George Carlin, RIP

Just a short post to commemorate one of my favorite stand-up comedians of all time. I always appreciated Carlin’s often brilliant and subversively funny meditations on language and his righteous anger at an often corrupt system (his rant against golf courses from 1992’s Jammin’ in New York has always been a personal fave). He may be best remembered for his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” (audio NSFW, as you might imagine), which famously led to an FCC fine against New York radio station WBAI, which broadcast the performance. The Supreme Court upheld the fine, and those words are still banned from broadcast television to this day. But that only reflects his status as an important cultural and political critic who questioned norms and regulations, often in a very funny way. Carlin was also an important part of my own personal development. I can’t remember how many times I watched Jammin’ in New York with friends during my senior year of college, in part because Carlin was asking some questions that I needed to hear.

Update: See McChris’s comments below for a clarification on the precise status of the “seven dirty words.”  Also check out John Nichols’ Carlin tribute in The Nation, which helps to clarify Carlin’s contributions to American political discourse, even if Carlin himself refrained from voting after 1972.


  1. McChris Said,

    June 23, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

    Hi Chuck, Carlin’s “seven dirty words” aren’t banned from broadcast, but the rules are so complex I doubt any TV operator would want to try. The Pacifica decision led the FCC to create a “Safe Harbor” for the broadcast of “indecent” or “profane” content (but not obscene content.) On a practical level, this means college radio stations can play songs that have naughty words between 10pm and 6am. I don’t believe that the FCC distinguishes between TV and Radio for “safe harbor” rules, but obviously the political economy of radio makes it more likely for radio broadcasters to take advantage of safe harbor than TV broadcasters.

  2. Chuck Said,

    June 23, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

    Thanks for the clarification. You’re right, of course, about safe harbor, and yes, I would agree that radio is much more likely to take advantage.

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