Carlin and Dogma
by George Giles
June 26, 2008
The death of comedian George Carlin came as a shock. Not because I
knew him personally, but as a visceral reaction to the end of an era,
the era of my childhood. I am a baby boomer, born in the 50's and
coming of age in the 60's and 70's. Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll: that
great cultural leap off of the cliff like a horde of burnt out
lemmings. This was the age in which dogma was criticized and
overthrown: mass protest brought the Vietnam War to an end, women's
liberation, and civil rights stepped to the forefront of public
consciousness. A vigilant media, tired of the lies of Richard Nixon,
effectively brought his Presidency to an end. The state was staggered
with body blows and sent reeling against the ropes.
George Carlin owed his livelihood to his unique ability in skewering
the dogma of conventional wisdom on prime time in front of millions.
We all knew what he was against, and as such he was one of us, a
David throwing rocks at Goliath. As a man of little formal education,
which is to say he did not have a PhD from an important school in an
important discipline, Carlin was able for more than 40 years to
identify the big lie and how it masquerades behind the mask of
scientistic and legalistic façade. Dogma to Carlin was a dragon to be
slain whenever and wherever it reared its noxious head.
The first step to solution of a problem is identification, and George
Carlin was a master at identifying many of them. Carlin used humor as
his primary tool in ironic perception, and with that lever he pried
open many a mask over the façade of conventional wisdom. His cultural
role was not to solve problems, but to identify them. No matter how
bad things were he could always bring a smile and a laugh as one of
the benighted speaking his mind regardless. He kicked political
correctness right in the teeth while Bill Maher was still wearing diapers.
My favorite Carlin quote came from a monologue I watched in the 70's
one night at a friend's house after a multi-hour skull-cracking study
session in Angell Hall.
"I love people, I hate groups.
People are smart, groups are stupid."
~ George Carlin
These simple words embodied Carlin's philosophy of opposition to the
status quo, the conventional wisdom. He rarely articulated who the
enemy was, since his audiences knew it a priori. For baby boomers it
was clear who it was, the man, the establishment. His philosophy
embodied all that economic freedom and individual liberty enshrine.
For Carlin individuals were sacrosanct and groups to be despised.
Individuals provide mankind faith, science, culture, music and
philosophy. Groups take it away with lies, deception, theft and
murder. While an avowed atheist he was, paradoxically, a man of deep
faith. Faith in the ability of the individual to create meaning in
life, despite one's brief duration of life, despite the opposition of
the privileged and the powerful. He stood on their stage and spat
right in their eye.
Carlin knew that groups exist to imprison the individual, to place
them in castes, to assign them limited possibilities, to dull their
senses into acceptance of the inevitable, to use rape as the powerful
desire. He recognized that in groups we find the bestiality of
primitive man ascendant to run roughshod over the benighted masses.
The cowardly hide behind groups as protection against being held
accountable for their deviant behavior. During his professional
career he saw Richard Nixon pervert the mantle of the leader of the
free world for cynical personal ends. In the last decade of his
career he saw the draft-dodging duo of Bush II and Evil Dick Cheney
reincarnated as Nixon gone wild with an unlimited budget (4 trillion
dollars in fresh debt for the unborn) and a façade of legitimacy to
maim, crush or kill anyone desired.
Carlin railed against war, poverty, racism, sexism, how the
privileged dupe the commoner in order to fleece them. He had no
answers for these problems; only a firm conviction that group
dynamics keep these perversions alive across the generations. The
answer lies, where it has always lain, in the politics of Eighteenth
Century Jeffersonian Democracy, that is to say, in the individual.
The world is a grayer place without George Carlin in it. Still I take
comfort in the image of George Carlin standing with St. Peter in
front of the pearly gates keeping the assholes out.
George Carlin, American Radical
By John Nichols, TheNation.com
June 23, 2008.
No one, not Obama, not Hillary Clinton and certainly not John McCain,
caught the zeitgeist of the vanishing American dream so well as Carlin.
I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is
drawn and cross it deliberately.
-- George Carlin.
The last vote that George Carlin said he cast in a presidential race
was for George McGovern in 1972.
