Thursday, February 21, 2008

Penn and Teller take on "blurks"

I've become a huge fan of Penn and Teller lately. Their show (B.S.) is available on Netflix direct and most are now on YouTube as well now. The reason I love them so much is that they have devoted an entire show to challenging blurks. A blurk, by the way, is defined in the Wiktionary protologism page as:

blurk: Popular, conventional wisdom which may be factually right or wrong, but which loses meaning through frequent, often thoughtless repetition.

"Blurk" also has another meaning to some. The urban dictionary defines it as:

blurk: A lurker on a blog. (n)To lurk and read a blog, but not comment (v)

For the purposes of this blog, only the first definition is acceptable. An example of a blurk would be: "In my opinion, it's really the Fed Chairman who's the most powerful man in the free world." For one, this statement happens to be untrue but that's not what makes it a blurk. It's just something that gets repeated endlessly by people who may not even know who the Fed Chairman is or what he does -- but they heard some pundit say this on CNN, so it sounds like good cocktail party fodder.

Penn and Teller devote each episode of their show to challenging a common societal blurk, i.e. "Wal-Mart is evil," "9-11 is way too sophisticated; it must've been an inside job," "Americans are becoming ruder all the time," etc.

These are all examples of statements that get thrown around endlessly but that don't necessarily stand up to even the first tests of scrutiny (but again, bear in mind that a statement can be 100% true and still qualify as a blurk).

I don't always agree with Penn and Teller's politics, and I don't always agree with their treatment of issues, but I just love the fact that someone is out there systematically trying to challenge and poke logical holes in a lot of beliefs that Americans hold near and dear.

While I'm applauding people, let me add that I have become a South Park fan with the verve of a post-Road to Damascus Saul. I had avoided it for years because I (wrongly) thought the appeal was based on the shock value of children swearing at each other; on the contrary, much of what South Park does these days is brilliantly dismantle common blurks.
Editor's Note: I will return to the subject of blurks in future entries. In the meantime, good places to look for blurks are in: commentary about the real estate market, the subprime lending crisis, steroids in professional sports, and any kind of statement that tries to capture the complexity of the entire 2008 nomination season in one fell swoop.

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