Bullshit Detector Watch
Categories: Entrepreneurship, Lifestyle | Culture
In 2005, Joey Skaggs decided to create a non-partisan and non-sectarian tool that people could use to combat the spin, hype, propaganda, and general bullshit that is ubiquitous these days. It was to be a wristwatch that would flash, moo and poop–and also tell time. With this satirical product, he could empower people to make humorous social commentary any time, anywhere. Push the button and the Universal Bullshit Detector Watch would speak their minds. In any language it would sound the same. When asked “What’s that sound?” They could simply reply, “Oh, sorry! That’s my bullshit detector…”
It took over a year, but he finally launched the watch at the end of 2006. Endlessly useful, it attracted fans and admirers. One journalist jokingly called it the “greatest invention since sliced bread”. The Universal Bullshit Detector Watch is still available online for $24.95 at http://bswatch.com.
The back story is amusing: Not finding a watchmaker in the U.S., Skaggs decided to shop elsewhere. Living part time in Hawaii gave him the opportunity to partake in a cultural exchange and business development mission managed by the Hawaii Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). Working with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) and other government agencies, DBEDT set up matchmaking meetings with Chinese companies interested in doing business with Hawaii businesses.
Before the trip Skaggs filled out a form indicating what type of business relationships he was seeking. What to put down on the application? He’s an internationally known artist, satirist and prankster? He uses art as a means to criticize disinformation, hypocrisy and spin in the news media, government and big business? He has intentionally hoaxed the world press on numerous occasions by promoting fake stories to make his point?
He knew his work would not be too easily understood in China. Would they let him in? If they let him in, would they let him out?
As a bonus, the Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, was attending this mission. Would her administration relish the idea of her traveling with an internationally notorious prankster? So, Skaggs was intentionally vague about his past, and focused mainly on the contacts he wanted to make.
DBEDT provided Chinese student interpreters to assist with communications. Before meeting any of the Chinese representatives, Skaggs met with his interpreter to explain his work. She was an English major but had a hard time understanding conceptually what he was telling her. She called her boyfriend and they had an animated conversation. He looked up Skaggs on the Internet and explained what he saw. She got it. She laughed and told Skaggs how happy she was to work with him. He was pleased.
On the first day of meetings in Shanghai, the DBEDT group was ushered into the hotel conference room to tables with their names in English and Chinese. There were more people waiting to see Skaggs than he could ever have imagined. Of all the interesting people who showed up to meet with him, one was Chen Jia Chang, an 82 year old highly venerated watch designer and engineer. He very proudly showed Skaggs his resume, his catalog and a list of the awards he had won. He then showed him five books he had authored on the subject. He had young people with him who helped interpret. He spoke English, but he mostly chose not to. Once he had finished telling Skaggs about his work, he asked Skaggs what he could do for him.
It was the moment of truth. Skaggs didn’t want to offend him. So he carefully explained who he is and what he does and then gave him some examples. He told him that in his country he is a known satirist and artist who uses his work to criticize the media and to startle people out of status-quo thinking. The watchmaker’s brow was furrowed as Skaggs described the Cathouse for Dogs, as an example–an establishment where you could get your dog sexually gratified for fifty dollars–explaining that it was not true, but that the world believed it until Skaggs revealed it was a hoax.
Here was an eminent designer in his 80’s who had lived through the Japanese Occupation, World War II, Mao and the Cultural Revolution and now Chinese capitalism. Try as they might, the interpreters could not get him to understand. They were laughing, but he was struggling. Skaggs still had to explain the product he wanted him to design! So he showed him a web site with mock-ups of his watch concepts (a series of satirical watches). When they got to the Universal Bullshit Detector Watch, he stared and stared and stared. Then he threw up his arms in the air and shouted, “Genius!” They were home free.
From that point on, he became the best ally Skaggs could wish for. They worked together through challenge after challenge and delay after delay until well over a year later, they finally had a fully functional prototype. Neither of them had dreamed it would take so long, but the journey was well worth it, and both are proud of the outcome.