Monday, June 30, 2008

We lost a giant....

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent loss of one of our greatest political analysts and commentators. He was a giant, a tireless inquisitor who never ceased to wrangle with the political elite. He was known for his meticulous preparation, and he made sure that his shows were imbued with his hard work and indelible energy.

I’m talking, of course, about George Carlin. What? Did you expect me to say someone else?

I have a feeling that Carlin is looking down on us and smiling.

If he were alive, Carlin would tear into all of those who attempt to eulogize him: first, because the “speak no ill of the dead” rule is stupid: why should your opinion of someone be dependent on whether he or she is alive?; and second, these same pseudo-journalists are responsible for ouranti-intellectual culture, for the weak “everybody’s a winner” ethos, for the boomer yuppie narcissism and corporate tyranny that Carlin made it his life mission to deride.

If any non-black cultural critic should receive honorary respectable negro status, it’s Carlin. He deserves it because of his mastery of the language, his unparalleled bullshit-meter, and his refusal to blindly accept the platitudes and senseless conventions that people rarely challenge.

At the risk of (racking up demerits on) my negro card, I consider Carlin the greatest stand-up comedian who ever lived--greater than the Cos’; greater than Pryor; greater than Bruce (Bruce gets an honorary negro card too for all the shit the law put him through).

Sometime in college, I adopted Carlin’s detached, misanthropic worldview. He, more than any other, understood the fundamental paradox of humanity: that without collectives, we could never survive as a species and as a collection of societies; yet the idea and practice of groups (and groupthink in particular) spawn the other-ing that is responsible for the most loathsome human behavior.

Despite his seeming contempt for his fellow humans, in his final interview, Carlin acknowledged that he does care about people—his disdain, he argues, is based on our squandered potential. This contradiction resonates with me as a self-proclaimed respectable negro. While I am uncomfortable with all forms of collective identity, I care about people as a whole, and I have a special interest in black people, no matter how much we fuck up in the aggregate. Though I’ve been wrestling with their implications for years, I still haven’t worked out a consistent position on linked fate and the black utility heuristic. Who knew being a negro was so psychologically taxing?

7 Dirty Words gets the most attention, but these three bits are among my favorite Carlin pieces, and are, I think, representative of his genius.

1.) A brilliant, parsimonious deconstruction of the 10 Commandments:

2.) An honest look at our country’s culture of war and history of racism:

3.) A bit about the euphemistic “soft language” that pervades modern English:

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