Powerful short "America Wake Up" invokes George Carlin: "The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it."

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/27/powerful-short-america-wake.html


So many pithy and accurate observations in such a short routine. I quote some of these regularly because it’s clear that 15 years later too many people still don’t get it.


To me, the most important part of Carlin’s rant is “they dont fucking care about you”. Our ridiculos perception of political leaders as some sort of paternal benefactors screws us every time, or more accurately, allows them to screw us. I wonder why the person who made the video itself chose to include the scouts burning the flag. I wonder if they are just ignorant of what is going on in the shot or actually making a more nuanced point.


When I tell small-business chums that politicians aren’t their friends, they just don’t believe me. It’s like they imagine their occasional lunch bribes can influence them as much as their big-business competitors.

Having said that, it’s always bothered me just how cheaply they can be bought.


I’m not clear on the significance of the flag-burning scouts. Potentially more obvious to USians. I do recall, from some stand-up routine or other, that burning the flag was an accepted method of retiring one that was worn out.


You are correct. It is the official method for retiring a flag. This is why I’m confused by it’s inclusion. I don’t know if the producer used it for shock value, not understanding this fact or if they are deeper and it’s a statement about the level of patriotic furvor instilled into the Scouts. I’m guessing it’s the former judging by the rest of the images they chose.


So many of George Carlin’s “The world sucks, everything and everyone is stupid, and we’re all gonna die” rants were taken to heart by edgelords and nihilists on the Internet and in real life that I honestly think that the meaningful stuff he said and its impact, like this American Dream bit, is outweighed by the bad. His tirades just came off as the same brand of South Park “Fuck caring passionately about anything, we make fun of everyone!” horseshit. I sometimes wonder how far he set back climate action with his drivel that mocked environmentalism.

I also wonder how much of his other garbage is the reason that America is in this situation it is now.

Nah. I grew up idolizing Carlin. Yeah, I now see that he was off base occasionally, but for the most part, he was one among others who taught me that humor and razor-sharp wit can go together for effective and righteous skewering of the status quo, when it deserved it. His love of the English language, especially its absurdities, was an added bonus.

I think you’re overstating both his (rare) wrongheadedness and his influence.


+1 to this. Carlin was insightful, but he actively encourage disengaging from civic life. He told generations that if they were really smart, if they really knew what was going on (and who doesn’t want to believe that about themselves?) then they should turn their back on the world.

See: “george carlin why i don’t vote”

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Not at all. The South Puckers are nihilistic and conservative in their in their inclinations - Carlin is neither of those things.


Wow; if it isn’t heavy metal or D&D that’s to blame, then it must be George Carlin’s acerbic stand-up sets from 20 years ago…


I don’t know that Carlin was all that bad. Everything that is part of culture, that influences culture, is also a product of culture. I’m not going to claim to be a historian, but I think Carlin was a part of a culture of disengagement rather than a first mover of it. Carlin’s commercial success was because there was an audience for that.

Carlin was also very insightful and had a lot of meaningful things to say. But by now everything Carlin said has become part of pop culture. Things that were insightful at one time become cliche. Like listening to Sgt. Peppers and trying to imagine what it would have been like to buy it from the record shop and put it on when you’d never heard anything like that before.

But for me the biggest thing I think about is that stand-up comedians are always on stage bearing their soul to us. And with the best ones it’s pretty grim in there. So when Carlin essentially preaches despair, I understand it’s because Carlin say a world worth despairing over. That’s caring. I remember reading an interview with Chis Rock shortly after Robin Williams’ death and they asked Rock about it. And Rock says that everyone in the business knows people who killed themselves because 85% of stand up is just noticing things, and there’s a lot of bad stuff out there to notice.

I don’t blame Carlin for noticing, and I think people who uncritically consumed Carlin’s work and were driven to disengagement had a large selection of other cultural touchpoints to be driven to disengagement by, as that was their inclination.


I just listened to that and come to the opposite conclusion. But that’s my worldview- that, rather than top-down leadership, politics are a lagging indicator to culture at large. That’s essentially what he says in the routine. “These people didn’t just fall out of the sky”. Change the culture and the politics will follow, with a lot more buy in.

Every time there’s been change, the politicians only step over the line when the cultural change has already done the heavy lifting and they see the all-clear. I think putting one’s energy into culture and community isn’t disengagement, it’s a legit alternative, and one where you are able to follow your conscience and ideals more closely rather than putting faith in flawed and compromised human candidates that will inevitably sell one down the river.

I mean, I vote anyway, because we also need a functioning government, but the government is not the only venue, and I would say is the lesser venue.


That necessarily suggests that the world didn’t suck when he said it did, but that he contributed to it sucking in the end. I wholeheartedly disagree with that assessment. IMHO If more people had realized that the world sucked and needed fixing back then, we would not be in this situation today, and very few others were willing to stand up and speak truth to power as he did.


“Maybe the earth just wanted plastic bags”

One of my all time favorites was his bit on the ten commandments.

What truth to power was Carlin speaking about whenever he did his routines about removing warning labels from things to help filter stupid people out of the gene pool? The man was a nihilist drug-fueled shock-jock whose tirades were eagerly lapped up by jaded high-schoolers and college students.

Anybody who said that the world sucked and needed fixing back then was countered by South Park and the Cult of Carlin rolling their eyes and treating them as hysterical. “We’re all gonna die and the Earth is still gonna be there; it’s cool not to care!” was a wildly popular mindset for tons of people on the Internet in its more free-wheeling days, around the early aughts to 2011. Clips of Carlin’s routines were passed around like candy back then; online communities passing videos of George and South Park back and forth did their fair share of harm to the ability to actually address problems, both then and now.

just off the top of my head. I remember his bits calling:

  • Golf courses rightly racist
  • the prevalence of marketing terms to downplay or normalize bad corporate behaviour and condition folks to accept negative changes
  • his well-known issues with calling murdering civilians “collateral damage” or “neutralizing” “enemy combatants” rather than killing them
  • That birth control being a prescription item still meant government control over sex
  • Calling out the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs in high-school sports
  • his disdain for sports that torture animals (like rodeos)

And of course from some of his last works, his discussion about how complaining about “cancel culture” isn’t about fixing anything and that, in the end, the fight is really about control of speech.

Say what you want about his views, but there were very few comedians making those sorts of points, for so many years, to as large an audience.


It’s nice but honestly but it can be used by either side to call the other side the problem so pithy yes but just more fuel to throw on a fire or for someone who supports some outsider a chance to say see both sides are bad.

It was included for shock value and it delivers even if you understand that yes its the proper way to dispose of an old flag. To see mall children in uniforms putting a flag on a fire can still symbolize something even if you logically understand that in this context it shouldn’t.

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How so?

It parses for me like an analysis of classist oppression, pointing out that wealth-hoarding elites control the rest of us far more than we like to admit.

How could someone on the side of the wealth-hoarding elites use this Carlin bit to call the 99% the problem?