Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection – Analysis

Postman’s essay discusses truth in authorship, or lack of it. More specifically tailored to teachers at the NCTE (National Convention for the Teachers of English) to give them the awareness of bullshit. It was written in 1967, before digital media, but is still related to ideas about digital technology today. He is quick to validate his use of words referring to Ernest Hemmingway, who said that crap detection is a quality that we all need above all else. It does however grab the attention of artists; bullshit is heavily linked with art because of its obscure language. The essay defines crap and gives us the information to detect it. Fox news reported that parts of Birmingham were no go areas for non-muslims, after those words left Steve Emerson’s mouth, some believed it as truth, but those informed to distrust the news poked fun at the accusations. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-30913393

Bullshit is a shortcut that gives people and businesses the affirmation or the excuse that what they are doing is right, and they sell this bullshit to others. We are exposed to a lot of bullshit ideas that manipulate our thinking. Postman highlights the importance for students to be aware of when they are being told these ideas.

The essay separates bullshit into categories. Pomposity refers to obscuring perception through decorative language and titles. This bullshit relies on the validation of popularity and occupation as well as the use academic language to distract from sluggish content. We are exposed to celebrities opinions based on their titles, not on the quality of what they are saying. Fanaticism is a form of arrogance. This bullshit refers to those who don’t take feedback well, they have a point of view that can’t be challenged because of their self-assurance. Inanity speaks of bullshit similar to pomposity. Media manipulation where statements are issued to mass audiences, but those statements are spoken by someone no more credible that the audience itself. Superstition indicates ignorance, using rhetoric to discount fact.

However, bullshit is said to be a lot more complex than following a code of categories. Because ‘each person’s crap detector is embedded in their value-system’. Without values, it is difficult to identify what is right and what is wrong. Possibly the most complex detection of bullshit is within ourselves. The importance in crap detection is to be taught values, only then can we distinguish what is true or false. A lot said on social media is opinion that isn’t based on fact and can be controversial and damaging for others.”10,000 tweets containing a racial slur are posted on Twitter every day,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nitya-rajan/racism-in-140-characters_b_4922343.html), values allow people to identify whats right and what is wrong. Postman’s third and forth laws examine this further, suggesting that nothing is what we think its about, including ourselves. This is because identity is constructed and complex, to think without fact is a fanaticism and a point of view that could well be bullshit.

The idea based around crap detection is controversial. It discounts supported ideas like communism and patriotism as bullshit. Bias is evident with such ideas, but discounting them opens up more philosophical arguments to whether everything is bullshit. Postman argues that large groups do manipulate thinking, but then what isn’t bullshit? Bullshit is analysed well, but a lot of thinking is based on opinion, even Plato and Kant believed in fantasy as a reality, should we discount something because it is an ideology that is ‘saturated with bullshit’?

The essay was written in 1967, one year before the 68′ riots about the war in Vietnam. Polls showed that the support for the war had fallen below the 50% margin (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/thousands-protest-the-war-in-vietnam). An indication that at the time, the people of America were fed justification from President Lyndon Johnson for a war that they didn’t want. Postman’s attachment to the distrust of ‘isms’ could well be linked to the war against the spread of communism (Vietnam war). However, a lot that he has mentioned links to the online world, that with everyone having the access to be publishers, there is an increase in bullshit. Regardless, the seems to be an afterthought everything is bullshit, and not a definitive way of how teachers should allow their students to critical respond to media that lacks factual information. It is an incredibly subjective article in itself, which does reflect the thinking during that time in American history.



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