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A speech like Bullshit is Everywhere does most of the work for you.  The entire idea, ethos, and explanation is contained in a brilliantly composed three-word sentence that both invites and challenges the reader at once.  It can also be a bit pointless explaining the significance of the speech that not only explains its own significance as it moves along, but also is only a few years old.  When approaching the issue of writing reviews and essays about great works however my creative impulse is always to compose essays about what I think people should care about, or at least something that has something interesting to teach them.  There are many essays which, in their own way, attempt to compel diligence and concern for informed Democracy, but the problem many of these have is that they tend to be ungodly pretentious, agonizingly boring, or else they don’t have enough ds_16075_01_16x9swearing.

Bullshit is Everywhere solves that problem by being written and delivered by Jon Stewart.  It also is the last speech he gave on The Daily Show before retiring and handing the show over to Trevor Noah who, despite naysayers on the internet, is not that bad.

I absolutely loved The Daily Show because it managed to perform the old cliché of “entertaining me while I learned.”  Though to be honest I really didn’t care too much about what was actually happening in politics, if I honestly wanted to know I would have read a newspaper, watched some PBS Newshour, and done some internet research.  Like many I came to The Daily Show because John Stewart was the shit.  There were few, no voices actually, like John Stewart because in one segment the man could make a call for a reformation of the rhetoric concerning gun violence in the wake of a tragedy, and in the same segment drop three jokes about vaginas that I would use in casual conversation the next day.  John Stewart was a comedian and he played that angle to his benefit, because what he often lacked in “dignity” he made up for conviction.  It was his ability as an orator, rhetorician, performer, and comedic talents that made whatever topic he was discussing all the more potent.o-JON-STEWART-facebook

If you look at the Donald Trump Presidency announcement he made a line that I can still quote from memory:

Stewart: He’s amazing, America’s Id, is running for President.  Trump’s that voice your head at three in the morning going, “Let’s go take a shit in a mailbox.  Come on who’s gonna know?”

It’s not enough to gush about Stewart’s ability to make people laugh and actually give a shit about politics, nor for the fact that he helped Stephen Colbert become the comedy powerhouse that he became.  For me personally the legacy of John Stewart was always the interviews because I learned about books and writers I never would have had he not invited them onto the show.  For my part the three most import interviews were with David Sedaris, Fareed Zakaria, and finally Christopher Hitchens.  This last writer, as any Daily Show Zakariaseasoned reader of this site knows, is the writer who changed my life completely and created a standard of “writer” and “intellectual” that I always aspire to, and the interview he gave on the show was for his book Hitch-22.  Watching the interview is both illuminating and depressing for before the show was filmed Hitchens had been diagnosed with the throat cancer that would eventually kill him.  Regardless, the interactions of Stewart in those interviews is what sealed the man to me an important rhetorical figure, and his last speech only further demonstrated that.

The very last lines Stewart spoke on camera, before Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band came on to play Born to Run, was a simple line:

Bullshit is everywhere.stewart_rect

He broke for a moment as the audience laughed, and as he remembered something before continuing:

Are the kids still here?  We’ll deal with that later.  Bullshit is everywhere.  There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some way, infused with bullshit; not all of it bad. The general day-to-day organic free-range bullshit is often necessary, or, at the very least, innocuous: “Oh, what a beautiful baby! I’m sure it’ll grow into that head!” That kind of bullshit, in many ways, provides important social contract fertilizer, which keeps people from making each other cry all day. But then, there’s the more pernicious bullshit; the premediated, institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bullshit-ocracy. It comes in three basic flavors:

Once or twice I have been accused of being nice to the point of it being revolting or unbelievable.  Friends who have never lived with me have told me this, and in moments like this I think back to the first part of Bullshit is Everywhere.  It might have been the parents I had, watching Sesame Street non-stop as a kid, channeling the spirit of Jimcf2da79f8f29148df0b78b124283cfda Henson when I was four while watching The Muppet Movie and singing along to Rainbow Connection, attending the Episcopal church semi-regularly until I stopped going altogether, or perhaps it’s the LSD in the water, but I have always lived by the philosophy best expressed by Jane in Breaking Bad: D.B.A.A., Don’t Be An Asshole.  This philosophy works for me, for as long as I have lived I just genuinely wanted to be a good person.

As Stewart pointed out however, being completely nice occasionally involves a little bit of harmless bullshit, and lord knows I’ve spread my share during my lifetime.  I’ve encountered a few people in this life who have inspired animosity or outright revulsion, but because I worked with them, or went to school with them, or because I couldn’t shake them and so I had to listen to them tell me about Pokemon Black and White while stewart_colbertI walked to my truck, I was forced to nod my head, smile, and listen patiently as they explained that British television and culture is superior to American television and culture, or that Pokemon Black and White was better than Red and Blue…which for the record it isn’t.  These little acts of bullshit are, as Stewart points out, necessary in human being’s mundane life, because they preserve people’s peace of mind.

