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Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Mon, 06/23/2008 - 6:46am.
If Tim Russert's death warranted ad nauseum coverage and tributes for more than a week just about everywhere you turned, then we ought to stop running programming on every channel for a month to properly honor George Carlin. He was more than a comedian. He was a pioneer, a rebel and a man with a legacy few will ever match.
At a base level, Carlin was, well, base. He made a career of dirty jokes, lewd comments, offensive observations and harsh critiques of everything from pets and language to politics and religion. But for 50 years, Carlin was at the top of his industry. And all that naughty talk made a huge difference you probably don't even realize. Yet when we told a young coworker of Carlin's death this morning, she said, "Who?" It wasn't until I told her he played Mr. Conductor on the children's show "Thomas the Tank" that she understood who he was. Huh?!?
Carlin made history in the early 1970s for his famous routine "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." His performance of the bit once led to his arrest. But the full impact of the seven dirty words for television did not happen until WBAI radio in New York played the clip, leading to a complaint to the FCC from a man who heard it with his son. The case FCC v. Pacifica Foundation went all the way to the Supreme Court, and established the standards of decency still in use on public airwaves in the country today. Perhaps most importantly it created the standard of "safe harbor," which gives broadcasters the right to air indecent, but not obscene, content from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., a time when children are not expected to be watching television. You may not realize it, but for 30 years now, safe harbor has determined greatly which shows you see when on broadcast television and what kind of content they have. No George Carlin means no precedent for the Janet Jackson fiasco at the Super Bowl a few years ago.
Whether you liked his comedy or not, and plenty of people do not, Carlin's impact on American culture is undeniable. He is widely considered one of the three greatest comics of all-time with Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce. But neither of them did something that truly changed one of the most pervasive influences on our society like Carlin's seven dirty words did for television. George Carlin will be missed... four letters at a time.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo