is a true story.
posted by quin at 10:50 PM on April 27, 2007


Tube: your forgot to mention Richard Dawkins.

How does Richard Dawkins have an 'over-the-top abrasive attitude'? He may hold strong views on a landmine of a topic but he's hardly on par with Ted Nugent, Penn Gillette or Bill O'Reilly. Unlike those three, he can actually back his opinions up with a rational argument.
posted by cmonkey at 12:23 AM on April 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Say what you will about Penn's leanings, but you can't deny that the new season's shows have a rocking remix of the original theme song. Cue the organ and trumpets!
posted by Servo5678 at 4:54 AM on April 28, 2007


theoddball writes 'The circumcision one in particular strikes me as pretty far wide of the mark -- especially considering that the WHO just recommended circumcision because it significantly reduces the risk of contracting HIV.


The article you link to didn't actually 'recommend circumcision'. It suggested that circumcision could be a useful additional intervention in areas with high rates of HIV, but only as part of a comprehensive prevention package.

It goes on to say:

"In countries where the HIV epidemic is concentrated in specific population groups such as sex workers, injecting drug users or men who have sex with men [ie, Europe, the USA, etc.], there would be limited public health impact from promoting male circumcision in the general population."
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:09 AM on April 28, 2007


Seeing the baby boy strapped in a harness, his bloody little dick being cut, my first reaction was "who in the world would want to do that to their new born son!?!".
So thank you from europe for an interesting anthropological documentary about the strange customs around the world.
(Please understand that I respect that this is normal in your culture)
posted by jouke at 5:57 AM on April 28, 2007


Hi,

well, first time I've ever heard of these two guys, but anyway : looks like they do not really get to the core of their subject, but rather present material in a way supposed to induce emotions in the audience, rather than make people think. I do think that those big retailers are a real disaster for economy - both local and global - for their employees, for the environment, and so forth. This kind of economic behaviour doesn't only involve short-term effects. The pressure they are putting producers under change the way to produce.. it changes the product itself, but it also changes economical and ecological structure. Food market is a good example.
posted by nicolin at 7:04 AM on April 28, 2007


I've only ever watched one episode. They debunked Ouija boards. Um, thanks guys. The Ouija board industry has been putting one over on us for far too long.

The cussing aggravates me too. I liked them better when they were a magic act. A magic act with cussing is better than corporate apology with cussing.

And I know, everyone loves Teller and all, but isn't he, technically, a mime?
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:55 AM on April 28, 2007


1) Circumcision isn't bullshit. It really does happen, all the time.

2) I read the comments and thought, gosh there's a lot of profanity prudes in here, until I watched the shows. They curse a lot, and for no reason. Hey Penn, it's cool that you use cursing like punctuation, but maybe more like a fucking comma instead of a FUCKING exclamation mark?
posted by Deathalicious at 11:01 AM on April 28, 2007


What the hell does Penn research?
You'd think he'd have a disclaimer on cashing their checks.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:15 PM on April 28, 2007


I read the comments and thought, gosh there's a lot of profanity prudes in here, until I watched the shows. They curse a lot, and for no reason. Hey Penn, it's cool that you use cursing like punctuation, but maybe more like a fucking comma instead of a FUCKING exclamation mark?

Good point. Part of what's annoying about this horrible show is Penn's habit of using verbal abuse to seem to win arguments. One gets the sense that his loud voice, enormous sweaty body, and thoughtlessly hostile invective have been handy tools in foisting his ideas unto hapless conversants throughout his life---the classic bullshit technique of the bellowing alpha.
posted by washburn at 3:46 PM on April 28, 2007


Early in the series (first episode, IIRC) Penn pointed out that if they called people "frauds" or "con artists" they could be sued, but if they called them "fuckers" or what they did "bullshit" then they were legally protected, since that was clearly a matter of opinion.

Of course, it could also be that he just likes swearing.
posted by kindall at 1:00 AM on April 29, 2007


I think P&T did a couple of decent episodes in the first series. I wouldn't bet on it, though, because I'm reminded of the biologists and (astro)physicists who (still!) support Immanuel Velikovsky.

The biologists say "When Velikovsky speaks about biology he is of course severely deluded, but I find his physics very compelling."

The physicists say "Velikovsky's physics is hilariously wrong, but I defy anyone to refute his biological arguments..."

The more I hear Penn speak, the more I think they decided to make the wrong one silent.
posted by dansdata at 7:00 AM on April 29, 2007


You can hear an interview with Teller here (yes, he talks). Short version: He answers some criticisms, explains exactly why they don't bother constructing a rigorous argument, gives a few examples of where they've been wrong, and states that they'd like their final episode to be about all the Bullshit they've perpetrated themselves on their show. See, Teller at least really wants to be your friend.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 4:14 PM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I really like Bullshit, even when I don't agree with them. I don't think they see their job as convincing everyone---remember, they're doing this in the tradition of Houdini. It's entertainment, and they're unabashedly entertainers. That said, they're much much more fun to watch when they're channeling James Randi than when they're channeling Ayn Rand.
posted by goingonit at 4:26 PM on April 29, 2007


When I was a Boy Scout (early 1980s), my troop went on a camping trip to a small upper Wisconsin town.

Quin, your boy scout experiences mirror mine, though ours were based more on innovative new uses of fire.
posted by drezdn at 7:14 PM on April 29, 2007


Interesting. I notice that you live within a couple of miles of me, May-haps we rolled in the same BS crew?

/crosses fingers in an interesting way;

St. Seb BSA REPRESENT!!11!

And yeah, fire was always popular. Particularly in how we could make it bigger and more projectable.
posted by quin at 11:23 PM on April 29, 2007


I was from St. Al's, though I think our eras might be slightly different I was late 80s early 90s (though technically I'm an Eagle Scout, so I'm stuck that way for the rest of my life I guess).
posted by drezdn at 9:21 AM on April 30, 2007


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