Warehouse F

Carlin's Dirty Words

The Unseen Enemy
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Supreme Court Considering Legality Of Using “F” Word On Airways

By James Donahue

The late comedian George Carlin might have gotten a chuckle out of a report this week that the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing the legality of the use of the word “fuck” on public radio or television.

The outspoken Carlin was famous for his skit about the “Seven Dirty Words” that can never be used on the airways, and the word “fuck” was right at the top of his list. Of course Carlin mocked the rigidity of Christian driven morality in America that forced such restrictions on everybody.

In his skit, Carlin said: “Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker and Tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that will infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.”

He then went on to expound on each of the seven words, mocking everybody who dared to declare such words as “dirty” or immoral. He was arrested in 1972 on an obscenity charge after performing the routine at Milwaukee’s Summerfest. The case later was dismissed after a judge declared that even though the language was “indecent,” Carlin had the freedom to say it.

While Carlin was clearly breaking new ground when he dared to say these words in his comedy act, things have been changing since 1972. Either Americans have been more willing to let their hair down, or general Christian morality teachings have gone by the board. All seven words have become such an integral part of the public’s daily vocabulary we hardly notice when any of them are used, even in so-called “polite” conversation.

What the Supreme Court is debating is not whether the deliberate use of these words is wrong, but whether a guest on a live television interview accidentally slips and uses one of the words, and the host fails to catch it in time to beep it out of the broadcast.

So far, reports say, the Supreme Court is clearly divided over whether broadcasters should be fined for allowing the use of these so-called “fleeting expletives,” or dirty words “used in passing.”

What would make the debate very funny for Carlin is that the judges managed to discuss the issue for over an hour last week without any of them accidentally saying any of the words in question. They used, instead, references like the “F-word” or the “S-word.” If Carlin had been on the bench, he would have gotten right down to business, and everybody on the bench would have been bowled over laughing.

Justice John Paul Stevens, a former Navy veteran, noted that people have ways of creating humor out of the way they use these words. “You can’t help but laugh,” he said. We are sure he was thinking of George.

The more conservative judges are sympathetic for the Federal Communications Commission which seeks to punish broadcasters who break the rules.

Solicitor General Gregory Garre, who is pressing for a ruling against the “violators,” called the word fuck “one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit words for sexual activity.”

But Stevens countered: “that’s a word that is often used with no reference to sexual connotations.”

The case brought by the FCC against Fox Television Stations stems from a 2002 appearance by Cher when she used the phrase “fuck ‘em,” and similar statements by Bono, of the music group U-2, and Nicole Richie during the 2003 Billboard Music Award show, were not censored.

The suit raises two issues: whether regulations violate First Amendment free speech rights by fining broadcasters for an occasional swear word, and if the FCC acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it changed its policy about indecent language in 2004.

A ruling is not expected until sometime in 2009.