Why We Need Better BS
December 27, 2011
It's all over television, in magazines and in newspapers -- and even in our serious papers, such as The New York Times. It is spouted by politicians and pitched by product spokesmen.
Modern life is manufacturing an unprecedented amount of it.
BS "is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about," writes Harry Frankfurt, philosopher emeritus at Princeton University, who authored "On Bull (expletive)."
Nowadays, our news folks are almost as bad. It used to be that the press existed to catch folks in the act of BS-ing. But our press has been shoveling out a fair share of its own.
Didn't the run-up to the last presidential election show that some of our "objective journalists" were in the tank for Obama all along?
Republicans have produced a lot of BS, too. During the Bush years, they used words such as "fiscal responsibility" and "limited government," while they wasted more dough and expanded government faster than you can say "we're broke."
Then again, maybe it's not the BS that bothers us so much — maybe it is that BS is being so practiced so poorly.
The truth is BS has a long, proud history in America. During our early years, the "tall tale" was an accepted form of BS. Exaggeration lent more credence and color to stories, and yarn-spinning became a celebrated part of American culture.
From our beginning we've had our share of snake-oil salesmen and flimflam artists. These scoundrels weren't judged on the rightness or wrongness of their scams so much as the skill with which they practiced their craft.
The sorry truth is that we want to be lied to in America. Whereas the truth can be painful, costly and time-consuming, we're suckers for a skillfully told yarn that puts us at ease and helps us sleep better at night.
In America we want our tax cuts and increased spending. We want our politicians to limit spending and build a new bridge in our backyard. We want "free" health care and fatter Social Security checks, and we want somebody else to pay for them.
The 99 per cent
I remember the "good old days" when "news" shows, such as "Dateline," went to elaborate lengths to pull one over on us. They rigged up a truck with explosives, then blew it up on-screen.
Some time ago, cigarette companies said smoking wasn't bad for us and we believed them. Lyndon Baines Johnson said he was going to end poverty, and we believed that, too.
I'm really missing Bill Clinton's presidency. He could twist and contort any mistruth into the prettiest and most convincing words. We knew he wasn't telling the truth but we didn't care. We loved the way he didn't tell it.
As for President Obama, he can't possibly believe some of that stuff he is saying -- that his health plan will reduce costs or that he has a strategy to reign in runaway spending -- or does he?
Heck, I don't know who or what to believe anymore, and I sense millions of others feel just as I do.
If our press and political leaders have any hope of restoring their credibility, one thing is for certain.
They better come up with a better line of BS.
©2011 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, a freelance writer is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
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