It’s easy then to mistake that low level bullshit concern for the later more pernicious types of bullshit that there becomes a problem.

Stewart continues:

It comes in three basic flavors.  One, making bad things sound like good things.  Organic, all-natural cupcakes.  Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell.  Patriot Act.  Because “Are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell.  So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff.  Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit.

The first example makes me laugh, because in the last month I’ve listened to about or around thirty to forty “lectures” from my wife about the bullshit industry that is Organic food.  When I was in High School my teacher assigned us to read Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal by Eric Schlosser, and like many Americans at the time it scared me off of fast food.  It wasn’t because the way the fast food industry profits off of the cheap labor of immigrants who typically are illegally here and so when they suffer a work-place accident aren’t entitled to any workman’s comp or insurance benefits.  No.  It was because the food was gross, and this paranoia, much like that caused after the publication of The Jungle in 1906, progressives scrambled to develop the organic food industry to keep eaters safe.  The problem with this is that along the way bullshit began to infest this industry.1a0904b28b57d3b348485cb1c81b7caa

While political conservatives tend to be bullies and blowhards, liberals tend to be smug and self-righteous, the best example being Bill Maher.  GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, tend to be the victims of this “righteous” campaign because often GMOs are the licensed product of corporations of Monsanto.  To be fair to these liberals, Monsanto isn’t a pleasant company and has screwed plenty, and I mean plenty, of farmers who simply want to grow their own crops.  GMOs become guilty by association to Monsanto and this becomes a real problem.  Any and all science that proves GMOs are no more harmful, if they ever were, than regular crops tends to be silenced with bullshit and so we wind up with “Organic cupcakes” and I get to listen to my wife, while trying to get a few pages of Infinite Jest in before I have to vacuum, explain this bullshit out.  It’s the little things that make a marriage.

The second brand of bullshit is similar, but slightly more nuanced:bB1jw

Number two.  The second way, Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit.  Complexity.  You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss.  Everyone promised me that that made sense.  But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement.  So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima nocte with my spouse.  Here’s another one: Simply put.  Simply put.  Banks should be able to bet your pension money on red.  Bullshitly put, it’s, hey, this.  Dodd Frank.  Hey, a handful of billionaires can’t buy our elections right?  Of course not.  They can only pour unlimited, anonymous cash into a 501©4, otherwise they’d have to 501©6 it, or funnel it openly through a non-campaign coordinated super pac…(*whisper*)I think they’re asleep now, we can sneak out.

I’ve never even read any part of an iTunes agreement, though since I went completely PC this really hasn’t been too much of an issue so I’ll stick with the Billionaires and money.  Now being raised as part of the Middle class the idea that I could influence elections in any way other than simply voting is a foreign concept…but not that foreign.  Attending a private school, I met one or two politician’s sons, and while most of them were assholes, I recognized rather quickly that knowing the right people would promise many shlubs that they would stay out of trouble.  Looking at elections I, like many Americans, tend to get rather flustered when talk of SuperPacs is discussed, or when some well-meaning economist comes on to explain that Canidate X has performed a violation of Polcy 709(b)9 and…and….

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Excuse me I fell asleep.

It’s easy to watch the last part of this second section as simple hyperbole, but as in the last example the brilliance was in the fact that I recognized painfully that I had simply changed the channel from CSPAN when they began to discuss campaign finance policy.  I intended to sit and watch it, because after all I am a patriot and I do care about the future of my country.  But god, even I can’t stand to listen to bureaucrats discuss form 506(d)3 that was abridged from 509(f)9 which permitted funds to transfer to…to…to…

WIN_20160724_20_54_30_Pro

Damn it.

It’s easy to laugh at how painfully boring the realities of political finances have become, but that laughter only reveals how uncomfortable many people are.  Admitting ignorance, willful ignorance at that, is embarrassing and often leaves people feeling miserable or foolish.  Stewart’s speech isn’t designed to shame the viewer however, but merely to acknowledge his complicity in it.  Tolstoy wrote a long damn novel about the rules governing how to use and enjoy your ipod, and Dodd Frank played the nation for a chump, and each election season we’re reminded that, to quote Mitt Romney “Corporations are people too.”

I’ll move onto the last part of the speech however which outlines the most cowardly aspect of bullshit:2f81826094efccb3babd8842f8784f3b

And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility.  These Bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry.  We can’t do anything because we don’t yet know everything.  We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns.  Until then, I say it leads to controversy.