When Richard Nixon, who Carlin described as a member of a sub-species
of humanity, overwhelmingly defeated McGovern, the comedian gave up
on the political process.
"Now, there's one thing you might have noticed I don't complain
about: politicians," he explained in a routine that challenged all
the premises of today's half-a-loaf reformers. "Everybody complains
about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people
think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky.
They don't pass through a membrane from another reality. They come
from American parents and American families, American homes, American
schools, American churches, American businesses and American
universities, and they are elected by American citizens. This is the
best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It's what our
system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish,
ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.
Term limits ain't going to do any good; you're just going to end up
with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans. So, maybe,
maybe, maybe, it's not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else
sucks around here... like, the public. Yeah, the public sucks.
There's a nice campaign slogan for somebody: 'The Public Sucks. Fuck Hope.'"
Needless to say, George Carlin was not on message for 2008's "change
we can believe in" election season.
His was a darker and more serious take on the crisis -- and the
change of consciousness, sweeping in scope and revolutionary in
character, that was required to address it.
Carlin may have stopped voting in 1972. But America's most
consistently savage social commentator for the best part of a half
century, who has died at age 71, did not give up on politics.
In recent years, in front of audiences that were not always liberal,
he tore apart the neo-conservative assault on liberty with a clarity
rarely evidenced in the popular culture.
Recalling George Bush's ranting about how the endless "war on terror"
is a battle for freedom, Carlin echoed James Madison's thinking with
a simple question: "Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire
fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never
mention that part to us, do they?"
Carlin gave the Christian right -- and the Christian left -- no
quarter. "I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and
State," Carlin said. "My idea is that these two institutions screw us
up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death."
Carlin's take on the Ronald Reagan administration is the best
antidote to the counterfactual romanticization of the former
president -- in which even Barack Obama has engaged -- remains the
single finest assessment of Reagan and his inner circle. While Carlin
did not complain much about politicians, he made an exception with
regard to the great communicator. Recorded in 1988 at the Park
Theater in Union City, New Jersey, and later released as an album --
What Am I Doing in New Jersey? -- his savage recollection of the
then-concluding Reagan-Bush years opened with the line: "I really
haven't seen this many people in one place since they took the group
photograph of all the criminals and lawbreakers in the Ronald Reagan
But there was no nostalgia for past fights, no resting on laurels,
for this topical comedian. He read the papers, he followed the news,
he asked questions -- the interviews I did with Carlin over the years
were more conversations than traditional Q & A's -- and he turned it
all into a running commentary that focused not so much on politics as
on the ugly intersection of power and economics.
No one, not Obama, not Hillary Clinton and certainly not John McCain,
caught the zeitgeist of the vanishing American dream so well as
Carlin. "The owners of this country know the truth: It's called the
American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."
Not just aware of but steeped in the traditions of American populism
-- more William Jennings Bryan and Eugene Victor Debs than Bill
Clinton or John Kerry -- Carlin preached against the consolidation of
wealth and power with a fire-and-brimstone rage that betrayed a deep
moral sense that could never quite be cloaked with four-letter words.
"The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control
things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians,
they're an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the
idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice.
You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the
important land. They own and control the corporations. They've long
since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses,
the city halls. They've got the judges in their back pockets. And
they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about
all of the news and information you hear. They've got you by the
balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying -- lobbying
to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more
for themselves and less for everybody else," ranted the comedian
whose routines were studied in graduate schools.
"But I'll tell you what they don't want," Carlin continued. "They
don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking.
They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of
critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help
them. That's against their interests. They don't want people who are
smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly
they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30
fucking years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers --
people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the
paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these
increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours,
reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that
disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they're coming
for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money.
They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on
Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it. They'll get it
all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It's a big
club, and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the big club."
Carlin did not want Americans to get involved with the system.
He wanted citizens to get angry enough to remake the system.
Carlin was a leveler of the old, old school. And no one who had so
public a platform -- as the first host of NBC's "Saturday Night
Live," a regular on broadcast and cable televisions shows, a
best-selling author and a favorite character actor in films (he was
even the narrator of the American version of the children's show
"Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends") -- did more to challenge accepted
wisdom regarding our political economy.
