George Carlin famously dissected “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” as a way to explore what everyone was so uptight about.
Thirty-two years later the same debate is still raging, now fueled by Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl flash, the suspension of Howard Stern’s raunchy radio show from six stations and new House legislation that would raise a performer’s indecency fine from $11,000 to $500,000.
So what does the 66-year-old Carlin think of the current handwringing over what is indecent, profane, obscene, immoral, lewd or insulting?
“More of the same, more of the same. What are we, surprised?” Carlin told The Associated Press on Friday.
He blamed it on religious moralism, media commercialism and election-year politics.
“The whole problem with this idea of obscenity and indecency, and all of these things bad language and whatever it’s all caused by one basic thing, and that is: religious superstition. … There’s an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. … It’s reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have.”
Mix that with TV or radio, and you’ve got a problem, he said.
“What I always remind people is, radio and television and as it happens newspapers and magazines too, are advertising media. … When you have commercialism involved you have the kind of fear that advertisers are very afraid of offending some potential customer. They don’t want to lose a sale. So they have this need to inspect and clean up and watch the content in order not to hurt their own sales. It’s based on success at the cash register.
“And yet, they’re very inconsistent on that Super Bowl broadcast of Janet Jackson’s there was also a commercial about a 4-hour erection. A lot of people were saying about Janet Jackson, ‘How do I explain to my kids? We’re a little family, we watched it together …’ And, well, what did you say about the other thing? These are convenient targets.”
He also thinks President Bush is trying to placate right-wing voters.
The U.S. Air Force veteran compared the recent tension with memories of his military experience.
“These bursts of interest and decency are just like when you’re in the Air Force, Army and Marines, whatever the discipline in your unit may get a little lax, people live with it, it’s fine for months at a time then some colonel notices it and suddenly they crack down … enforcing all the minor rules and regulations. Then what happens after these bursts of bothering people, that wears off and we get back to normal, relaxed discipline, but things still get done.
“Society can be counted on to let this fade.”