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

Monday, June 23, 2008

Farewell, George Carlin (Part 1) 

George Carlin will forever be remembered for his famous routine, Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, a routine that ironically created content restrictions on radio. Every quarter when I submit my show request form for my show on KDVS, I find myself compelled to list them in response to one of the questions.

Carlin deservedly achieved folk hero status for this alone, but he was much more than someone who carved a niche for himself ridiculing the cultural sterility of the establishment. Over time, he shattered the boundaries of comedy as he evolved into a sharp, incisive critic of the self-absorbed consumerism of contemporary American life. Indeed, it became increasingly difficult to construe his routines as comedy at all, at least in the conventional sense, as I found it difficult to laugh at his brutally frank exposure of our hypocrisies.

Carlin could be confrontational, profane, and offensive, but his work possessed an honesty and integrity rare in the world of entertainment, at least when he wasn't making a cameo appearance in a movie or on television to get some cash to pay his tax bills. Carlin was, if anything, one of the most skilled dialecticians of our time, a skill that he masterfully displayed even in the most seemingly inconsequential jokes:

“Why do they lock gas station bathrooms?” he once mused. “Are they afraid someone will clean them?”

According to the New York Times, Carlin grew more and more ascerbic as he aged:

Although some criticized parts of his later work as too contentious, Mr. Carlin defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society. “Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”

Still, when pushed to explain the pessimism and overt spleen that had crept into his act, he quickly reaffirmed the zeal that inspired his lists of complaints and grievances. “I don’t have pet peeves,” he said, correcting the interviewer. And with a mischievous glint in his eyes, he added, “I have major, psychotic hatreds.”

Fortunately for us, they were the right ones. Consider this scaborous routine, posted by lenin over at Lenin's Tomb in December 2007, wherein Carlin profiles the nature of the US power elite and explains how little anyone within it cares about you and me. I don't think I laughed once as I watched it, possibly because Carlin concluded that there really wasn't anything funny about this country anymore.

There's also another good one there about the First Gulf War (posted above): We like war because we're good at it, and we're good at it because we get a lot of practice . . . That's our new job in the world, bombing brown people . . . I'm not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions . . . .

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