"Let's suppose we all just materialized on Earth and there was a
bunch of potatoes on the ground, okay? There's just six of us. Only
six humans. We come into a clearing and there's potatoes on the
ground. Now, my instinct would be, let's everybody get some potatoes.
"Everybody got a potato? Joey didn't get a potato! He's small, he
can't hold as many potatoes. Give Joey some of your potatoes." "No,
these are my potatoes!" That's the Republicans. "I collected more of
them, I got a bigger pile of potatoes, they're mine. If you want some
of them, you're going to have to give me something." "But look at
Joey, he's only got a couple, they won't last two days." That's the
fuckin' difference! And I'm more inclined to want to share and even
out," he explained in an interview several years ago with the Onion.
"I understand the marketplace, but government is supposed to be here
to redress the inequities of the marketplace," Carlin continued.
"That's one of its functions. Not just to protect the nation, secure
our security and all that shit. And not just to take care of great
problems that are trans-state problems, that are national, but also
to make sure that the inequalities of the marketplace are redressed
by the acts of government. That's what welfare was about. There are
people who really just don't have the tools, for whatever reason.
Yes, there are lazy people. Yes, there are slackers. Yes, there's all
of that. But there are also people who can't cut it, for any given
reason, whether it's racism, or an educational opportunity, or
poverty, or a fuckin' horrible home life, or a history of a horrible
family life going back three generations, or whatever it is. They're
crippled and they can't make it, and they deserve to rest at the
commonweal. That's where my fuckin' passion lies."
Like the radicals of the early years of the 20th century, whose
politics he knew and respected, Carlin understood that free-speech
fights had to come first. And always pushed the limit -- happily
choosing an offensive word when a more polite one might have
sufficed. By 1972, the year he won the first of four Grammys for best
comedy album, he had developed his most famous routine: "Seven Words
(You Can't Say on Television)."
That summer, at a huge outdoor show in Milwaukee, he uttered all
seven of them in public -- and was promptly arrested for disturbing the peace.
When a version of the routine was aired in 1973 on WBAI, the Pacifica
Foundation radio station in New York,. Pacifica received a citation
from the FCC. Pacifica was ordered to pay a fine for violating
federal regulations prohibiting the broadcast of "obscene" language.
The ensuing free-speech fight made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court,
which rile 5-4 against the First Amendment to the Constitution,
Pacifica and Carlin.
Amusingly, especially to the comedian, a full transcript of the
routine ended up in court documents associated with the case, F.C.C.
v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978).
"So my name is a footnote in American legal history, which I'm
perversely kind of proud of," recalled Carlin. Proud enough that you
can find the court records on the comedian's website: www.georgecarlin.com
There will, of course, be those who dismiss Carlin as a remnant of
the sixties who introduced obscenity to the public discourse -- just
as there will be those who misread his critique of the American
political and economic systems as little more than verbal nihilism.
In fact, George Carlin was, like the radicals of an earlier age, an
idealist -- and a patriot -- of a deeper sort than is encountered
very often these days.
Carlin explained himself best in one of his last interviews. "There
is a certain amount of righteous indignation I hold for this culture,
because to get back to the real root of it, to get broader about it,
my opinion that is my species -- and my culture in America
specifically -- have let me down and betrayed me. I think this
species had great, great promise, with this great upper brain that we
have, and I think we squandered it on God and Mammon. And I think
this culture of ours has such promise, with the promise of real, true
freedom, and then everyone has been shackled by ownership and
possessions and acquisition and status and power," he said. "And
perhaps it's just a human weakness and an inevitable human story that
these things happen. But there's disillusionment and some discontent
in me about it. I don't consider myself a cynic. I think of myself as
a skeptic and a realist. But I understand the word 'cynic' has more
than one meaning, and I see how I could be seen as cynical. 'George,
you're cynical.' Well, you know, they say if you scratch a cynic you
find a disappointed idealist. And perhaps the flame still flickers a
little, you know?"
