Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
I watched three episodes of the interesting Showtime series "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" It stars our favorite magician/comedians as they attempt to debunk many popular con artists. The premiere episode opens with an introduction of the format. They (Penn) will call liars “assholes” and “motherfuckers” rather than “liars” because the “liar” is a libelous term. I like it all ready.
Episode one focuses on psychics; specifically those that work on television and make vast amounts of cash doing it. P&T set-up a session consisting of a small group and a psychic. They show how the psychic fishes for info on who people want to contact before the session actually begins. In the middle of the episode, Penn gives an impassioned monologue about his mother’s death and how much these “motherfuckers” piss him off for playing with people’s base emotions.
Episode two shows how the focus of the show isn’t going to be a detailed debunking of bullshit, but a highlight of the silliness in order to allow humor to enter the series. This episode focussed on people who believe in UFO’s and/or who believe they have been abducted. The most interesting thing is when Penn points out how people have to pay to be in a abductee group therapy session that only seeks to perpetuate what the attendees wish to believe. All attendees also clearly have some mental issues, which can be seen simply by looking at their faces (and hearing them each admit to taking one or more psychological drugs).
I have to confess that at times ad hominem arguments are used to make points. For instance, in an episode trying to debunk reflexology (pressure points in the feet), magnetic therapy, and chiropractors, P&T do admit that there is some value in chiropractic treatment for back alignment problems. Once. Yet they go on to argue that there is no reason for a young child to visit a chiropractor simply because some of their bones aren’t fully formed and “that’s just sick.” I’m sure there is an argument to be made in there, but P&T didn’t make it. In fact, the counter arguments were provided by one medical doctor, by no means a consensus.
I’m going to finish out the first season to see what my proper feelings are on the series. It certainly appears to be a worthwhile endeavor, though I wish they allotted more time to each subject. They discuss the P.T. (Nice!) Barnum theory, which is more eloquent than “there’s a sucker born every minute,” about how people wish to be fooled. In a sense, P&T are playing the same game with me. I don’t believe strongly in UFOs and chiropractors as a cure all, but I want them to prove it to me rather than play on the beliefs I already have. They did a good job with psychics, but the other episodes were certainly hit or miss.
The next episode I’m watching deals with second-hand smoke. This could get interesting…