'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Farewell, George Carlin (Part 3) 

You know, it's the strangest thing. The major newspapers just can't say that Carlin was appalled by US militarism and ridiculed it mercilessly. Nor did they mention that he held President Bush in personal contempt. As he told Keith Olbermann, I do the sledgehammer, I don't use the rapier with Bush. Instead, we get this from the New York Times:

Mr. Carlin’s most recent work was especially contentious, even bitter, full of ranting against the stupid, the fat, the docile. But he defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society

Curiously, the writers of the obituary, Mel Watkins and Bruce Weber, apparently lacked the space to describe the motivation for his intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society, except to falsely imply that it was limited to the stupid, the fat, the docile. A subsequent appraisal by Charles McGrath failed to correct this misconception.

Or, this, from the Washington Post:

Mr. Carlin claimed to be a skeptic, not a cynic, though he did tell Progressive magazine in 2001 that he had given up on the human species. "Let the insects have a go. You know, I don't think they'll come up with sneakers with lights in them, or Dust Busters, or Salad Shooters, or snot candy."

Still, he admitted, life was not totally dark. "If you'll scratch a cynic, you'll find a disappointed idealist," he said. "And the fire never goes out completely. And that part of me that made my mother say, 'You have a lovely nature,' is very true."

But, oh, pray tell, what was it that made Carlin a disappointed idealist? One gets the impression that it was a perversion of humanity ingenuity into the creation of sneakers with lights on them, Dust Busters, Salad Shooters and snot candy. In other words, Joe Holley, the writer of this piece, presents us with a substitution of the symptoms for the disease itself, US militarism and consumerism.

I had more hope for the San Francisco Chronicle, after all, the background article about him was entitled, George Carlin, provocateur for the ages, but, alas, I was disappointed after a promising start:

Carlin, who died Sunday of heart failure at age 71 in Santa Monica, left his indelible mark by trampling conventions, making everyone from middle-aged couples to Supreme Court justices squirm. For half a century, he battered away at hypocrisy with the unfettered glee of a clever teenager and the verbal mastery of a modern-day Jonathan Swift. He was a '60s-style rebel whose subversiveness was never a matter of passing subject or style. He was as hard on religion and euphemistic language as he was on Richard Nixon and pro-life conservatives. He remained, with a consistency few of his colleagues could match, very funny about a whole lot of things for a very long time.

There is much to admire in the summation of Chronicle Arts and Culture Critic Steve Winn. He perceptively places Carlin within an appropriate social and artistic context, and emphasizes Carlin's hostility to religion, which was likewise ignored or marginalized elsewhere. But, while acknowledging that Carlin had something specific to say after 9/11, Winn limited his presentation to this:

"I hope you good, loyal Americans understand that in the long run the Islamist extremists are going to win," he told his post-9/11 listeners. "Because you can't beat numbers, and you can't beat fanaticism - the willingness to die for an idea.

"A country like ours, preoccupied with Jet Skis, off-road vehicles, snowboards, Jacuzzis, microwave ovens, pornography, lap dances, massage parlors, escort services, panty liners, penis enhancement, tummy tucks, thongs and Odor Eaters doesn't have a prayer - not even a good, old-fashioned Christian prayer - against a billion fanatics who hate that country, detest its materialism and have nothing really to lose."

Winn is partially on the right track here, Carlin certainly thought that religions were absurd, and that the notion of killing yourself for one was even more ridiculous, while recognizing, paradoxically, that it could be a very effective means of resisting the US.

Regrettably, though, Winn refuses to stray from the party line to observe that Carlin was appalled by US military violence as well, as he had been for much of life, and that he hated Bush. Last year, Carlin rudely asserted This country's finished because of our willlingness to accept the loss of our civil liberties and our inability to think and act independently. Winn leaves us with yet another false impression, that Carlin shared the opinion of many Americans that Muslims and Arabs are uniquely violent.

No doubt Carlin considered them violent, but primarily because he had come to believe that most humans were incorrigibly violent and destructive, something that he expressed repeatedly in his performances in the last years of his life. One suspects that Carlin expected that, upon his death, the media would sanitize his life and career so as to make it suitable for public consumption. As with many things when he was alive, he was correct.

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?