George Carlin: A Four-Letter Threat to Authority
by Butler Shaffer
June 24, 2008
When I was in high school, I got into a discussion with a couple of
my classmates over the role institutions played in our lives. I had
made some comment critical of government, or organized religion, or
corporations I don't recall which and was asked if I was opposed
to all such systems. I replied that I was "distrustful of all
organizations, from two-handed poker on up." This intuitive insight
has stayed with me all of my life. Many years later, I would discover
a man whose life-work consisted of using humor to express these sentiments.
It is difficult to find words that convey the sadness I felt upon
being awakened, this morning, to the news that George Carlin had died
the night before. He was the successor to the man I continue to
regard as the most significant dismantler of authority in my
lifetime, Lenny Bruce. To most people, Bruce and Carlin were nothing
more than dealers in four-letter words; men who loved to shock the
sensibilities of others. But there was a deeper meaning in their
humor, and modern libertarian thinking would not have been possible
without their important groundwork.
Each man understood, at least implicitly, that the authority some men
presume to exercise over the lives of others depends upon the
subjugated regarding their managers with an unquestioning reverence
and awe. One ought never to be so bold as to offer an opinion
contrary to that provided by the authority figure. More than that,
one must always look upon himself or herself as fundamentally
inferior to this authority. One does not dare to gaze upon the king,
to whom groveling is the expected position.
Bruce and Carlin understood that there is nothing that can more
quickly undermine this aura of obeisance than for those who command
others to be referred to in vulgar terms. External authority is
dependent upon a veneration that is quickly lost when men and women
begin to think of their masters in the same four-letter vocabulary
more commonly directed against other motorists or an annoying relative.
The institutional order has long understood this fact, which is why
Lenny Bruce was driven to an early grave by criminal prosecutions for
his daring to speak, publicly, of politicians, judges, government
officials, and other authority figures as practitioners if not the
personification of four-lettered activity. George Carlin was
subjected to a more subdued albeit equally insistent coercive
treatment for even using four-letter words. Such words can become
habit-forming, as easily applied to the president as to an offending
neighbor. That Bill Clinton and George W. Bush do not enjoy the kind
of respect accorded George Washington and Thomas Jefferson is, to a
great extent, the erosion of homage brought about by the likes of
Bruce and Carlin.
The mainstream media will doubtless refer to Carlin as an
"entertainer," a word that fails to account for what he truly was. I
prefer to think of him in words that the late Alan Watts used to
describe himself: a "standup philosopher." The media will focus
almost entirely upon his "seven words you can't say on television,"
as though his work consisted of little more than the outbursts of
teenagers intent on shocking their parents. I do wish the man had not
over-worked the use of four-letter words, but I was willing to
overlook some of his language for the content that lay within it.
Like the punch-line of the joke about a young boy who kept digging
through a pile of manure out of a sense that "there's got to be a
pony in here someplace," there was deep substance to his routines.
There are many so-called comedians whose works consist of little more
than four-letter words, but whose language is not a prelude to the
kind of understanding offered by Carlin. Perhaps these younger people
believe that, if they can utter a string of expletives, audiences
will regard them with the love and respect earned by Carlin. But
without the intellectual and spiritual depth of a George Carlin,
their "humor" becomes as impotent as an unexploded July 4th firework:
some initial sizzle, followed by . . . nothing.
Political systems, advertising, organized religions, corporate
practices, school systems, ideologies, political and social fashions
of all sorts, came in for well-deserved skewering. Prior to 9/11, he
did a routine on airport security which, if performed more recently,
would doubtless have earned him a visit from Michael Chertoff and his
thugs. And what devotee of the new religion of environmentalism and
its global-warming sect could withstand Carlin's treatment of this
latest racket for subjecting humanity to the control of those who
fashioned themselves fit to run a planet? Before the day is over, I
will get out and play part of my collection of George Carlin DVDs as
a reminder of the state of mind he helped all of us to develop as an
antidote for the insanities perpetrated by institutionalized thinking.
The last comment I heard George Carlin make was in a video of a
book-signing, in which a young man asked him if he believed that 9/11
was an "inside job." Carlin did not offer an opinion on the matter,
but only replied in words I do not recall precisely that it was a
mistake to ever accept consensus-based definitions of reality. What
better words to inscribe upon a tombstone or other memorial to this
Butler Shaffer teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.
He is the author of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace
and Human Survival.
