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The very existence of flame-throwers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.

“Flamethrowers” – George Carlin

George Denis Patrick Carlin
Born May 12, 1937 – Died June 22, 2008
American Comedian, Social Critic, Actor, Author

“Flamethrowers” – George Carlin – Note

The seven dirty words (or “Filthy Words”) are seven English-language words that American comedian George Carlin first listed in 1972 in his monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”

Carlin was noted for his black comedy and thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects. He and his “seven dirty words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, in which a 5–4 decision affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

At the time, the words were considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for broadcast on the public airwaves in the United States, whether radio or television. As such, they were avoided in scripted material, and bleep-censored in the rare cases in which they were used; broadcast standards differ in different parts of the world, then and now, although most of the words on Carlin’s original list remain taboo on American broadcast television as of 2011.

The list was not an official enumeration of forbidden words, but rather was compiled by Carlin.

Nonetheless, a radio broadcast featuring these words led to a Supreme Court decision that helped establish the extent to which the federal government could regulate speech on broadcast television and radio in the United States.

“Flamethrowers” – George Carlin – “FCC v. Pacifica Foundation

In 1973, a father complained to the FCC that his son had heard the George Carlin routine “Filthy Words”broadcast one afternoon over WBAI, a Pacifica Foundation FM radio station in New York City. Pacifica received censure from the FCC, in the form of a letter of reprimand, for allegedly violating FCC regulations which prohibited broadcasting indecent material.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC action in 1978, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruling that the routine was “indecent but not obscene”. The Court accepted as compelling the government’s interests in:

  • Shielding children from potentially offensive material, and
  • Ensuring that unwanted speech does not enter one’s home.

The Court stated that the FCC had the authority to prohibit such broadcasts during hours when children were likely to be among the audience, and gave the FCC broad leeway to determine what constituted indecency in different contexts.

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