Sunday, October 2, 2011

From Class Clown to Prophet: The Legacy of George Carlin Lives On.

 “But I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them. That's against their interests. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard thirty fucking years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers - people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork - but dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.

“And now, they're coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money! They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it! They'll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It's a big club and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the Big Club."
– George Carlin

God, how I miss this man.  He told it like it was and never gave a rat’s ass what anybody else thought about it.  He had the balls to speak truth to power and managed to do it through the best vehicle imaginable: making people laugh.  Yes, George Carlin was a comedian, but calling him a comedian would be like calling Martin Luther King, Jr. a reverend.  Truth be told he was the Shakespeare of our generation and his untimely loss in 2008 cannot be overstated enough.  Like so many brilliant satirists before him, he was taken from us way too soon. 

Though seventy-one, and facing serious health issues – he looked weak and frail in his last HBO special – his wit was as sharp as ever.  I wonder what he would’ve had to say about the state of politics in this country today.  I’m guessing he would’ve had a field day with it; sadly we will never know.

Carlin understood power and what effects it had on an open and, supposedly, free society better than any comedian since Lenny Bruce.  He also understood what conformity was and how essential it was in order to get anywhere in life.  When he made the decision to be his own man and changed his act in the 1970s, it was not without risks or casualties.  But he soon found his true calling, and for the next forty years he made it his business to rip the blinders off his audiences’ eyes and allow them to see the world as it was, not as they thought it was.

There were no sacred cows in George Carlin’s universe.  Language, religion, war, corporate greed, political correctness, you name it.  Everything was fair game to him.  But in the years just before his death, his venom turned particularly towards power and how it manipulated and controlled every aspect our lives.  You can just imagine how his candor could provoke certain groups and ruffle more than just a few feathers along the way.  Witness some of his more masterful moments:

“We enjoy war.  And one reason we enjoy it is that we're good at it. You know why we're good at it? Because we get a lot of practice. This country is only 200 years old, and already we've had ten major wars. We average a major war every twenty years, So we're good at it!  And it's just as well we are, because we're not very good at anything else. Can't build a decent car anymore. Can't make a TV set, a cell phone, or a VCR. Got no steel industry left. No textiles. Can't educate our young people. Can't get health care to our old people. But we can bomb the shit outta your country, all right!”

“Conservatives say if you don't give the rich more money, they will lose their incentive to invest. As for the poor, they tell us they've lost all incentive because we've given them too much money.”

“This country was founded by a group of slave owners who wanted to be free! So they killed a lot of white English people in order to continue owning their black African people, so they could wipe out the rest of the red Indian people, in order to move west and steal the rest of the land from the brown Mexican people, giving them a place to take off and drop their nuclear weapons on the yellow Japanese people. You know what the motto for this country ought to be? ‘You give us a color, we'll wipe it out.’”

“The real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments in a courthouse: You cannot post ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ and ‘Thou shalt not lie’ in a building full of lawyers, judges, and politicians. It creates a hostile work environment.”

“I got this real moronic thing I do, it’s called thinking.  I’m not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions.  I don’t just roll over when I’m told to.  Sad to say most Americans just roll over on command. Not me.  I have certain rules I live by. My first rule, I don’t believe anything the government tells me, nothing, zero.”

“War is rich old men protecting their property by sending middle class and lower class young men off to die.”

“Elections and politicians are in place in order to give Americans the illusion that they have freedom of choice.  You don’t really have choice in this country.  The limits of debate in this country are established before the debate even begins, and every one else is just marginalized, or made to be seen as Communists, or some sort of disloyal person. There used to be seven oil companies; there are now three; it will soon be two. The things that matter in this country have been reduced in choice. There are two political parties, there are a handful of insurance companies, there are about six or seven information outlets, but if you want a bagel there are twenty-three flavors because you have the illusion of choice.”

Of course he said so many other things of import – far too many to post here – but you get the point, I hope.  The man got it; he understood it, probably better than anyone else before or, sadly, after him.  Attempts to characterize him in his later years as some conspiracy nut or off the deep end fell on deaf ears.  His fans understood what he was saying, even as those he looked to root out and expose went after him.  By the time of his death, the term comedian was nothing more than an honorary title.  He had transcended that line of work long ago.

Ironic isn’t it?  A man who got famous for his hippy-dippy weather report, acting like the proverbial class clown and for uttering the seven words you could never say on television (Psst! It’s now six; you can say piss on TV) in the end became a modern-day prophet and visionary.  

As I see the protests taking place on Wall Street, somehow I can't help but think that where ever George Carlin is, he's smiling and probably screaming at the top of his lungs, "WHAT THE FUCK TOOK YOU SO LONG, ASSHOLES?"
Here’s to you, George, for the rich legacy you gave us and the cause you fought so hard to defend.  The fight is ours now. 

1 comment:

Steve said...

O Lord, raise up not just another Carlin, but millions of them!!