George Carlin Passes Away

CEI has just put out a media release mourning the death of the great comedian George Carlin.

As Cord Blomquist’s statement says:

Like Bruce and Pryor, Carlin’s controversial material invoked the ire of authorities who sought to make examples of the comedian for violating obscenity laws. In 1972, Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee for performing his “seven words” routine, which describes at length the words that are banned on television and radio.

In a fantastic case of legal irony, Carlin’s “seven words” routine was eventually broadcast over the air, resulting in a landmark Supreme Court case. In 1978, the Court ruled 5-4 in the case of FCC v. Pacifica Foundation-or the “Carlin case” as it now commonly called-that the Federal Communications Commission had the right to regulate the airwaves to prevent children from hearing profanities-striking a huge blow against free speech.

But the Court was sharply split on this decision. Justice Brennan’s railed against the majority in his decent proclaiming:

As surprising as it may be to individual Members of this Court, some parents may actually find Mr. Carlin’s unabashed attitude towards the seven “dirty words” healthy [ . . . ] Such parents may constitute a minority of the American public, but the absence of great numbers willing to exercise the right to raise their children in this fashion does not alter the right’s nature or its existence. Only the Court’s regrettable decision does that.

Both Justice Brennan and Carlin himself recognized that the bit was about more than filthy words; it was a reflection on language, obsessions with certain words, and our society’s sometimes unhealthy attitudes on free speech and censorship. Carlin taught us that “[There are] no bad words-bad thoughts, bad intentions…and words.”