Special Guest Blog: George Carlin and Bill Hicks Were Right

Years back, George Carlin had a singularly perfect bit about “shell shock” becoming “battle fatigue” becoming “operational exhaustion” becoming “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Carlin was arguing a point that has been made multiple times: how you think affects what you think. That war is terrible and destroys the people it touches is morphed gradually into the standard operating procedure being that a wellness specialist provides positive incremental feedback to help you self-actualize a post-incident readjustment. (Translation: a handful of prescriptions and a psychologist will, somehow, magically make you okay with how you now have to learn to wipe your ass with the metal hooks that replaced your hands when they got blown off while you were fighting the war to make Dubya’s father’s friends even richer. And if you complain? You will be humored and taught/conditioned to not complain out loud. Why? Because complaining is what losers do. Complaining is what quitters do. And complaining is how every single revolution ever got started.)

Bill Hick, a comedian who died much too young, made a similar observation about how Debbie Gibson writes all her songs: “Yeah, she writes all her own songs about her own real life experiences. [W]hat’s the next one called? ‘Mom, why am I bleeding?’ When did we start listening to pre-pubescent white girls? […] We have at our fingertips the greatest minds of all time, the knowledge and history of the greatest thinkers of all fucking time, but no, what’s that little white girl saying? Let’s go put Debbie Gibson’s thoughts on compact disc so they’ll never be destroyed.”

I saw the Carlin-Hicks offspring last night (or the night before) in an ABC News item about the effect of the Sequester.

First, see how it’s called “the Sequester”? (Ted may have covered this already.) It’s a frickin’ budget cut. So why call it “the Sequester”? Because that sounds better. When someone says “sequester” you think of one of two things — a jury being put in a room to decide a legal case or carbon dioxide being pumped into the bottom of the ocean. Sequester carries a flavor of gravitas, of a rational, prudent step being taken to resolve something. Budget cut carries a flavor of failure. And this time, there’s enough blame to go around for everyone on all three sides (Rep., Dem., and Journ.). So everyone’s calling it Sequester.

Second, the ABC News piece shows the culmination of the Carlin-Hicks hypothesis. The piece had the cutesy widdle part about how pwecious middle schoolers weren’t able to go on tours of the White House because those tours were cancelled as part of the Sequester. And there were clips of the semi-articulate children reciting what they’d memorized ahead of time (see Debbie Gibson). They’d even made some adowable signs about how the “White House is our house.” (I guess the cards that read, “Mom, why am I bleeding?” and “Why am I getting hair in my armpits” weren’t ready.)

At one point, the reporter (Jonathan Karl, IIRC) mentioned that the film crew had just happened to run into John Boehner while they were filming a segment of the report, so they went to a film clip of Boehner mouthing some inanities. They “just happened” to run into him. So, were they originally going to air this report without ANY senior officials? Just gonna run with the kids, huh? That’s Carlin-Hicks for you.

Even though the ABC News piece actually criticized the president — they pointed out that he was going to a restaurant six blocks from the White House, which meant a full Secret Service contingent, which meant a big price tag — they sandwiched the criticism in cutesy, so it lost its impact. But that’s what the news does now. Lots of simpering and a slight trace of mirth in the voice at all times. (Sidebar: I propose a new drinking game: Every time Diane Sawyer seems mildly amused, take a drink. Every time she leans forward as if the teleprompter font is too small to make out, take a drink. You’ll want to switch arms every few seconds or one bicep will become noticeably larger than the other.)

But that’s how you do it: soften everything, make it all look rose-colored and moist-eyed and cute, and everything goes down nice and smooth. All that’s missing is a basket of puppies on the news desk while they read the 30 second report on drone attacks.

2 thoughts on “Special Guest Blog: George Carlin and Bill Hicks Were Right

  1. If you don’t like what something is called, you can hire Frank Luntz and he will spin you out a media-friendly, knee-jerk, rube-enticing, phrase that will play across the airwaves.

    I would call it propaganda, but that is such an ugly word. Any suggestions?

  2. It’s a great point; well described, this simpering smirking, cutesy news coverage.

    One area where this really stands out is any story having to do with legal or medical marijuana. The reporters just cannot bring themselves to take the subject matter seriously, and end up downplaying and trivializing whatever the news item is.

    But we really need legalized marijuana. I’ll bet the 100’s of 1,000’s of people in prison for marijuana don’t think that the issue is a joke.