A few years ago a tweedy professor had a surprise bestseller with his book, On Bullshit. We laughed because he was telling us something scholarly about the ordure we swim through every day.
Think of Chris Matthews swooning over the manly aftershave of Fred Thompson or the warrior swagger of the president when he landed, ala Tom Cruise, aboard the USS Lincoln. It's bullshit.
Or the sideshow of Bush 41 holding up a bag of prop crack cocaine to underline the dangers of the crack-addled zombies out to snatch your little girl off the street. It was right there on TV and we knew it was bullshit.
Obama's gutter ball and Hillary's pantsuits are stupid bullshit.
But there were three docs at this weekend's Full Frame Film Festival that showed us that bullshit, even stupid bullshit, has consequences.
The men up there are Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson and they're being taken to jail. Their crime? They refused to testify about their political beliefs. Their beliefs, mind you, not their actions. It was what they thought that was a crime according to HUAC, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.
Trumbo was the writer of Johnny Got His Gun, Spartacus and a bunch of other classics. Congress thought his ideas were dangerous. He went to jail. Others had their lives destroyed and it was all vintage bullshit.
This guy might be the King of Bullshit. He's Lee Atwater, the amoral, cold-blooded slime weasel who birthed today's politics of partisan crap. He proved that if you were willing to say anything about your opponent, you could win elections. It was all bullshit. He knew it, his clients knew it. And it didn't matter.
He ruined people's lives and reputations and was rewarded handsomely by his friends in the GOP. If you like the way American politics is muddied by innuendo, gossip, blatant untruths and despicable character assassination, thank Atwater. He was a charmer and pure-D, triple-distilled bullshit from the hair on his head to the shine on his shoes.
Today, what Atwater taught Karl Rove and George W. Bush led to this:
Tomas Young was a soldier with the First Cav. One week in Iraq and he takes a sniper's bullet to the spine and comes home seriously fucked up. His story is told in a new doc called Body of War. I urge you to check it out.
So the next time you hear someone say, "It's all bullshit," think of the consequences of shrugging it off. Bullshit may sound benign, may even be entertaining. But bullshit, when it hits you, has consequences. Ask Tomas Young.
And that's no bullshit.