Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Bill Maher made fun of the guy who made the now famous "Shit is fucked up and bullshit" sign last night on his show. Basically, saying that it's a stupid sign. He's far from alone in that opinion. I, however, think the sign is brilliant.
First of all is the form of the statement: the double explicative. This rarely used device can be viewed as similar to a double negative -- seemingly self-contradictory on its face, but in reality serving as an intensifier for the original idea. "I can't get no satisfaction," for instance, clearly does not mean that speaker actually can get some satisfaction, as a strict interpretation of the language would imply. Rather, we take it to mean that the speaker REALLY can't get satisfaction. We feel it much more powerfully than if the speaker had merely claimed "I can't get satisfaction" without invoking the double negative. Similarly, in this case, the double explicative serves to underscore the sign maker's belief that the state of "shit" is not good. Beyond that, it also conveys a sense of overwhelming confusion, mimicking in language the author's feeling of overwhelming disbelief at the appalling state of the world's economy and his own lowly position therein.
Next is the language. There are not many words in this slogan, and they were clearly all chosen carefully. "Shit," is meant to refer to the state of the world economy and the distribution of wealth implied by that economy. Like actual feces, the economy is necessarily and unavoidably created by humans, and, really, all living things, as Taro Gomi points out in "Everyone Poops." And, while, like shit, an economy is a necessary by product of our society, that does not free us from the obligation to make sure that it does not do us harm. With shit, we have acquired collective wisdom to help keep us safe. It is not obvious what the economic equivalent of "Don't shit where you eat" is, but that type of basic know-how, applied to the economy, would clearly have come in handy.
Then, there's "fucked up" as a description of the state of our "shit." This implies that it is severely messed up, like one might say "I didn't get your email because my computer was fucked up." With respect to the economy and distribution of wealth, I think it is hard to argue with the author's assessment. Further, the state of being "fucked" implies that there was some "fuck"ing that went on. This is important, because it means the author is not only saying that the condition of "shit" is undesirable, but that said condition was not the result of an accident, but, rather, some violent fucking by someone or something. While fucking can have a lot of positive connotations, such as sweet, sweet lovemaking, the fucking contemplated here is an act of of violence -- rape, in other words. In the context of "Occupy Wall Street" I think we can safely conclude that the author is saying it is Wall Street that has "fucked" or raped our "shit" and left that "shit" in an undesirable condition. The economy of language and evocative nature of the statement is simply astounding.
The author further makes the point that in addition to being "fucked up" our "shit" is actually "bullshit." I think it was this seeming pseudo-tautology that really upset Bill Maher. Bullshit is clearly shit, but shit is not necessarily bullshit, so Maher has a point, at least superficially. As we've seen, though, we are really talking about the global economic system being "bullshit," which makes a lot more sense. As with our "shit" being "fucked up," this has multiple levels of meaning. For one, "bullshit" can refer to something that is false, wrong or a hoax, e.g. "Global warming is bullshit." The implication here is that our global economic system is not functioning as we've been led to believe. Additionally, "bullshit" can refer to something that is unfair or unjust, e.g. "I have to pay for a new cable box? That is some bullshit!" In that case the speaker is not claiming that having to buy a new cable box is not an accurate portrayal of reality, but, rather, that he or she views it as unfair. The sign's author here is saying that the global economic system is unfair, and, taken in the context of the movement, that the unfairness lies principally in the way that a disproportionate share of global prosperity has gone to the upper 1% of society at the expense of the remaining 99%.
It is worth noting, too, that the author could easily have used the more intense "fucking bullshit" instead of the milder, plain "bullshit," but chose to use restraint. The resulting understatement gives the sign a subtle dry wit that I find immensely refreshing.
Taken together, it's clear that the author has made a stunningly clear and succinct indictment of Wall Street, accusing it of raping the world's economy and diverting an unfair proportion of wealth to society's elite and at the same time he brilliantly expresses his own sense of overwhelming frustration and disbelief at the pitiful state of affairs. It's also possible that the author was just too stoned to realize that what he was saying didn't make any sense, but I find the former explanation much more satisfying.