“A few years back, I was riding my dirt bike out in the prairies, near the border south of town, when I spotted an antelope. I hit the throttle and headed after the antelope as it took off through a field along a barbed wire fence. Once I was directly behind it, I tore up along the left side of the antelope so we were racing neck and neck at full speed. Just as it was about to change direction and gallop away, I took the pipe wrench I was holding in my right hand and cracked the antelope square in the skull. It went down hard and I swear to god, that antelope made for the best sausage I ever ate.”
This story is courtesy of Rob, a half-ass tradesman I once worked with when I was a gopher for a construction company years back. Rob told me this story one of the first days I met him and previous to this particular story he had delighted me with tales about his expertise with homemade explosives, gang fighting on an extremely narrow pedestrian bridge that ran overtop a major highway, and demolishing an old dam using an 80-pound jackhammer he set on his shoulder and operated while standing on a suspend scaffold. With all this background material to consider, Rob dropped the “Antelope Story” on me and I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. I had met an honest to goodness world-class Bullshitter. A Bullshitter that would never think twice about the credibility of the words coming out of his mouth. No logic, commonsense, or any amount of counter evidence could slow Rob down, which was the beauty of his character. Unfortunately, it seems more and more likely that Bullshit like Rob’s is going extinct.
Wikipedia, currently the most interesting source for information that straddles the line between Bullshit and truth defines Bullshit as such:
Bullshit: Protests the use of misleading, disingenuous false language. While the word is generally used in a deprecating sense, it may imply a measure of respect for language skills, or frivolity, among various other benign usages. In philosophy, Henry Franfurt, among others, analyzed the concept of bullshit as related to but distinct from lying.
This is an appropriate definition for my purposes as, Bullshit, Bullshittin’, and a Bullshitter are meant to be endearing, at least relatively so. The terms are usually thrown about when a charmingly verbose character always seems to have an answer, opinion or anecdote for every conversation and situation and often launch into a signature tangent. Surrounding listeners nod along to the ideas of the Bullshitter, half believing a line here and there, wondering if perhaps some of what they say is accurate. Most importantly though, the listeners are always entertained by the rant, which is all that really matters because that’s all the Bullshitter ever really aims to achieve. He isn’t trying to deceive anyone, or provide a false sense of identity so as to trick people into thinking he is much smarter than he really is. No, the way of The Bullshitter’s words are mainly just a skill that is exercised to summon a smile from a listener or steer a more gullible soul into a direction where they might say something innocently or out of context and provide all within earshot with a hearty laugh. This kind of Bullshit It is simple and harmless, fun and good natured.
Today the forum of a Bullshitter is changing however. The landscape is one littered with people of this ilk that are too wonton with their claims and end up being discredited by a know-it-all with an internet connection. The booby-traps of smart phones, social networking, and everything today being captured by photograph or film, have made it nearly impossible to fudge the truth a bit and exaggerate as one sees fit depending on both the tale being told and the audience at hand. Because of this, Bullshit is in short supply and it’s a real shame.
There is too much to be learned from the Bullshitter: How to respond to a conversation that you have no business being a part of; when it is appropriate to stretch the truth based on the pals at hand and the amount of alcohol that has been appreciated; why it is always better to have some version of the truth handy rather than no version of truth at all. These aren’t methods of deception, they are life skills. Life skills that make it easier for nearly anyone to get along with acquaintances and make friends, acquire employment, and stay out of trouble. And while some might scoff at the idea of Bullshittin’ in order to secure a job or sidestep a tongue lashing from a parent or spouse, these people aren’t truly appreciating the art and honour of Bullshittin’.
Take Rob for instance. While he may have been pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable Bullshit to shovel, there was no harm in his tall tales. I could have easily began to ask questions like: why did you have a wrench in your hand while riding a dirt bike? How did you gut the antelope and get it back to your house on said dirt bike? How did you manage, at a dangerously high speed, to kill the antelope with essentially your bare hands without its antlers becoming a deadly hazard? And why should I believe you had the energy to do this when you’re too lazy to bend over and tie the shoelaces on your work boots? The beautiful part is Rob would have had answer to any one of these questions, and it would have been comical and distracting. Sure it would it have been a lie, if that’s what you want to label it. But even if it was a lie, Rob wasn’t telling a lie. He was telling a story that was exaggerated and fantastical and entertaining. Which is the essence of Bullshit.
In a practical sense, if these Bullshittin’ skills are honed properly anyone can find a use for them. Consider the following example. Imagine a scenario where you’re with your friends on a Saturday afternoon after everyone pitched in to help build a deck all morning. While the deck was finished around noon, it’s now closing in on the evening. More than a few beer have been drained and the Bullshit is being heaved in full force. Everyone’s talents and expertise are being enthusiastically polished and the entire crowd is loving it (except your one friend that lacks the Bullshittin’ ability because he was cursed with the attribute of pure honesty. His disposition supplies endless laughs for you and your pals). Now, as evening turns to night, you all are going to have to return home with a story about where they have been all day and how it was spent – and why you’re all slightly slurring. The tales will vary from friend to friend, but if your abilities have been strengthened and honed properly throughout the years then the stories should match-up somewhat similarly.
“Hi hon, sorry I’m not home as soon as I thought I would be, but we wanted to make sure the deck was up to code (by drinking on it all afternoon). Then Jeff needed some help moving some stuff so we all chipped in with that (like bringing his BBQ and another flat of beer over to the deck). Then I figured it was such a nice night and I needed the exercise so I just strolled through the park on the way home. I’ll go pick up my truck Sunday afternoon (I couldn’t drive, so tomorrow I will get to stop by my friend’s house for a coffee and Baileys on his new deck).”
Nothing said in the above statement is a lie. Certain details are just left out because it was important that other plot points were given particular significance. That is the essence of Bullshittin’ – manipulation of the truth so that everyone involved can carry on happy and healthy. And these skills were nurtured as recently as a decade ago when you could pull out random trivia that was far fetched and misconstrued because it wasn’t the absolute facts that mattered, it was the validity of the argument, the artistry of the logic and timing of the wit with which it was all told. Groups of friends could sit around and contemplate music, news, sports, relationships and life philosophies that were far beyond anyone’s actual definitive knowledge, because it was fun and enlightening, not because it was a contest about who could recite the hardest and most precise facts. It’s about conversation, choice of words, and a murky understanding of an array of concepts that makes discussion a gift within itself, and there is no need for the overbearing presence of having to be right and completely accurate.
But today I worry Bullshit and the Bullshitter are in danger. Now, when one friend tells another friend a story about a person/place/thing and either leaves out or exaggerates certain details of the story – whether consciously or not – some smarmy third party always seems to be standing nearby waiting to use their wifi access and a search engine as a means of revelation that no one remembers asking for. They want to rid us and our conversations of the Bullshit. To take away joy away from the Bullshitters and from Rob’s heroic antelope sausage.
That’s not Bullshit, it’s just shitty.
Kris Kantrud is a freelance writer. If you have any questions, comments or complaints please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.