Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bring Back Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Modern Culture:
We live in a world where we refuse to let our youth die. Every week there's another news story about Netflix resuscitating another fondly remembered product from our past. Sometimes it works, as I'm told is the case with Dr. Who, sometimes it's a mixed bag of both genius and low-budgeted missteps like Arrested Development, but more often than not it's Fuller House. I have no idea why the world demanded in unison that they desired more of the cheesy 90's show, but they did, they got it, and they seem to have immediately regretted it. Hell, I read even the new X-Files sucked. Next up? Returns to the universe of Coach, Twin Peaks, and Gilmore Girls. Who's to say if they will be as good as the bar our nostalgia has set for them, but I suppose we have no choice other than finding out.

However, there are some shows that seem to be in need of being brought back. The limited run of the Carl Sagan remake of Cosmos is an excellent example. It was ripe to be updated with new information and graphics and although I cannot stand the spotlight whore that is Neil Degrasse Tyson, good on him for helping make it happen. Intellectual fodder fares better with this new found phenomenon of bringing shows back from the crypt because knowledge is never passé, knowledge is only ever power. The one show that personifies that core concept better than all else is Penn & Teller's show Bullshit and it's high time it got brought back.

Bullshit tore away at popular fads and misconceptions with a blend of scientific prowess backed by cut-throat comedy that is likely to never be matched. To this day, anytime there is an argument made against vaccination, people inevitably start posting their bit demonstrating the importance of the subject by throwing balls at bowling pins. They didn't tackle subjects leaning to the left or the right, they tackled anything they viewed as a potential danger to humanity. Through their eight seasons they tore into the inaccuracies of the bible, the hypocrisy of PETA, and even the Criminal Justice System. Nothing was too precious to avoid their crosshairs and they tackled every episode with an equal amount of veracity and disdain.

The show is best summed up by a quote from Hunter S. Thompson: "Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point." Penn and Teller were biased, but they owned their bias and never attempted to cloud you with false information. Through this technique they accomplished things that modern "liberal" journalism never could. When someone is lying on camera and wholly ignoring the facts, that person is an asshole and should be labeled as such. They weren't concerned with offending people, nor did they make it their mission, they simply were fearless enough to mercilessly call out the people that were full of shit. Their cause was righteous and just and if more people practiced it, perhaps we wouldn't be looking at the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.

A Personal Note:
My Hometown
This show was and still is important. As a kid who grew up in Ohio and had a science textbook with a sticker in the inside cover stating that evolution was only one of many theories, this show changed my life. I spent most of my impressionable years being brought up in such a sheltered environment with the internet only beginning to dawn. As many children, I was heavily subject to the beliefs and viewpoints of those around me due to very little external influence. I was seventeen when this series came out (though I likely started watching it around nineteen) and was long suspect that most everyone around me was full of shit, though I had little hard evidence of such.  When you are raised with family members that are religious, believe in psychics, reiki healing, and alien abduction, it is hard for a young mind with limited resources to gather enough external information to have a well-rounded understanding of the world.

When I first caught a broadcast of Bullshit, I immediately set out to find a DVD copy and eventually did at a DVD store in Dayton. I got home, popped in the disc, and my life changed. Not only did it show me the tactics behind "clairvoyants" such as Sylvia Brown, episodes dealing with subjects such as Environmental Hysteria proved to me that regardless of a right or left viewpoint, everything in life inherently needs to be questioned and Penn and Teller aren't beyond being questioned either.

Question Everything:
As is the nature with science, our understanding of it is always changing. A few of the arguments they made along the way (such as the dangers of second hand smoke) have fallen apart with further research. Other viewpoints I just flatly disagree with (such as their constant disregard for the potential horror of global warming just for the fact that the data is not fully in). But it's amazing to watch a show that invites questioning and doesn't insist that you fully prescribe to their logic in order to enjoy it. They've long stated that if this show was brought back, they would do an episode titled "The Bullshit of Bullshit" in which they tackle their own show from a critical perspective and illustrate the times that they got it wrong. C'mon, we need that.

(Science + Stats) (Comedy + Magic) + Naked People = Gold
This show was built around a simple equation that holds up to this day. Watch episodes from Seasons 1-7 and the only argument you could make for them feeling dated is that they weren't shot in HD. Bullshit wasn't just informative, nor was it only a soapbox for the duo to bitch about the wrongdoers of the world, it was downright fucking hilarious. Penn & Teller incorporated aspects of comedy and magic simultaneously with science and statistics in order to entertain and inform. Plus, they constantly showed naked people on TV, and in all reality, who the hell doesn't want to look at naked people while gaining a greater understanding of the world around us? This show reached all demographics that were willing to question. It's the perfect recipe to enlighten intellects and entertain the populace, all while stimulating the more primitive recesses of our brain as well.

Bring Back Bullshit:
Bullshit was just released in its entirety on Amazon Prime. If you haven't watched it, do yourself a favor and view what is the most important show of all time. If you already have, do us all a favor and rewatch them on the service because Teller hinted that Amazon may be interested in commissioning a new series of episodes. If fans of fucking Full House and Beverly Hills 90210 get to have their mindless entertainment back, then let's fight to see something of significant importance back on television.

This show has been responsible for so many people in the world pulling their head out of their own ass and applying critical thinking to every aspect of their life. I should know, I'm one of them. Do us all a favor and watch the series again.

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