The first question that should really be asked is why Stewart isn’t taking gay-marriage-vaccines more seriously because in the last five minutes at least three of these goats have busted into my office and stolen my guns.  Granted most of them were made in Russia, but it’s the lack of grace that’s the most bothersome.  In all seriousness however this part of the speech is probably the most polarizing for many Americans because of the fact that most of the bullshit he’s calling is from conservatism (though liberals shouldn’t be smug because vaccines save lives and do NOT cause autism).  What’s important here is not to discuss the nuance inherent to each of these political opinions, but rather to observe the impulse to pull back from action simply because “all the facts aren’t in.”

Obviously some courses of action, like going to war or asking that guy with the leather Aron-Ridge-35straps on his chest if he’d like to dance, should be reserved until all the facts are in, as the Iraq war and a brief affair at the Pleasure Dungeon taught everyone.  The call to say “we can’t act because we don’t know everything” is often spoken from individuals who stand to lose something from a particular course of action, and this reeks of bias and selfishness.  Also if Todd is reading this you left your straps in my car.

It’s not enough to just acknowledge that this “call” is bullshit, for in fact many individual citizens recognize bullshit for what it is.  What they often lack is the gumption, or sense of agency that they can act.

Stewart of course ends his speech by pointing this out and offering some hope for the future:

Now, the good news is this.  Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy.  And their work is easily detected.  And looking for it is a kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.  Like an “I Spy” of bullshit.  So I say to you tonight, friends.  The best defense against bullshit is vigilance.  So if you smell something, say something.

I haven’t dug into this speech as much as I should, but as I said from the start, Bullshit is Everywhere does most of the work for you, and perhaps that’s the last real impact that the speech has on the reader/viewer.  Watching Stewart was never a strenuous exercise, and Bullshit is Everywhere really demonstrates the ethos the man had during his career.  The reason bullshit is everywhere is because, as he points out, it’s hidden beneath pretty words, long boring endless words, or words that say more words are dangerous.  Because of this many citizens refuse to challenge bullshit lest they be laughed at or challenged themselves.o-jon-stewart-ebola-facebook

Stewart provided his audience a net from which to act, because he didn’t mind being the person being laughed at.  I sometimes remark to people that Stewart in his prime served as a kind of medieval court jester for American Politics, for while his discussion about the Deficit and Fox News were always full of jokes, often at his own expense, they were riddled with truth and facts that tried only to show where the bullshit was and how much it stank.

Bullshit is Everywhere isn’t just Stewart’s speech however, for even after Stewart himself is gone the speech will live on (I’ll make sure of it, or maybe Todd will, why hasn’t he called ds_15125_03_16x9me).  In its simple way the speech offers up an important, and funny, reminder about what being a citizen of a republic is really about.  The powerful and the corrupt work principally in bullshit, and by explaining out the three types Stewart gives his audience a blueprint from which to dissect and “spot” bullshit so that it can be fought.

There are few speeches in American History that deal so pressingingly with the nature of civic responsibility, and even fewer that have the courtesy to cut the bullshit and get to the point.

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*Writer’s Note*

While I was writing this essay I struggled to find a transcript of Bullshit is Everywhere, nor could I find a website that had the full, unedited speech.  I managed to find a jpeg item that had the speech, but going forward that wasn’t what people needed (plus it itself was missing one or two items).  As such, I’ve placed the ENTIRE, UN-EDITED speech below so that the reader can have it as a resource.  Good Luck.

Bullshit is everywhere. 

Are the kids still here?  We’ll deal with that later.  Bullshit is everywhere.  There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some way, infused with bullshit; not all of it bad. The general day-to-day organic free-range bullshit is often necessary, or, at the very least, innocuous: “Oh, what a beautiful baby! I’m sure it’ll grow into that head!” That kind of bullshit, in many ways, provides important social contract fertilizer, which keeps people from making each other cry all day. But then, there’s the more pernicious bullshit; the premediated, institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bullshit-ocracy. It comes in three basic flavors:

It comes in three basic flavors.  One, making bad things sound like good things.  Organic, all-natural cupcakes.  Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell.  Patriot Act.  Because “Are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell.  So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff.  Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit.

Number two.  The second way, Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit.  Complexity.  You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss.  Everyone promised me that that made sense.  But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement.  So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima nocte with my spouse.  Here’s another one: Simply put.  Simply put.  Banks should be able to bet your pension money on red.  Bullshitly put, it’s, hey, this.  Dodd Frank.  Hey, a handful of billionaires can’t buy our elections right?  Of course not.  They can only pour unlimited, anonymous cash into a 501©4, otherwise they’d have to 501©6 it, or funnel it openly through a non-campaign coordinated super pac…(*whisper*)I think they’re asleep now, we can sneak out.

And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility.  These Bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry.  We can’t do anything because we don’t yet know everything.  We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns.  Until then, I say it leads to controversy.

Now, the good news is this.  Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy.  And their work is easily detected.  And looking for it is a kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.  Like an “I Spy” of bullshit.  So I say to you tonight, friends.  The best defense against bullshit is vigilance.  So if you smell something, say something.

 

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