George Carlin’s Provocative Satire was a Distancing from Traditional Authority
“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams
Moving to the United States from Europe to immerse myself in a new environment and a new crowd, I never expected to get a grasp on the American culture by means of a stand-up comedy show. Yet, there’s a lot about this art form that makes it a useful tool for a newbie who wants to comprehend how people think, laugh, and face their everyday lives in a very different environment. In particular, the words and energy of George Carlin affected me on a much deeper level than everyone else.
His comedy transcended the hilarious exhibition I was watching, turning into a thought-provoking satire on modern-day America. His routine employed exaggeration and parody to expose flaws, vices, or hypocrisy to provoke a social commentary. It wasn’t just about laughter. He used humor as a tool to highlight and critique societal issues, often employing sharp wit and clever wordplay to convey its message. For somebody who’s striving to become a good writer and a free thinker, Carlin was certainly a terrific model.
He knew that there was an enormous power to language, and had a deep understanding of word choice and dialectical reasoning. His clever wordplay allowed him to morph his act in a way that seemed playful, but in reality, it was closer to an oration, or a preach. The argument, most of the time, was a rebellion against authority and the ruling class. In fact, he was just as hilarious as he was intellectual, and this made him an outstanding name in the entertainment industry.
George Carlin: A Modern Satyr
“Authority comes from within.” – George Carlin
Authority is a central theme in the four-hour documentary series George Carlin’s American Dream directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio, which brilliantly encapsulates the nature of a natural-born public speaker, a New Yorker, and a free thinker. He basically departed from traditional authority and embraced the idea that we all have control over our own destiny. But to do so, we need to get rid of those pre-packaged ideas that authority wanted us to assimilate to from day one.
During his brilliant career as a comic, Carlin tirelessly tried to warn people of how they are being controlled. Obesity, advertising, consumerism, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, for instance, were tremendous catalysts for him to use his platform and speak out against government and corporate oppression. That’s why he was subbed as “the dean of counterculture comedians.” As a true modern-day satyr, he grew out his hair and beard to represent the change in his style of performing, and found authority within himself, on stage. In this regard, the biggest fight against mainstream suppression was that of seven dirty words and how they affected authority.
The seven dirty words were seven curse words Carlin first listed in his 1972 “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” monolog. In their original order, the words were: “shit”, “piss”, “fuck”, “cunt”, “cocksucker”, “motherfucker”, and “tits”. At the time, these words were considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for broadcast on public television and radio in the US. In fact, they were avoided in scripted material and censored every time they came out.
A radio broadcast featuring these words led to a Supreme Court decision in 1978 in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation that the FCC’s declaratory ruling did not violate either the First or Fifth Amendments, thus helping define the extent to which the federal government could regulate speech on broadcast television and radio in the US.
The Legacy of a Comedy Genius
“Careful, if you think too much, they’ll take you away.” – George Carlin
Carlin knew what he was doing. He unpacked his mind, stopped shaving his beard, and changed his act through the years to expose every form of hypocrisy concerning our society. What’s impressive about this remarkable man is how much he was committed to change, never just to sell tickets but to figure out what should have mattered to people. Drugs opened up his mind and a true love for semantics would shape the rest of his life. Carlin loved words and believed in their power; he believed in freedom of speech, and he wanted to voice out a common sentiment that united all Americans.
Conservatives were convinced he would embrace their fights, believing that Carlin would support them with his tough remarks. Liberals responded with the fact that some of his best bits were in contrast with all of the political beliefs of the opposing party. So, why did Carlin garner so much love and consensus? The truth is that every American, regardless the party he or she belongs to, is naturally drawn to freedom. Carlin loved words, and, heedless of the consequences, he used them all, freely.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.