Vice Squad
Saturday, April 03, 2004
George Carlin on Obscenity

The comedian George Carlin has a place in the history of regulation of obscenity thanks to his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." A daytime radio broadcast of this monologue led to a US Supreme Court case, FCC v. PACIFICA FOUNDATION, 438 U.S. 726 (1978), the decision in which cleared the way for FCC regulation of indecent though not necessarily obscene material in broadcasting -- a rather timely topic, of course. Carlin was interviewed in Salon recently; here's a brief excerpt:

"I have never seen any sort of study or even an informal body of opinion that thinks these words alone are somehow morally corrupting, that the words do any damage. What they do in many cases is they have a potential of embarrassing the parents because they know they don't want their kids to say them in front of the neighbors. I don't know that there's ever been any evidence shown that that father in the car who reported the "Seven Dirty Words" -- by the way, that name was what the L.A. Times called it, I never used the word "dirty," I called it "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" and I didn't like them called dirty because that was my argument: that they weren't. But anyway, they are now. So that father and that son sat there. I believe he belonged to something called Morals in Media. They didn't turn that off. They weren't appalled. They weren't shocked into turning the radio off or changing the station. He let the child listen, and he listened, and my assumption is that neither of the two were morally corrupted or injured in any way by this experience. They were actually exposed to the words and what damage did they do?"

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