Sunday, November 21, 2004

I Love Bullshit!

I got a nice box full of goodies from Amazon this weekend, including a DVD set of the TV series Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, which I was very interested in, but hadn't gotten the chance to see because I don't have Showtime. I'm not sure I've ever gone through a DVD set quite this fast, and, having now watched the entire first season and all the extras, I simply want to say: I love Penn and Teller, and wish to have their babies.

Television is full -- over-full -- of garbage whose purveyors care infinitely more about sensationalism and ratings than they do about truth. How the hell are people who get most of their information from television supposed to be informed about the pseudo-scientific crap that's constantly being pushed on them, from pet psychics to fraudulent diet aids, when the too-good-to-be-true claims get all the airtime (to the tune of breathless gasping), and the guy with the actual scientific evidence never makes it in front of the camera?

Well, Penn & Teller do their damnedest to rectify that situation and to inject a little critical thinking and common sense, and they're deeply entertaining as they do it. They're also abrasive, sometimes even abusive, but they tend to aim their vitriol at the folks who really deserve it. I've been known in the past to complain (e.g. in reference to Carl Sagan, for whom I otherwise have great respect) that pushing a skeptical agenda by taking a negative or condescending tone is more likely to alienate the people you're trying to reach than to convert them. But I think P&T get away with it, because they're not saying, "Hey, if you believe John Edward can talk to dead people you're a moron!" but rather, "Hey, you! Don't let this con artist scumbag capitalize on your grief and your entirely understandable urge for comfort to make himself filthy stinkin' rich." I think that's a good approach. Don't tell people how dumb and deluded they are. Give 'em the facts -- the real facts -- and tell 'em, "There, now you know what we know, and you won't be taken in."

Great stuff. I can't wait for season 2.

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