Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit

ISBN: 1400081041
ISBN 13: 9781400081042
By: Laura Penny

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Business Currently Reading Humor Non Fiction Nonfiction Politics Propaganda Psychology Sociology To Read

About this book

“There is so much bullshit that one hardly knows where to begin...”Taking no prisoners, author Laura Penny dissects—no, disembowels—the culture of globalized, supersized, consumerized bullshit, from Bush’s White House, with its “wallpaper of phony populist sloganeering,” to Big Pharma, with its “gateway prescription drugs.” With vinegar and wit, she shows us how this smorgasbord of phoniness alienates us from one another, breeds apathy, and makes us just plain stupid.Decoding the Bullshit: A Few Choice Phrases•astroturfing: the fabrication of phony grassroots concern by PR firms•Capra-corny: see Tom DeLay’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington spin on his conversion to politics from his previous calling (bug murderer)•increased productivity: business-speak for getting rid of the people who produce things•kakistocracy: government by the worst citizens; see also plutocracy, Republican Revolution•the Lady Hal: the recorded female voice that says things like “Your call is important to us”•think-of-the-childrenism: the ultimate equal-opportunity piety; see No Child Left Behind Act•The War on Some Drugs: the prohibition of venerable old substances for the benefit of the manufacturers of newfangled patented ones

Reader's Thoughts

Nathaniel

Upon starting this book I thought, "wouldn't it be ironic if this book itself turned out to be bullshit"? Alas, despite my high hopes going in, that's exactly what it is. To start with, there are the small issues, such as the fact that, having been written in 2005, most of the content and especially tone of this book is hopelessly dated by today's standards - anything bitching about the Bush administration is just hopelessly passe these days, and the fact that the author didn't like the bullshit-laden cynicism of that administration seems to be pretty much the entire point of this book, at a time when such sentiments were hardly unique. With the exception of a few mildly interesting "organization of knowledge" type ideas about the nature of bullshit in the first few pages, there isn't a single thought in this book that someone else hadn't already thought of by 2005. This would be fine if not for Penny's annoying habit of turning every. single. sentence. into a series of rhetorical flourishes in a tone that screams "look at how clever and edgy I am", but mostly just succeeds in conveying that she's trying too hard to be clever and edgy. This makes her writing not only difficult to scan but tiresome to actually read. I would've been willing to forgive this transgression, though, if not for the much larger issue that Penny makes no effort whatsoever to be anything but derivative of all of the other anti-Bush screeds circulating at the time, or to actually show that she is capable of actually using her education in any way other than appealing to that laziest common denominator of Bush-era liberal discontent. Absolutely no attempt is made at any time to cite any actual facts or to make any original contribution beyond the first few pages. It should therefore come as no surprise that Penny's argument is riddled with factual errors. At first, it's just minor, annoying things such as referring to her disdain for commercials featuring a nonexistent SUV called the "Chevrolet Tacoma", but as the book goes on she starts misquoting history in ways that undermine her argument (e.g. misidentifying both Jamestown and New England as being essentially corporate constructions from the beginning, when New England was no such thing.) and assuming that the reader has never heard of and apparently will never hear of James Comey, who as of this writing is head of the FBI. If Penny had made errors like this once or twice it would be forgivable, but she does it so often that it undermines her credibility, since mostly these are errors that would require about a minute of Google time in order to fix. Dude, if Al Franken could cite his sources for the anti-Bush screeds he produced during this period, so can you. That this sort of shoddy, mass-produced work should appear in a one-dimensional liberal screed about how shoddy and mass-produced our culture has become is as ironic as it is sad, because it doesn't challenge the premise that even our "intellectual" polemics in opposition to mass-produced bullshit have to be mass-produced bullshit in and of themselves. Despite its initial intentions, this book is ultimately a product of the very same corporate profiteering and societal attention span issues that Penny herself is railing against. It exists not because Penny is a brilliant, or even coherent author, but simply because there was a market for this sort of writing in 2005, so someone published it to cash in, seeing the potential market of 59,028,444 (John Kerry's share of the 2004 electorate) US citizens alone who were dissatisfied with the then-present administration. Penny's failure to recognize this, as well as the unfortunately dated nature of many of these observations, is really what makes this book so insufferable. It also explains why, when I bought this book shortly after Obama took office, it was out of a stack of about two dozen remainders. It's a shame, because there are some good ideas recycled here, and even a handful of entertaining witticisms, but ultimately this is just not a book that will appeal to most people this far after the fact, at least if you want anything more than superficial affirmation that your dislike of George W. Bush ten years ago was probably justified for one reason or another. As if evidence of that fact wasn't painfully obvious today in too many other ways.

