A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Carlin on the Repressive Hypothesis

George Carlin died less than a year ago, so there’s still a fair amount of hyperbolic rhetoric about his comedic greatness floating around. (His posthumous, November receipt of the Twain award has no doubt helped.) Not that he wasn’t a great comic; he was. But so far nobody seems willing to point out how strained a lot of his concepts were, despite how brilliant the tirades they enabled often undoubtedly were. (A house is nothing more than a place where you keep your stuff? Really?) Even the good folks at Slate’s “Cultural Gabfest” take him to task more for his very brand of humor than for its occasional lapses in execution.

But the “seven dirty words” routine was, and is, brilliant from start to finish. And the best part of it—despite what I would have told you when I was 12 years old—is not the part where he says the seven words. Not even close. It’s the intro material, where Carlin says about profanity in a few brilliant lines what Foucault labored to say about sexuality in a whole book.

….Without even having to pronounce the word, modern prudishness was able to ensure that one did not speak of sex, merely through the interplay of prohibitions that referred back to one another: instances of muteness which, by dint of saying nothing, imposed silence. Censorship.
Yet when one looks back over the last three centuries with their continual transformations, things appear in a very different light: around and apropos of sex, one sees a veritable discursive explosion.
….There was a steady proliferation of discourses concerned with sex….

And Carlin:
We have more ways to describe dirty words than we actually have dirty words. That seems a little strange to me. It seems to indicate that somebody was awfully interested in these words. They call them bad words, dirty, filthy, foul, vile, vulgar, coarse, in poor taste, unseemly, street talk, gutter talk, locker room language, barracks talk, bawdy, naughty, saucy, raunchy, rude, crude, lewd, lascivious, indecent, profane, obscene, blue, off-color, risqué, suggestive, cursing, cussing, swearing. And all I could think of was shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.

Still, those seven words are motherfucking hilarious, too.

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