An unrepentant truth-teller
Randy Childs remembers the life of comedian George Carlin and his
hilarious take on U.S. society.
June 27, 2008
ONE YEAR after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, George Carlin's cable
television special "Jammin' in New York" debuted nationwide and
revealed a sliver of the hidden truths of that war.
I was a high school senior in Omaha, Neb., when George Bush (the
first one) launched his assault on Iraq on January 16, 1991. In just
over a month, the U.S. military had killed tens of thousands of Iraqi
civilians. I was against the war, and so were my mom and dad, my
older brother, my uncle, my aunt and my grandmother. But we all
believed that most Americans supported the war.
George Carlin didn't:
Can't build a decent car, can't make a TV set or a VCR worth a fuck,
got no steel industry left, can't educate our young people, can't
give health care to our old people. But we can bomb the shit out of
your country all right!
Especially if your country is full of brown people...Iraq, Panama,
Grenada, Libya, if you got some brown people in your country, tell
them to watch the fuck out! Or we'll goddamn bomb them!
When's the last white people you can remember that we bombed? Can you
remember any white people we've ever bombed? The Germans! Those are
the only ones! And that's only because they were trying to cut in on
our action. They wanted to dominate the world. Bullshit! That's our
Supposedly, 95 percent of Americans supported the war from beginning
to end, but the crowd was cheering wildly at Carlin's furious take on
the U.S. war machine. I realized for the first time that there were
many people who were against the war.
In fact, a short-lived but intense antiwar movement exploded in
cities and on college campuses across the country in both the
build-up to and the brief duration of "Operation Desert Storm." San
Francisco had a mass demonstration of 100,000 people against the war.
At the University of Iowa, over 2,000 people braved sub-zero February
temperatures to march for hours.
Like most Americans, I heard nothing of these antiwar protests from
the mainstream media. Carlin's show opened a window on the reality of
mass opposition to the war that made me start actively looking for
some kind of alternative to the way our society functions.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
GEORGE CARLIN died June 22 of a heart attack. He did not, mind you,
"pass away." Carlin's hatred for such euphemisms was a regular
feature of his comedy.
Stand-up comedy is an art form (Larry the "Cable Guy"
notwithstanding), and George Carlin was one of comedy's greatest
artists. He spent years using his comedy to reveal social and
political truths that you weren't going to hear about on the TV news.
Carlin was a prime example of how artists often reflect the
contradictions of the society they live in, how they can be
influenced by social movements, and how they, in turn, can have an
influence on society.
At the peak of the radicalization of the late 1960s and early '70s,
Carlin made headlines with his now legendary "Seven Words You Can
Never Say on TV" routine. He was arrested for "obscenity" in
Milwaukee in 1972 and was the subject of a five-year-long court
battle with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that went all
the way to the Supreme Court.
What were the censors afraid of? "You know the seven, don't you, that
you can't say on television?" said Carlin. "Shit, piss, fuck, cunt,
cocksucker, motherfucker and tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those
are the ones that'll infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the
country from winning the war."
While Carlin had done battle with the system over his right to use
"filthy words," his comedy at times reflected the sexism of
capitalist society. His "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" album
contained two routines called "Rape Can Be Funny" and "Feminist
Blowjob," in which he attacked feminists for wanting to "control your
language" (essentially mimicking the right's witch-hunt against
Yet Carlin was continually being influenced by the women's liberation
struggle, like he had been influenced by the antiwar and antiracist
movements. While other themes of his comedy (opposition to war,
critique of consumer culture, hatred for hypocrisy) survived to his
death, the anti-feminist stuff faded away. His growing identification
with women's liberation included fierce support of abortion rights:
Pro-life conservatives want live babies so that they can raise them
up to be dead soldiers...These people aren't pro-life. They're
killing doctors! What kind of pro-life is that? They're not pro-life.
You know what they are? They're anti-woman! They believe that a
woman's primary role is to function as a brood mare for the state!
Carlin's left-wing comedy had many highlights. And they're pretty
much all on YouTube. Carlin's greatest weakness lay in his pessimism
about human nature. He held all human beings guilty for the crimes of
capitalism--especially those committed against the environment.