David Sarkies

There is not all that much that sets this book apart from all of the anti-corporate books that have been released, except that as the writer says at the end of the book, this is not so much a book to help us look for a way forward and a way to get out of this mess that we have found ourselves in, but rather as a means to vent her frustration over the ever encroaching corporate domination of our lives. The thing is that Penny doesn't actually say anything new in this book, and does not really point out anything that we don't already know, and there are much better books out there than this particular one. The thing about the corporation is that there are two sides to every issue. Corporations are able to raise huge amounts of capital to be able to produce things that normal people like us are not able to do. They are also able to make life easier and to provide avenues for us to be able to get things that we like and need. Without the corporation we would not have supermarkets, or multiplex cinemas, or even the amount of movies that we have to be able to watch. On the flip side, we have what is effectively unfettered power of control. Corporations control what we see and what we do. With the amount of money they are able to raise they are able to influence governments and elections. We have seen this recently in Australia where Newscorp pretty much dictated the election result by printing newspaper articules with views that they wanted people to see. For instance, Tony Abbot was pictured as the saviour that Australia needed while every move that Gillard and Rudd made was plastered everywhere. However, now what we have is a government that is effectively secret and media shy, and bowing to corporate interests for what they believe is in the best interests of the country. There is one thing that I have noticed that is coming out of this recent election and that is a law banning boycotts. This law is clearly aimed at promoting and protecting corporate interests and denying the citizens of Australia the right to freedom of speech. The question is how is this law going to be implemented. Am I going to be forced to eat at McDonalds, and am I going to be forced to do all of my shopping at one of the major supermarkets because if I don't it will be considered a boycott. Or is this law going to fall flat on its face because there is no way to actually determine whether a consumer's buying behaviour is a boycott or simply choice. Another thing this book raises is the idea of the phone maze. I work in a glorified call center (meaning that we need to have decent training to be able to work where we are working) and the idea of the phone maze is to try and direct us to where we want to go. With the number of calls I make out, I encounter either the switchboard, or the phone maze. Having navigated lots of phone mazes, one becomes proficient and getting to where you want to go, or at least working out how to speak to a person because a computer simply has no intelligence and only responds to commands. Otherwise you hit the switchboard which, unless you are ultra-specific, they end up sending you to the wrong department anyway. One thing that I notice in my workplace is how people are being forced to specialise. The work duties are slowly being narrowed down in the same way that the manufacturing sector has narrowed down the tasks that the workers perform. Before the industrial revolution, blasksmiths used to be multi-skilled, however now all you do is the same repetitive task day in and day out. The same is the case with office work, and with file management, as the specific tasks on each file are farmed out to specialists. Being somebody who likes variety in my work, and to be able to be challenged from multiple different sectors, this is something that I do not particularly like.

