Provocative American comedian George Carlin had a bit in 1972 roughly entitled the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Quite similar, another jokester, Lenny Bruce, claimed in 1965 that he was arrested for uttering some of those words on stage. As it turned out, Carlin would also be jailed for it shortly after a summer of ’72 performance in Milwaukee.
Today, most of these words are found in school libraries, and anyone with an internet connection can watch the video, even in the browser’s safest search mode. Protests and resisting parent groups complained when 1993 ABC police soap opera “NYPD” Blue started using the vernacular, and a fair amount of limited nudity, to help itself stand out from the other freely televised fair. But by now, broadcast cartoons like “Family Guy” run throughout the day and carry language and themes that make Carlin’s jokes irrelevant to modern audiences.
In a 2004 interview, Carlin argued, in part, “These words have no power … we give them great power over us.” Would he be pleased these years later that we have found our way to a freer society? Do we take ourselves a little less seriously? Do we tolerate those who might make fun of our conventions?
Canadian funnyman Mike Ward was held to account for a Human Rights violation because of jokes he told about a complainant believed damaged his dignity. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided that Canadians do, in fact, have a sense of humor. Alas, the dissenting four didn’t get the joke. They demanded that a “message” be sent to others that humor will put you in jail, or the poorhouse. In the U.S., comedian Dave Chappell is under fire for sharing his comedic take on modern life. Did he, like Carlin, know he’d be canceled, or maybe arrested, for speaking?