After watching the 10th commercial with a narrator gravely intoning “we’re all in this together” overtop images of people staring stoically into the unknown future and hugging their kids, I started to go a bit nuts.
A&W, Walmart, Charmin, Canadian Tire — every corporation seems to have churned out a sentiment-heavy, treacly ad about overcoming adversity, the triumph of the human spirit, and oh yeah — buy our crap.
After screaming “fuck off” at the TV for a while, which didn’t do much, I wondered: why am I really mad at Charmin and its ultra-soft toilet paper?
Maybe because all the puffy, feel-good stuff from corporations, which by design are all too happy to sacrifice workers for the bottom line, makes me want to break things. The president of Walmart made more than $22 million last year and paid his U.S. workers $14.26 an hour and we’re supposed to believe everyone is in this together. Right. Sure.
It’s so hard to separate fact from fiction at the moment.
But mostly it’s because I’m sick of the lies.
They are everywhere. Clustered thick as locusts on a Somalian maize field. The entire world has been catfished, gaslighted and glazed with syrupy stuff, like Vaseline on the lens of life.
It’s been kind of a liar’s paradise for a while, but COVID-19 upped the ante. There’s a war on science, with doctors and experts and people who actually know what the hell they’re talking about sidelined, silenced and falling out of windows.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the only rational person in the White House, is denied the opportunity to testify before a House panel, and as the pandemic heats up the U.S. is winding down its response.
Lying may have taken on monstrous proportions of late, but much of society is built on a quicksand of deceit. Tax shelters, deep fakes, spin, propaganda, insider stock trading, the list goes on.
Religion is a biggie. It’s not just the Catholic Church maintaining that it’s an instrument of God while orchestrating cover-ups of biblical proportions, but swathes of Christian evangelists invoking believers to put faith over fact, with deadly consequences.
Politics is a wall-to-wall shag carpet of lies.
War is a lie. Maybe the biggest of them all.
Viruses lie, pretending to be innocent visitors, imitating actual cells while infiltrating your body, insinuating themselves until your immune system no longer knows what is you and what is a viral invader.
Even Ellen DeGeneres is apparently not nearly as nice as we thought.
Lying, mendacity, blarney, hyperbole, sanctimony, prevarication, whatever you want to call it: the end of bullshit can’t come soon enough.
Lying comes easily to humans, from big whoppers to the small white variety.
Every culture on the planet has some form of wily trickster figure — Satan, Loki and Coyote. Look it up on Wikipedia, and you’ll get a list as a long as your arm of slippery types, no lie.
Long before he became infamous for masturbating on the unwary, Louis C.K. had a comedic routine about children discovering the magic of lying.
Raised in a family of bullshitters, I came to it early. Family dinners consisted of adults sitting around the table telling tall tales. If they didn’t know something, they just made it up with handily fabricated facts and opinions pulled from the ether, composed of hot air and confidence.
Lying is an instant get-out-of-jail-free card, a way to escape getting in trouble, and so much more.
It can make you bigger, smarter, faster and better than you actually are.
I’ve certainly done my fair share of it. Nothing big, mostly pretending I knew things that I didn’t and pretending I’ve done stuff that I hadn’t.
But nothing I’ve conjured compares to the massive campaigns of active deception going on at the moment.
When the U.S. blames China for being misleading about the spread of COVID-19, and China fires back with a Lego video, you know the global pandemic has brought the art of bullshitting to strange new places.
The U.S. also seems happy to lie to itself. New White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany opened her first media event with the words “I will never lie to you,” only to spin major ones some 30 seconds later.
As the U.S. goes down in a burning ring of liars with their pants on fire, no one seems able to differentiate reality from fantasy. And yet Trump supporters remain, denying reason, facts, science and logic and instead choosing to believe in a human so demonstrably lacking in basic decency. A large segment of the American population is queuing up to cast their votes for this serial deceiver.
Peter Wehner recently set out the reality in the Atlantic.
“What this means is that Americans are facing not just a conventional presidential election in 2020 but also, and most important, a referendum on reality and epistemology. Donald Trump is asking us to enter even further into his house of mirrors. He is asking us to live within a lie, to live within his lie, for four more years. The duty of citizenship in America today is to refuse to live within that lie.”
When the difference between the hard truth and a nice, soft, squishy prevarication can spell the difference between life and death, it’s time to lose the habit.
As a kid I remember being charmed and enthralled by adults sitting around the dinner table, spinning yarns and telling stories. It’s hard not to love larger-than-life characters, rascally types, outlaws who walk the edge of the law and get away with stuff.
But there comes a time when you should put away childish things and think and speak and understand as an adult. When you come to understand that telling stories might be pleasant and entertaining, but happy endings are only for Disney movies and sitcoms.
The truth can hurt. It’s often unpleasant and harsh, and even a little gross.
It’s also a reminder of the great unimpressed indifference of the universe. The physical laws of nature don’t care much about what you wish or want to be true. They just are.
We fool ourselves because it’s easier and less painful, but inevitably, the truth comes out. Sometimes it takes a long time, and sometimes it takes intensive, dedicated digging to unearth the facts.
In the midst of the global pandemic, it’s little wonder that people gravitate to plainspoken, honest people, folks who aren’t hiding from the truth but speaking it outright, as hard as it can be to hear. Most often they’re women: B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Canada’s Dr. Theresa Tam and so on.
We’re at the point where lying might just be the end of the two-faced, ass-covering, endlessly duplicitous, sneaky, sketchy human race. The habit has gotten us into some cataclysmic straits.
So. At the end of all this, will we be spanked and sent to bed without supper, so that we can think on what we’ve done? Will we emerge contrite and chastened, ready to deal with even larger problems like climate change and social inequity. Or will we lie until we die?
They say the truth will set you free. Let’s put that to the test.