Thursday, February 11, 2010
When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? by George Carlin
This is pretty much what you expect from Carlin - acerbic, abrasive, disrespectful, challenging language that doesn't give a good goddamn what anyone else thinks. Which means there'll definitely be something in there that you disagree with, and probably something that pisses you off. Not me, of course. When I watched the South Park movie, at the abortion joke from The Mole, the entire theater was dead silent except for me in the back row, cackling. I have a very broad sense of humor.
Anyway, if you've read his previous works, Braindroppings and Napalm and Silly Putty, you pretty much know what's going to be in here - a lot of essays on current events, social customs and traditions, and the general weak character of Americans today. Plus, there are lots of short bits that are really funny:
"I wanted to be a Boy Scout, but I had all the wrong traits. Apparently, they were looking for kids who were trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Unfortunately, at that time I was devious, fickle, obstructive, hostile, rude, mean, defiant, glum, extravagant, cowardly, dirty and sacrilegious. So I waited a few years and joined the army."
One of Carlin's hot points is his love of language, as the above points out. He loves language and he loves to watch how people use language to bend the truth of their meaning - in other words, he takes particular notice of euphemism. As an English teacher, and a lover of language myself, I also find this topic fascinating and have cannibalized some of Carlin's material for use in lessons on the topic. Included in this book is his "Shell Shock to PTSD" speech, chronicling the renaming of the same condition from World War I ("Shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. Shell shock!") through to the present day ("...at last, the pain had been completely buried under psycho-jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder.").
This is one area in which I have great respect for Carlin. Overall, I prefer his old material - the Hippy Dippy Weatherman, Congolia Breckenridge and all that - to his newer, rougher stuff. But on the subject of language, I find him to be an insightful and clever scholar of communication. Words exist to describe things. At the same time, however, words conceal the true nature of things, and no one word can completely encompass the thing it describes. Knowing that, we use words to change things according to comfort and custom. We soften the things that make us uncomfortable - going from "cripple" to "physically challenged" might make us feel better about it, but it doesn't change the condition itself. No matter what we call it, Stephen Hawking isn't going to engage in a round of beach volleyball anytime soon.
Even in simpler, less controversial matters, he rails against the use of language as a means of manipulation (no doubt fully aware of the irony of his profession). He remembers when bathroom tissue was toilet paper, when customer service was the complaint department and when direct marketing was junk mail. He tells us to beware of "systems" and "centers" and "programs," and longs for the days when things were simpler, while never really believing they were that simple to begin with.
What Carlin believes, and what he explains in this book and his others, is that, given the choice, we should opt for the word that is clearest, simplest and truest over the one that just makes us feel better....
In between the jokes about sex, death and old people, that is.
For anyone who loves language, Carlin is someone to pay attention to.
I was upset when Carlin died, as were a whole lot of other people. I know he denied it, but I think he grew angry in his old age. His comedy, his points of view shifted less from observational humor and word humor to meditations on death and the baser nature of humanity. He would open his show with a reminder to everyone that they were, basically, meat with an expiration date. He talked about how much fun it would be to see plane crashes and train derailments and chaos reign across the world. It never resonated with me as much as his early stuff did, and that's fine. No artist who works as long as Carlin did can continually please the same people throughout his entire career.
Still, nestled within the anger and chaotic glee was a certain... dare I say it? Love. I think he really expected a lot out of humanity, and knew our potential to do a lot of great things. If he became angry or bitter, perhaps it's just because we weren't living up to his expectations.
"A children's museum sounds like a great idea, but I would imagine it's not easy to breathe inside those little glass cases."
- George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
George Carlin's home page
George Carlin on Wikipedia
When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? on Wikipedia
When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? on Amazon.com