RIP, George Carlin

Today is a sad day for comedy. While I can’t say that I always agreed with some of his ideas, the simple fact is that George Carlin, through the vehicle of comedy, did an incredible job of making people question the world around them. That questioning is the first step towards having independent thoughts– a trait far too lacking in ordinary society.

Carlin likely won’t be remembered by those in media quite as fondly as Tim Russert, a man who spent his media career looking up old quotes of politicians and asking them why they weren’t consistent with their current quotes. Russert was part of the media machine that incentivized bullshit, because only people who spout platitudes can avoid being criticized for changing their minds.

Carlin, on the other hand, was the catalyst for a very important free speech case before the Supreme Court. The case was decided wrongly, but his courage to push the boundaries– and thus be slapped down by the FCC, upheld by the Supreme Court– gave us all a lesson in the limits of our government’s willingness to allow us to be free. As Justice Murphy said in a previous decision (quoted as precedent in the decision re: Carlin)–

“Such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.” Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S., at 572.

Can anyone honestly say that the below monologue isn’t an exposition of ideas?

Just because it comes in a comedic package doesn’t make it any less of an indictment of the absurdity of our society’s treatment of language. Perhaps the powers that be might not like us treating their somber regulations as the butt of jokes, and such a monologue hits them a little too close to home. So be it. It should hit too close to home, because these regulations are asinine and unnecessary. Ridicule is a great way to point that out.

Thank you, George. You will be missed.