Robert Bender and friends are fed up with everyone's bullshit.
The 67-year-old from Ottawa says people are spewing more bullshit these days than they ever have before, and together with a half-dozen "fun-loving mercenaries" (whatever that means), he founded a company that sends it right back at them. Incredi-Bull, launched in January, offers its customers poetic justice: to call people on their bullshit "and actually do something about it."
In short, they sell authentic Canadian bullshit that was excreted from a real bull's ass.
Described as 100 percent natural, artisanal, and "hand-harvested," it's pretty much just a small, flattened turd fastened to a little orange card with a scornful message pointing out the recipient's shitty ways. It sells for $14.95 [$11 USD].
"At some level, it's a joke, and at some level, it's serious," says Bender, a former biologist and tech businessman. "The protest with humor has the advantage of both diffusing the harsh edge and also providing a vehicle… to make a protest, without being absolutely confrontational."
The company was intellectually inspired by On Bullshit, a 16-page essay by Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University, which, in both the dry style of academia and sly tone of someone who knows he's writing a major paper about "bullshit," shrewdly analyzes the intricate concept. It was also partially influenced by French protests involving agricultural policy, mostly in the 70s and 80s, during which farmers drove their manure spreaders into towns, fired them up, and sprayed shit all over the place.
Incredi-Bull is far from the first company to sell mail-order animal feces, however. Popular options include PoopSenders, Shitexpress, and I Poop You. Cards Against Humanity even did it on a grand scale in December 2014, when the company shipped 30,000 boxes of cow poo to customers as part of a Black Friday promotion.
At least one such scenario has raised legal questions about sending literal crap in the mail. Last year, an Iowa woman entered a legal battle with her neighbors after being charged with harassment for mailing a bag of cow dung to them because they complained about her dog barking.
Canada Post would neither confirm nor deny that mailing feces is allowed, but the practice does appear to meet its guidelines on biological matter, as long as it's not poisonous or infectious, won't soil other mail or postal equipment, or emit an offensive odor, and is packaged properly. The US Postal Service has actually gone on record to say that "yes, [poop] can be mailed," but it needs to meet its "strict guidelines."
Incredi-Bull's material gets collected from a cattle breeder in the Ottawa area, and then pasteurized to kill all the bacteria, and get rid of the smell. "You can bet that someone, somewhere, is going to put down a bar bet about eating this stuff," Bender says. "We figured, yeah, people in bars do stuff like that, so we sterilize it to actual standards for medical sterilization."
Legal experts have advised that it's not necessarily the act of mailing feces that's problematic, since, generally speaking, it isn't dangerous, but it's the sender's intent and the context of his or her relationship with the recipient that could potentially make the person legally liable. It would, however, be "unlikely" for someone to face any criminal liability, according to Toronto criminal defense lawyer Brian Weingarten.
Weingarten says that any case would have to prove not only that it was a real threat, but also that it was done with malicious intent or recklessness.
"It's probably going to be an inconvenience, and the person's probably not going to be happy, but I think it would be a very unusual circumstance for it to really amount to a criminal charge," he says. "Courts don't like to deal with things that are jokes or pranks in a criminal context."
"This is clearly a joke product, with humor as intent. It has been sterilized, it has been treated in ways that make it innocuous," says Bender. "From a social standpoint, we don't want to be party to bullying or things that could come out of what I would call inappropriate motivation for protest."
He says business has been solid so far. Incredi-Bull keeps its sales numbers private, but he says they're all currently processing their third 110-pound lot of raw material (each "greeting card" uses between 0.7 and 1.7 oz). The company's already planning to scale up, including eventually introducing a new "bullshit detector" product. Not hard, since Bender says there's "no shortage" of bullshit in Canada.
"It's an annoying feature of life ,and I think in some ways corrosive. There are a lot of people who are fed up with the constant amount of abuse they get from being on the receiving end of bullshit."
Follow Adam Feibel on Twitter.