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Sunday, 17 April 2005

this is fucking bullshit

Frankfurt does not provide a formula for clearly identifying bullshit, seeming instead to rely on an implied “I know it when I see it” approach. He does identify sources of bullshit. “The realms of advertising and of public relations and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigm of the concept.” (P 22) When he was interviewed on The Daily Show, he was asked if political “spin” constituted bullshit and he replied that it was a type of bullshit.

The job of pundits is to create spin, so it seems fair to label them as bullshitters. The anti-Clinton fairy tales reported by Brock were so divorced from reality such that they could correctly be called bullshit. (Clinton murdered Vince Foster, is one such claim, the “evidence” was that he murdered hundreds of people in Arkansas and Hillary Clinton’s affair with Vince Foster. Lies built upon falsehood, built upon imagination.) In another example, as we shall see in a subsequent chapter, the level of distortion created by Rush Limbaugh surrounding the Iraqi prison abuse scandal is so complete that I would characterize it as bullshit and would go further to claim that it is not an isolated incident. In Rush Limbaugh’s case, the sheer number of hours he is on the air every day would almost make it impossible for him to avoid bullshit. Frankfurt explains:

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled . . . to speak extensively on matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. (P 63)

Having a call-in radio show for five hours a day would be virtually impossible to adequately prepare for unless the conversation were limited to a very specific topic, and even then, it would be a Herculean task to come up with so many hours of insightful and factually correct commentary.

In another example, in the movie Outfoxed, Al Franken recounted a conversation he had with his lawyer about suing Bill O’Reilly for libel. His lawyer advised him that O’Reilly lied so habitually about everything that it would actually be more difficult to prove a slander suit because O’Reilly had created a lower standard of truth for himself that would protect him in a court case. This certainly implies a lack of concern for the truth. Frankfurt warns of one danger of habitual bullshitting, “Through excessive indulgence . . . a person’s normal habit of attending to the way things are may become attenuated or lost.” (P 60)

Those who trust Limbaugh and O’Reilly must necessarily distrust media outlets that report conflicting truths. This creates a lack of confidence in the media.


Edit: Yeah, this is a fucking music thesis. what the fuck? suddenly, i'm in philosophical discussions about bullshit, but you know, this is kind of linked to William S Burroughs tape cut-up pieces:


William S Burroughs influenced Kahn, like many cut-up artists. “My sense of Wm Burroughs' cut-ups is that they were parlor entertainments if not, at times, magical devices. The two are not mutually exclusive, and neither parlor nor entertainment should be taken in a derogatory manner.” (http://www.tate.org.uk/contact/forums/onlineevents/thread.jsp?forum=43&thread=2471&tstart=0&trange=15) Burroughs has two pieces out in the newly re-released Ou archives. Valentines Day Reading is Burroughs reading phrases that seem to come from the news. Phrases are read in between short, screechy, alarm-like sounds. No effort is made to change the meaning of the news. It seems as if the purpose is to obscure the meaning rather than reframe it in any way. In his book The Ticket that Exploded, Burroughs talked about tape cut up as a way to replace and ultimately destroy discourse.

Nobody has to be there at all – So why ask questions and why answer? – Why give orders and why make speeches? – Why not leave your take with her and dispense with sexual contact? – And then? – Since no one is there to listen, why keep running the tape? -- Why not shut the whole machine off and go home? (P 168)

He enthusiastically supported such an idea, especially how it pertained to political discourse. “Splice yourself in with newscasters, prime ministers, presidents. Why stop there? Why stop anywhere? Everybody splice himself in with everybody else. Communication must be total. only way to stop it.” (P 167-8) This idea of total information remixing, with everyone speaking interspersed with and on top of everyone else, as being the absence of information could be as much an analysis of “cross talk” as it could be an idea for art destroying media. This method of non-communication has become the norm in televised political discourse. It is one of many ways that communication is halted through punditry.


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