Some folks deified George Carlin, which I find wholly ironic.

Carlin died in June of 2008, at the age of 71. It’s hard to estimate Carlin’s value in the Western culture; his Seven Words are, today, somewhat less powerful than they were in 1972, and no matter his one-time popularity, their deflation is not significantly his doing, I think. At his height, TV love scenes still involved the “one foot on the floor” rule, so for many the Carlin spiel was apparently quite powerful.

And while the the Carlin canon pivots on those seven words, they were only part of his larger social commentary machine. No doubt the Richard Pryors and Steven Wrights of the world owe some small debt to George Carlin. As social creatures who, if unwittingly, make use of their exploits, we, too, owe him that debt. I often found his delivery a little too fond of itself, but maybe that was part of the bit.

However his cultural value is estimated, he seems one of the last of a dying breed, if not necessarily a dying species. I don’t get out much, but I don’t recall hearing of anyone with a similar currency, in terms of popularity and stickiness, who challenges social norms as a matter of principle. The closest might be Dave Chappelle, off the top of my head, but that’s not where I keep my good stuff so I’m not sure how much you should invest in that idea. Oprah Winfrey notwithstanding, the popular culture has changed over these decades of Carlin’s popular decline, and any market research company (including mine) will tell you that it’s increasingly difficult to intercept peoples’ attention. Some have called George Carlin a “hero“; I’m not sure anyone can become that kind of hero in a culture that cherishes its schisms and disaffection.


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