It’s a good thing comedian George Carlin is dead, because if the working class hero were still alive there’s a fair chance Occupy Wall Street would not be the leaderless movement it is today. That’s how closely his ideas dovetailed with those of the nonviolent movement against predatory corporations and elites.
Carlin, who would have turned 75 last Saturday, had a healthy skepticism of all governments and institutions. He regularly skewered the ruling oligarchy, organized religion, privileged elites, craven politicians, greedy corporations and modern robber barons.
Decades before Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, he could see that the United States was being transformed into a services plantation by predatory elements of the 1%.
Carlin is ranked second on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest standup comedians of all time, was a repeat host of Saturday Night Live and a frequent guest on The Tonight Show. The New York native was also a recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Born into a working-class family in a diverse part of Harlem located between Columbia University and the City College of New York, Carlin never forgot his roots. He championed decent, hardworking people and ridiculed the predatory elements of the 1%, which he referred to as “owners” and “rich cocksuckers.”
One of the most revealing episodes in Carlin’s life occurred during a 2005 show in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. Departing from his set bits into a moment of free form monologue, Carlin began questioning the value of a place where people are judged solely by the content of their bank accounts and credit lines, and day laborers pass out hooker cards to couples pushing baby strollers.
Carlin proceeded to pepper everyone and everything around him with painful truths, stating that he could not wait to get out of “this fucking hotel” and Las Vegas and get back east “where the real people are.”
“People who go to Las Vegas, you’ve got to question their fucking intellect to start with,” Carlin told his audience. “Traveling hundreds and thousands of miles to essentially give your money to a large corporation is kind of fucking moronic.”
MGM fired him immediately afterward.
It’s hard to believe the casino didn’t know what they were getting into when they hired the populist firebrand. Carlin threw aside the clean-cut look that predominated in the entertainment industry in the early 1970s for the jeans, long hair and beard of the antiwar and counterculture movements and never looked back.
He left behind a treasure chest of painfully truthful routines, many of which still resonate today. They’re as much social commentary as they are comedy and include a classic explanation of how the U.S. economic system works (below right) which has drawn more than 186,000 views on YouTube since 2010. Like many Carlin routines, the black comedy of the segment is built on the injustice of everyday life in the U.S.
The bit is perhaps the defintive Carlin monologue and includes a line that captures the overarching message of Occupy better than any other, when he opines that what the owners really want is “more for themselves and less for everybody.” That’s essentially what Occupy is against and is easily distilled into the following mantra: “Occupy Wall Street is a populist movement against predatory corporations and elites who want more for themselves and less for everybody else.”
How perfect is that?
The segment begins with an explanation of the failings of the U.S. education system and the reasons why American wage-earners should not expect any improvement in it and builds into a concise, barefisted summary of everything that’s gone wrong with America since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980.
“There’s a reason education sucks and it’s the same reason that it will never, ever, ever be fixed,” Carlin said. “It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you got – because the owners of this country don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners now – the real owners – the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions.
“Forget the politicians. Politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything.
“They own all the important land,” he said. “They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all the news and information you get to hear.
“They got you by the balls.
“They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else.
“But I’ll tell you what they don’t want,” Carlin said. “They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. That’s right.
“They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table to figure out how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that.
“You know what they want?
“They want obedient workers – obedient workers. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs, with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.
“And now they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back. So they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something, they’ll get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later. Cause they own this fucking place.
“It’s a big club and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club. And by the way, it’s the same big club they use to beat you over the head with all day when they tell you what to believe – all day long beating you over the head in their media telling you what to believe, what to think and what to buy.
“The table is tilted folks, the game is rigged and nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care.
“Good, honest, hardworking people – white collar, blue collar, it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on – continue to elect these rich cocksuckers who don’t give a fuck about them. They don’t give a fuck about you. They don’t give a fuck about you. They don’t care about you. At all, at all, at all.
“And nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care,” Carlin said. “That’s what the owners count on – the fact that Americans will probably remain willfully ignorant of the big red, white and blue dick that’s being jammed up their assholes every day. Because the owners know the truth: it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”