Monday, June 23, 2008

R.I.P. George Carlin, Philosopher

It's common in the United States for people to pay lip service to the value of satirists and comedians whose incessant assault upon the establishment gains them the applause (and cash) of the public, by stating that the valuable First Amendment rights they exercise stand as a beacon to free people everywhere, illuminating the value of unfettered expression.

In the case of George Carlin, whose "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" really was censored,[1] and whose biting insight into our collective narrative and what it says about things we want to avoid being forced to face, this clich├ęd bit to tripe happens to be true: he helped us to see what was before us, and to open our ears to what we fought to ignore.

On the guarantees of justice bequeathed us by our forefathers, the immortal Carlin said:
They keep talking about drafting a constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of real smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and we're not using it anymore.
George Carlin, quoted in the Houston Chronicle.
On a more practical issue -- the tools of war -- Carlin speculated on the thought process that led to some of the more exciting specimens:
Gee, I sure would like to set those people on fire over there. But I'm way to far away . . . .
from Carlin on Campus (1984)
Food for thought, courtesy of Carlin:
  • 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?
  • If the #2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still #2?
  • What was the best thing before sliced bread?
... and most concerning, perhaps:
  • By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.
If he attends his funeral at all -- if he has nothing better to do, or no-one he'd rather elbow -- he'll be mooning the audience and telling foul jokes. May we see his kind again.

We **** you, George.

[1] For a delightfully absurd document on George Carlin's arrest under a Wisconsin statute purporting to ban "disorderly conduct" alleged to have been committed in Milwaukee on the grounds of "Summerfest" before a large crowd in 1972, have a look at George Carlin's own web site:

Update: I just saw Jerry Seinfeld's fitting guest editorial on Carlin, brought to my attention by Daring Fireball.

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