We live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production. The more polite among you might call it poppycock or balderdash or claptrap, but the concept remains the same, and the same coursing stream of crapulence washes over us all, filling our eyes and ears and thoughts with clichés, euphemisms, evasions, and fabulations. Never in history have so many people uttered statements that they know to be untrue. Presidents, priests, politicians, lawyers, reporters, corporate executives, and countless others have taken to saying not what they actually believe, but what they want others to believe — not what is, but what works.
I am not so naive as to lay claim to some golden age when everybody meant what they said, and said what they meant, and the world entire was bright with the glare of truth. First, I came to consciousness in the 1980s, so people have been conducting themselves in a sleazy manner the whole of my short life. Second, every historical era conjures up its own lies, noble and banal. Since there have been snakes for the squeezing, there has been someone to flog their precious oil. We distinguish ourselves largely in terms of largeness. Our era is unique by virtue of its sheer scale, its massive budget, its seemingly unlimited capability to send bullshit hurtling rapidly around the globe.
There is so much bullshit that one hardly knows where to begin. The platitudinous pabulum that passes for stirring political rhetoric is bullshit. The scripted, question-proof events that pretend to be spontaneous exchanges are bullshit. The committee-crafted persona and the focus-grouped fad and the rule of the polls are straight-up bullshit. The disease/hysteria du jour is bullshit, and so is the latest miracle pill. The new product that will change your life is probably just more cheap, plastic bullshit. We endure bullshit in the course of our workaday lives, in the form of management-speak memos about optimizing strategic objectives and results-based, value-added service delivery. We tolerate bullshit in common life-maintenance transactions, like banking and shopping. Most of what passes for news is bullshit, and even if you are so fortunate as to find things worth watching or reading, the content you desire will be punctuated with shills for things you don't need, like ginormous automobiles and toxic faux foodstuffs.
Even a cursory study of bullshit yields an embarrassment of riches, an all-you-can-eat buffet of phoniness, like when a Bush staffer eulogizes departing Press Secretary Ari Fleischer with the words, "His message discipline was extraordinary," a bullshit description of a peerless bullshitter. Or check out the Web presence of a swank PR firm, like Burson-Marsteller, mouthpieces for many a megacorp, and thrill to its proficiency in change communications
, issues management
, reputation management
and, the coup de grâce
, personal and social responsibility
"Your call is important to us" has been chosen from a very deep reservoir of bullshit phrases for the title of this book because it best exemplifies the properties native to bullshit. It tries to slather some nice on the result of a simple ratio: your time versus some company' s dough. Like most bullshit, the more you hear it, the bullshittier it gets. This is why bullshit is best served quickly, with many visuals, in mass quantities, with no questions from the floor.
Throughout this book, we will look at some of the world' s muchness of bullshit. I have elected to proceed on a sector-by-sector basis, since bullshit is not just a phenomenon, but an industry — one of the growth industries of the information age, in fact. But bullshit is not a single industry unto itself, nor a sector proper. Instead, it rides shotgun, running interference for all the major modern sectors. We shall commence by looking at the two fields of human endeavour that have distinguished themselves as the most prolific producers of bullshit: advertising and public relations, which get bonus points for encouraging the industries that follow in their wake to tart themselves up. Next, we will see how financial markets, corporate structures, and lax laws allow for more merde
, with entire companies — your Enrons, your WorldComs — exposed as mortared with bullshit. Then, we'll have a look at politics, which is a business as well, alas. Finally, we'll look at a few examples of bullshit produced by some of the sectors that affect your everyday life, like pharmaceuticals, insurance, the service industry, and the media.
We are all, of course, implicated in the bullshit pandemic as minor, small-scale producers of our own ordure
. I would love to be hard core like my favourite Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, and declare that all lies are wrong, and that there are no circumstances whatsoever that condone untruth. Kant thought that any lie, no matter how minor or well intentioned, corrodes the universality and trust that people need to live freely, and I couldn't agree more. But I'd be lying if I said I never lied, and I'm sure you could conjure a million retarded Philosophy 101 variations on the theme of virtuous fibs. It is therefore crucial to note that there are very different orders of magnitude when it comes to bullshit.
Those couple of daily white lies, about bad haircuts and spousal girth and the like, are entirely harmless and preferable to the useless, hurtful truth. Good manners sometimes call for omission, editing, and the occasional fudge. However, if your secretary is shredding documents under the light of the moon, or your testimony before the House interrupts the soaps, or you have yet to visit the country where all your money lives, you have probably concocted a whopper of inordinate size.
Excerpted from Your Call Is Important to Us by Laura Penny. Copyright © 2005 by Laura Penny. Excerpted by permission of Emblem Editions, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.