Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Goodnight, Mr. Carlin

Comic George Carlin died the other day, as was widely reported. I thought it was nice to see so many articles of praise for the man on his passing. Article: "How Carlin Changed Comedy".

Many cited his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Telelvision" routine, and the Supreme Court case that followed. Well, me too. It had a big effect on me, twice.

The first was as a 12-year-old. We just got cable TV, and I had never heard such a string of profanity used a) so profusely, and b) so calmly in a discourse. I was deeply impressed, as any smart-ass lad of 12 might be.

The insights ran a bit deeper at age 19, when I became Program Director at my college radio station, WCSB-FM. It was my job to understand the convoluted interpretation of the "7 Words Supreme Court case as they affected broadcast radio. I was the law at the station, but also the teacher. I had to instruct new recruits on the things you could air and the things you couldn't, without risk of fines or even loss of license, such was the atmosphere created by the FCC in response to 'obscenity' and 'indecency'.

To get it, let's examine the words "shit" and "fuck".

If you aired something that went, "what a shitty thing to do!", this was okay to air late at night, for it was merely indecent. If you aired something that went, "your dog took a shit on my lawn!", this was not okay to air, for it was obscene. The difference? The use of the word to mean an excretory function, which was deemed bad.

So, "fuck you!" was okay at night, as indecent. "He fucked her at the motel" was forbidden, as obscene. The use of the word as a sexual function was bad, in the eyes of the FCC.

The way I took it was that our country, or at least our government, was afraid to talk about two of the most common, basic things human beings can do, in non-clinical language. Afraid of words! Banning them! In America! Pathetic.

George Carlin, on the other hand, was not afraid of words. He explored them deeply. It's how he came up with routines like this. Carlin was hereby established as a hero to me.

Free speech was something I cherished, and as the representative of a radio station to the FCC, thus, to the federal government, I got one of my first real-life instances where I came to find government to be a pointless, restrictive ogre. After all- if one didn't like what they heard, they were perfectly free to use one of two buttons: the on/off button, or the frequency dial.

So, thanks, George, for the laughs and the formative experience. Thanks, and goodnight.

Here's the "Seven Words" routine. Don't click if you can't have the cuss words fill the room!


Bobby G. said...

They can ban words...and they can ban books, but it's the IDEAS they can't get a handle on (thankfully)...!

Being a stuffed shirt is one thing, but being open to ideas, concepts and creative thinking is what initially made this nation in the first place.

Puritanical rhetoric has it's place (namely in the home, and by choice), but we need to loosen up a bit (like the UK).

We (as a nation) are far from pristine as far as morality goes, and we'll just never achieve the level some would like to see.

But we can still have a sense OF morality, ethics, and integrity while not compromising our heritage in the process.

Well said about Carlin.
He will be missed.


varangianguard said...

Ah, I can remember seeing George Carlin on TV back in the mid-70's. I always liked his take on words.