And living the last three decades of his life during the era of
neoliberalism and the one-sided class war of rich against poor, he
was not optimistic that human beings could figure out a way out of
today's crises. He spelled out these feeling in the preface to his
book Brain Droppings:
No matter how you care to define it, I do not identify with the local
group. Planet, species, race, nation, state, religion, party, union,
club, association, neighborhood improvement committee; I have no
interest in any of it. My interest in "issues" is merely to point out
how badly we're doing, not to suggest a way we might do better. My
motto: Fuck Hope!"
Ironically, George Carlin's own inspiration and influence on me and
countless others who today fight for "a way we might do better"
proves that he was wrong to give up on human beings. We can best
honor his memory by organizing against the horrors that he raged
against on stage.
But seriously, you should also look up his stand-up act online. It's hilarious!
Remembering George Carlin: comedy with a splash of 'class'
Thursday, June 26, 2008
By: Matt Murray
Class-conscious master of stand-up challenged racism, sexism, poverty
Comedian George Carlin died on June 22 in Santa Monica, Calif., at
the age of 71. His work offered valuable social criticism and exposed
the many injustices and hypocrisies of life under capitalism.
Carlin began his comedy career in the mid-1960s, appearing frequently
on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Tonight Show" and enjoying
enormous mainstream success. In time, the major social upheavals of
the era inspired him to alter his subject matter. Commenting on his
mainstream success in the 1960s, Carlin once told an interviewer, "I
was a traitor, in so many words. I was living a lie."
In his first controversial routine, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on
Television," Carlin challenged free speech restrictions. In 1972, he
was arrested while performing the piece in Milwaukee. A year later,
New York radio station WBAI was cited by the Federal Communications
Commission for rebroadcasting the routine. The U.S. Supreme Court
eventually ruled that the material was "indecent but not obscene,"
restricting hours for the broadcast of such content.
Carlin's commentary often went right at the heart of class society.
In "Our Similarities," he brilliantly described the ruling class's
"That's all the politicians are ever talking about; things that
separate us, the things that make us different from one another.
That's the way the ruling class operates in any society. They try to
divide the rest of the people. They keep the lower and the middle
classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich, can run off
with all the f--king money."
He went on to say, "Anything different, that's what they're going to
talk about; race, religion, ethnic and national backgrounds, jobs,
income, education, social status, sexuality. Anything they can do to
keep us fighting with each other so that they can keep going to the bank."
In "Colonial Rulers of America," Carlin derided the "choices"
provided by the electoral system: "The real owners, the big wealthy
business interests that control things and make all the decisions,
forget the politicians. Politicians are put there to give you the
idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice.
You have owners. They own everything."
Despite Carlin's keen grasp of class divisions, his lack of a
long-term perspective on the class struggle would at times manifest
itself as pessimism and demoralization. Nevertheless, Carlin
frequently denounced the domination of U.S. society by the wealthy
and powerful. He tackled poverty and homelessness and scathingly
railed against racism, sexism and bigotry of all forms.
In routines with titles that said it all, such as "Pro-life is
Anti-Woman" and "White People," Carlin ridiculed the absurdities of
the religious right's pro-life arguments and exposed the injustices
of white privilege.
In another act, he lashed out at the racist, genocidal nature of U.S.
expansion and imperialism. "This country was founded by slave owners
who wanted to be free…So they killed a lot of white English people,
in order to continue owning their Black African people, so they could
wipe out the rest of the Red Indian people and move West and steal
the rest of the land from the Brown Mexican people, giving them a
place to take off and drop their nuclear weapons on the Yellow
Japanese people. You know what the motto of this country ought to be?
… You give us a color, we'll wipe it out."
Since Carlin's death, the mainstream corporate press has been
celebrating him as one of the great U.S. comics; however, they have
focused on his non-threatening material, effectively neutralizing the
social significance of much of his work. Above all, Carlin should be
remembered for his pointed social criticism of injustice, and his
exposure of the "soft language" the ruling class uses to mask the
hardships of being a worker.
Thanks to such "soft language," Carlin once remarked, "I'll never
'die.'" "I'll 'pass away' … The insurance companies will call it a
'negative patient care outcome.'"
