During my lazy time this weekend I watched an assortment of episodes from the Bullshit tv-series starring comedians/magicians Penn&Teller. I think the show is really entertaining and that you can actually learn a little bit about various persuasion techniques (something most marketers are interested in) by watching the show. But I wouldn’t recommend that you take everything said on the show as facts or, even worse, base your own opinion on it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this particular Showtime production could be used in class as an example on how to affect people’s thinking without them really realizing what is going on. In (the current season) of the Bullshit show, the attack on your mind begins right with the opening credits. Words like “trick, science, belief, clarity, intellectual” and finally “TRUTH” are displayed prominently throughout. In this simple way they are priming you to take what is to come as the pure and simple, undisputable facts.
If you have ever watched this show for even a few minutes you can easily draw the conclusion of what it is that you – the viewer – is promised to get when you “buy into” this tv-show; you will instantly be able call other people on their bullshit. With all of the charisma of Penn Jillette you think you will also – as all your friends no doubt watch in deep admiration – be able to promptly label someone who holds another opinion an ignorant asshole.
In short, you become a member of a select group of well informed and smart people who are more or less immune to people who try to sell you snake oil in one form or another.
Because you know better.
After watching several episodes of Penn and Tellers Bullshit show I must confess, it is extremely easy to be more or less brainwashed by these guys. That is why I think it is important to remind yourself that some of it is as much an illusion as the magical acts this same duo entertain people with in Las Vegas.
A Sleight of hand on “the truth”
The tv-channel I normally watch this show on was, by one of my friends, aptly named as “man tv”. He came up with that because it is a channel broadcasting a multitude of shows that (supposedly would) appeal especially to men. You know, like fishing, cars, the world’s most dangerous police videos, be your own carpenter, extreme sports etc.
It is easy to see how Penn and Teller instinctively appeal to such and audience. Many men would probably want to be a little bit like Penn Jilette themselves. And hey, these guys take every opportunity to say “fuck”and show off bare tits! And they certainly aren’t prepared to take shit from anyone…
They probably have won many men over to their cause right there, and imposing their own views on their audience after that is like taking candy from a baby.
I must confess, I don’t really know what the “crack research team” on this show are or how they work. But a plain fact is that much of what is presented in the show has nothing to do with truth. It is certainly a spin on the truth, but it shouldn’t always be taken at face value.
Don’t get me wrong – I love to see and hear Penn make absolute stooges out of people dealing with new age medicine and the like as much as the next guy. But we should remember that this show is entertainment more than anything else, and in some regards the cases presented often really make Fox news appear as “Fair and Balanced” by comparison.
Here’s an example:
In the episode of “Nukes, Hybrids & Lesbians”, there is a segment that seems to try and “prove” that hybrid cars exist mostly for the purpose of cashing in on people’s guilty conscience. But what facts do these truth seekers present to support this? Well, in essence they picked up a Toyota Prius and stated the following:
- You can’t fit a shitload of luggage in this car
- According to the butch lesbian test driving it, it has poor acceleration; it does 0 to 60 mph in 12 seconds (it is supposed to be able to do it in 10.9 seconds, by the way) which is much worse than a Corvette, Mini Cooper or a Harley Motorcycle
- The (supposedly) lesbian women hired to test drive the car didn’t manage to get an impressive mileage out of the car
In addition they also managed to “prove” that an editor of a Hybrid Car magazine actually didn’t know very much about cars and technology overall.
Okay, so all of that was presented in a very entertaining way. But what did we walk away with that actually makes any sense and proves that hybrid cars are bullshit? To be perfectly honest, absolutely nothing!
Ruling out what is essentially a car engine technology based on how much you can fit in the trunk of a particular car model is about as relevant as trying to determine the processing power of a personal computer by how big its case is.
Comparing acceleration of a car intended for mundane, day to day transportation to that of a Corvette is simply childish. If you wanted a meaningful comparison it would make more sense to compare it to a Toyota Avensis of about the same size that, according to the manufacturer, does 0 to 60 mph in 12.2 seconds. So the hybrid is actually faster. And both cars have more than adequate performance for the use they are intended for – both a Mini Cooper and a Corvette are grossly overpowered for most people’s needs, and the Harley is a bike and not a car.
As for the mileage, I don’t think you have to be overly chauvinistic to think that two preoccupied (with each other, the filming etc.) women in a car they are not used to didn’t perhaps manage to pull the optimal mileage out of said vehicle. According to the manufacturer, the Prius averages 4.3 Liter per 100 km (remember, I’m European) which is a very decent figure for a contemporary car of its size. The Avensis I compared to earlier has an average consumption of 7,2 Liters per 100 km.
Determining (or at least making it appear as) that the Hybrid Car magazine editor was an incompetent, hypocritical asshole says nothing about the hybrid technology itself. Basically it is the very common logical fallacy of “guilt by association”. In the Bullshit episode it served as a sleight of hand, just like in a magic trick.
For the record, I can say that I personally am not convinced that the dual engine idea of hybrid cars is a very good one. Mainly because it is expensive and unnecessarily elaborates things. There is also the question of what happens to the old batteries in these cars, but since Penn and Teller didn’t do more than briefly mention this I am pretty sure that those “assholes” over at Toyota in fact have a kick ass recycling program.
So in conclusion – even though I am no hybrid car fan myself – the Bullshit program’s take on hybrids actually contained more manure from a male cow than the car concept they where trying to ridicule.
Why The Above Doesn’t Matter
But I’m pretty sure that many viewers actually believe that Hybid cars are just bullshit, because they saw it on Penn and Tellers show. And that isn’t because they where right (in truth they where way off), but because they have the skill to present their case in such a manner that we – the viewers – want to believe them. I mean, they are the cool Penn and Teller – why wouldn’t we think like they do?
They do everything in their power, and in their case that is quite a lot, to make us think the same way they do. For example, why on earth do you think they signed up two (supposedly) lesbian women for test driving the car?
I can’t be 100% sure of course, but I think a logical reason was that they wanted the viewer to make the (false but common) association to the notion that “women are the worst drivers”. The way the mind often works, it is thereafter not that difficult to transfer that negative emotion on the car (technology) being discussed. If you further make the women lesbian, you have tossed a useful distraction into the mix that a person skilled with words can use to throw the viewer off from noticing that all you are saying is really completely irrelevant bullshit.
Or how about this line: “Speaking of licking, let’s see how our lesbians are doing”.
It may also be the case that lesbians are somehow considered even worse drivers than heterosexual women, therefore augmenting the desired effect even more. Along with the comparisons to Corvette and Harley they also manage to create an image that the Prius indeed, at the very most, is a car for chicks. Certainly something “a real man” wouldn’t want to be caught dead in the driver seat of.
After all, if even the butch, poor woman driver, lesbian said that the car was shit – how on earth could it be any good?
That last part of this post is the only part of this post that I currently have no way of backing up. But you can rest assured that the creators of the Bullshit tv-show are very knowledgeable in how they in fact can manipulate you in very similar ways to what I just described.
They are magicians – their profession is to make you think you saw things that actually never happened.
In other words: they positively make you crave their bullshit.