Monday, June 23, 2008

THE TELLING DETAIL. I don't usually dig up comments on other people's blogs, but there's something very instructive in this one. As you may have heard, the great George Carlin has died. In comments to a nice valedictory post by Ann Althouse, somebody writes this:
Carlin grew misanthropic in the last 20 years or so, and made a conscious decision to chuck the conservative part of his audience, openly ridiculing conservative politicians and cultural leaders. Thus I have less regard for his passing than I would otherwise. He was brilliant at manipulating the English language, but I think he coarsened American culture with his most famous work.
Try to even imagine being like this. Try to imagine keeping score on how one of the artists you admire, or one of the entertainers you enjoy, is dishing out props to your political causes. Try to imagine writing a sentence as puffed-up as "Thus I have less regard for his passing than I would otherwise," as if your mourning were something a bunch of hungry peasants with bowls were desperately hoping would be ample. Finally -- and you may really have to rev up your sense of tragic pity for this one -- try to imagine being so utterly blind to your surroundings that you think George Carlin's "most famous work," which is decades old, "coarsened American culture," rather than, "is American culture."

For extra credit, imagine thinking all this shit while considering anyone else Politically Correct.

UPDATE. Radio blowhard Macranger says:
He made me laugh at times, mostly before he went renegade in the early 70s.
What, so he only liked Carlin on the Ed Sullivan Show? That's sort of like saying "I liked Picasso until he started getting abstract."

Macranger goes on to say that he "felt sorry for [Carlin] for he had no belief except in what was bad and evil." That Carlin "looked forward to an afterlife where he could watch the decline of civilization on a 'heavenly CNN'" Macranger finds "sad." Like Voltaire, Mencken, et alia, Carlin died out of the good graces of the bullshit merchants. I guess they knew he was driving away some of their customers.

UPDATE II. Having read a lot today about Carlin's barrier-breaking use of obscenity and misanthropy, I want to point out that it would be too bad if Carlin were misfiled as simply a pioneer of dirty talk. That happened to Lenny Bruce, and it's a great shame, because the guy had a way with words that's most apparent in his maddest flights. Carlin's bits were observably and very carefully written, with an tremendous feel for rhythm (which was especially apparent when his voice became less flexible and he couldn't work the dynamics as much). Most good standup is labored over and part of the trick is to make it look spontaneous; Carlin had that down, too, but often, especially toward the end, he seemed less like a traditional comic and more like a barnstorming comic author who was excited enough by his material to get up and move around. His words, dirty and clean, were strong enough to bear that treatment. Carlin was an especially appropriate choice for the Twain Prize, and I'm glad to learn they're still going to give it to him.

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