Friday, July 04, 2008

Protecting the network of July 4 rights

This July 4th holds particular resonance for me since George Carlin's death: I once lost a great university linguistics gig for basing an assignment on Carlin's routine about the seven FCC prohibited words.

(Add to that a student caught plagiarizing, who discovers a way to coerce a passing grade from the department, a new and frightened department chair, and the lack of any job security for adjuncts -- part-time labor can be let go for any reason or for no reason at all.)

It taught me that the fundamental rights we take for granted in this country require a whole network of social and legal protections to back them up, like job security, due process, academic freedom, voting rights -- all the protections we see corroding around us.

Carlin should be especially meaningful to Lower East Siders. Lenny Bruce, who first introduced obscenity into comedy and beat the path Carlin followed, lived down here on St. Mark's Place near 3rd Avenue, very much a part of the countercultural spirit of the Lower East Side of the 1950's and 60's.

Unlike Carlin, who was lauded for pushing the envelop in a time of rebellion, Bruce paid for his speech with multiple arrests and legal harassment. Bruce didn't have the support of the broad and popular protest movement that cheered Carlin on network TV.

So where is the broad, popular protest today that will prevent the erosion of constitutional rights, that will create a cause célèbre of every government outrage and intrusion, that will refuse to relinquish the public sphere to private ownership or public space to private profiteering, that will demand equality regardless of money, accountability regardless of influence, and responsibility regardless of power, that will stand up for good government and not back down until it gets it regardless how long?

Today's youth have mobilized around their favorite, Obama. But politicians alone cannot and will not solve our problems.

Only an engaged public can provide the foundations of support for policy-makers and the social will for sound policy. A disengaged public leaves a void into which quickly flow the corporate interests, their current strong, its source inexhaustibly replenished by the consuming public itself, the public that it seeks to supplant in civil process, the public it seduces, the public it feeds on, the public that rushes to submit.

It's a monster out of myth, copulating with your government

perverting civil society

in the bed you made for them.

Btw, the best place to read all of Carlin's routine unexpurgated is in the appendix to the Supreme Court of the United States' decision, FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (that's WBAI). Although the court decided that FCC could restrict on-air language, they reproduced the text with clinical accuracy.
FCC v. PACIFICA FOUNDATION, 438 U.S. 726 (1978)

at Justia

or at Findlaw

Remembering our soldiers still stuck in Iraq...and the Iraqis still stuck with our soldiers...

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