The Station That Dared to Defend Carlin's '7 Words' Looks Back
By GLENN COLLINS
Published: June 25, 2008
As the encomiums for George Carlin have rolled in from stand-up
legends, celebrities and scholars, his death at 71 has also been
noted at a diminutive, iconic and iconoclastic radio station in
Its broadcast of the comedian's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on
Television" became a landmark moment in the history of free speech.
In a 1978 milestone in the station's contentious and unruly history,
WBAI lost a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision that to this day has
defined the power of the government over broadcast material it calls indecent.
"It's a bad time here for us because George Carlin was part of the
family," said Anthony Riddle, the station's general manager. "I think
all the producers are dealing with it in their own way," Mr. Riddle
said, some doing commentary and others running archival material,
including a bleeped-out version of the "Seven Words" routine.
The 1978 ruling, often termed "the Carlin case," was actually called
Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, and turned
on a 12-minute Carlin monologue called "Filthy Words" that appeared
on a 1973 album, "Occupation: Foole."
After the Carlin album monologue was broadcast on WBAI in 1973 during
"Lunch Pail," an afternoon show, a listener objected that his young
son had heard the words on a car radio. The corporate parent of WBAI,
the Pacifica Foundation, received a letter of reprimand from the
commission, which the company challenged in court.
The Supreme Court said that the broadcast was indecent, though not
obscene, and gave the commission the right to determine the
definition of indecency and to prohibit such material from being
broadcast during hours when children were likely to be listening.
Despite this legal Dunkirk, "the fact that his seven dirty words
having emanated from here is kind of a source of pride," said Jose R.
Santiago, the station's news director.
The court decision "was about more than just radio," Mr. Riddle
added, "it was about the right to be human beings in the United States."
"It was a gutsy thing for a radio station to do, taking that stand," he said.
Though the station was not fined, Pacifica paid hundreds of thousands
of dollars in legal fees, said Larry Josephson, the WBAI station
manager from 1974 to 1976.
Now, broadcasting the seven words "would cost us $360,000 per
incident so those seven words would cost us $2.5 million," about
equal to the station's annual budget, Mr. Riddle said. "Now we'd be
severely limited in taking a chance on protecting people's
Recently Mr. Josephson had to abide by the consequences of the very
commission decision he was involved in, as the independent producer
of WBAI's annual "Bloomsday" celebration on June 16, which honored
James Joyce and his novel "Ulysses."
Though the broadcast began at 7 p.m., the protagonist Molly Bloom's
famous lengthy monologue of erotic musings which contains several
forbidden words had to be read after 10 p.m. during the "safe
harbor" period when the F.C.C. allows the broadcast of what it terms
The station that for generations has spoken truth to power is
incongruously situated on the 10th floor of 120 Wall Street, and
smack in the middle of the FM dial, at 99.5. Now in its 48th year,
WBAI was both an expression, and ringleader, of the counterculture
during its peak in the mid-1960s through the Vietnam War.
Observers have said that in its heyday, its on-air personalities,
like Mr. Josephson, Steve Post and Bob Fass, extended the popularity
of FM radio and explored the possibilities of the medium.
But its turmoil-filled subsequent history has featured a fiesta of
staff clashes, board eruptions, station coups and protests. Amid
accusations of every imaginable form of -ism, on-air personalities
and producers have been summarily banned; on-air resignations have
not been unknown.
These days WBAI, whose slogan is "Your Peace and Justice Community
Radio Station," has a paid staff of 25 and 200 independent volunteer
producers, Mr. Riddle said, adding that WBAI has more than 200,000
listeners. He declined to say how many subscribers there are, but the
number is believed to be fewer than 20,000; the minimum subscription
rate is $25 a year.
Mr. Riddle, who joined the station in February, said that "it's
always difficult to run a democracy," adding that "a lot of people
believe in the kind of radio we provide," since the station does not
accept advertising, underwriting or grants.
If in many ways the station has changed, the legality of broadcasting
the "Seven Words" has not.
"Now, 35 years later, we can't take a chance of playing it," Mr.
Riddle said. "Discussion of the words is not acceptable, unless you
cut the heart out of it."