Paige

So, yeah, there is a lot of bullshit out there, and this book only skims the surface. She could have expanded on a lot of the topics, but the fact that she didn't does kind of give it more readability. She talks about PR, insurance companies (those fuckers!), the media, advertisement, and of course the Bush administration. There wasn't a whole lot in there that surprised me but it was enjoyable and I did pick up some interesting nuggets. Plus it was pretty funny! I read some of it to my boyfriend and he was laughing and going, "Wow...really?!?!" too.I didn't really think she was pretentious... actually cussing pot smokers are usually the least pretentious people I know. :P

Dan

Bone up on how bullshit works, and begin to inoculate yourself. A small, hilarious, and easy to read book. Not only is Laura Penny extremely funny, clever, and topical but every one of her chosen subjects have direct and genuine relevance for all of us living in a culture which is profoundly saturated with state of the art commercial propaganda and playground to entire industries devoted to the subtle manipulation of the public mind (that's you, cowboy and cowgirl American - your so-called Rugged Individualist mentality was, paradoxically for you, formed within your culture -- and besides, this mentality is largely based on misunderstandings since we are hardly Self-Interest Maximizing Agents but rather social animals evolved to help each other). Excellent all around.

Anne

An indictment against Corporate America. Will make your blood boil and raise your ire against the bullshit we put up with on a daily basis! Had to read it in bits and pieces so I wouldn't end up with high blood pressure!

Chrissy

informative ranting with no real solutions. loved it.

Robin Hemmer

"If the minimum wage had inflated as much as CEO pay or margin debt, cashiers and rib-joint ladies would be making hundreds of dollars an hour.""In 1980, CEOs made 42 times the average worker's pay; by 1990,it had doubled; by 2000 their compensation had increased to 531 times the average salary."Interesting stuff - a must read!

Laurie

It was a bit slow and the young author used bull shit far too many times in the beginning. I gave up on this one three chapters in...

Jill

Props to my dad for giving me this book. A quick read and an insightful, if a bit cynical (as we should be and often are), take on contemporary American society through a media-saturated, corporate-sponsored lens.

J

I couldn't get past the first chapter of this book. What I did read came off as totally pretentious. Also, Penny used the word "bullshit" so many times it was mind-numbing (unfortunately, I think she did this in an attempt to show how clever she is). Surely there is a better written book out there on the same topic.

Alan

A bit outdated (circa 2004) but still painfully accurate. Gives a nice breakdown of the major sources of bullshit and why they will essentially never go away (hint: MONEY). Somewhat depressing, but it's refreshing to hear someone actually speak about these things openly. Worth reading.

Jennifer

This book pretty much summed up how I feel on my cynical days. An interesting overview that collects examples of bullshit from the insurance, PR, big pharma, government, advertising etc. sectors. I recommend it if you like to gripe about that sort of thing. It doesn't really offer any suggestions (and doesn't pretend to) but awareness is the first step to making things better right? Also, the book is about 5 years old so occasionally comes off a bit dated (talking about "the current Bush administration" and "Prime Minister Paul Martin" for example) but is still relevant for the most part. Plus, the writer is Nova Scotian and works at a local university so that's an added bonus!

Mjackman

With the Western world choking on its own bullshit, watching things fall apart because we've believed our own lines, Laura Penny rides to the rescue, shovel in hand, to help us dig ourselves out. Compared to that other book, "On Bullshit," Penny's book is a breath of fresh air. No intimidating philosophical trappings, no faux-analytical setup, no nonsense. Compared to this book, "On Bullshit" is full of, um, shit.She trains her sights on big drug companies, big business, big government, and all the other peddlers of insincerity, mendacity and falseness. And she does it in a way that's approachable and fun.More on that "fun": Lots of social critics have tried using a sort of streetwise swagger in their language (see John Dicker's "United States of Wal-Mart" for an example with mixed results). But Penny pulls it off. Why? Perhaps it's because she does it all with a knowing smile. Criticizing the president by starting a sentence, "Dude's ..." or using offhand slang to mix it up when discussing Big Pharma. It comes off as fun, not forced, plain-speaking, not pretension. It's harder to do than most think. I really liked the book a lot. (It doesn't hurt that she's youngish, cute and Canadian.)

Expose Austin Texas Duty To Care For Others

Excellent, very informative, and grandeur. This explicates the pernicious evil that pervades in advertising firms, corporations, and state universities.

Pat

Another six star book that does nothing but make you a less productive member of a society that can be pretty shitty, in places. Favorite (probably garbled by now)line: PR firms make one thing and one thing only - Shit Up.

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