Friday, January 27, 2012

Humor with Substance

"The wisest man I ever knew taught me something I never forgot. And although I never forgot it, I never quite memorized it either. So what I’m left with is the memory of having learned something very wise that I can’t quite remember."

George Carlin said that. It was quoted in a presentation I saw the other night, and not only is it funny, it is a very subtle remark when you stop laughing and think about it.

That's so typical of George Carlin. I think of him as a serious philosopher, masking the big questions behind raucous, sometimes scatological humor.

The most important of these examples, perhaps, was his famous "Seven Words That You Can Never Say on TV" (no, I am not going to link to it). I read that case in First Amendment class and I was really impressed.

Not so much with the cleverness of the court determining that the FCC could make rules limiting the broadcast of "indecency" to the hours between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., because most kids would be asleep then -- wow, those were the days, huh? -- but because I absorbed the impression that Carlin was really riffing on the power of words: the fact that there were 7 out of the 400,000 words in English that were just plain unsayable in polite company or over the airwaves.

To me, this is a whole different issue than what's going on now with Cher, Nicole Richie and Meryl Streep (no, I am not going to link to them, either!), which strikes me as merely a trip to the crossroads of live t.v. and limited vocabulary. Not a whole lotta philosophy happening there.

Carlin was something different, and I'll always feel admiration and affection for a man who loves words and takes them seriously.

And have you heard him on Baseball v. Football? Words again, and funny. Thoughtful, too.


  1. I am really out of the loop of news, and so I don't know about Cher, Nicole Richie and Meryl Streep and why their words are in the news (I assume), but I just love George Carlin, for all the reasons you express here. What a wise guy, in at least two meanings of those words.

  2. They Supreme Court just reviewed this issue again! Carlin lives on. :p

  3. Absolutely he lives on, Jenny!

    Funny (and cool) thing: While the original case never identified the "no-no" words, I have read that after the ruling everyone adopted Carlin's 7 words as the ones you can't say. So he made the law in a way that the Supreme Court's ruling never did.

    We'll see if the Court does something different this time.


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