Although George Carlin was arrested on obscenity charges after performing “Seven Dirty Words” at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 1972, the Library of Congress recently added 25 audio recordings to the registry for their artistic and cultural significance, including Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” Despite the fact that the Library of Congress has decided to preserve Carlin’s work, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) still prohibits the seven words from being spoken on broadcast television and radio.
A decade before his arrest in Milwaukee, Carlin was arrested along with legendary comedian Lenny Bruce during a Chicago show in 1962. Accused of saying “fuck” and “tits” during his performance, Bruce was arrested on obscenity charges while Carlin was arrested for refusing to show his identification to the police. After sharing the backseat of a patrol car with Bruce, Carlin eventually created the “Seven Dirty Words” routine in memory of Bruce’s controversial legacy.
In 1972, Carlin released a stand-up comedy album titled “Class Clown,” featuring a track referred to as “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” While searching for dirty words that could never be said on TV, Carlin asserted, “We have more ways to describe dirty words than we actually have dirty words. That seems a little strange to me. It seems to indicate that somebody was awfully interested in these words. They kept referring to them. They called them: bad words, dirty, filthy, foul, vile, vulgar, coarse, in poor taste, unseemly, street talk, gutter talk, locker room language, barracks talk, bawdy, naughty, saucy, raunchy, rude, crude, lewd, lascivious, indecent, profane, obscene, blue, off-color, risqué, suggestive, cursing, cussing, swearing. And all I could think of was shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.”
While questioning the government’s ability to arrest people for simply speaking words, Carlin was arrested on obscenity charges after performing “Seven Dirty Words” at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in July 1972. Although the charges were later dropped, Carlin was arrested several more times for continuing to perform the routine.
During a road trip with his 15-year-old son, John Douglas, a CBS executive and a member of a pornography watchdog group called Morality in Media, stumbled across WBAI-FM playing Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” on the afternoon of October 30, 1973. Even though listeners were warned that some of Carlin’s language might seem offensive, Douglas listened to the broadcast before filing a complaint with the FCC. Five years later, the Supreme Court’s FCC v. Pacifica Foundation decision determined that the FCC could regulate offensive content on broadcasts between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., during the hours when children would most likely be exposed to profanity.
Due to the fact that cable, satellite, pay-per-view, and the internet are subscription-based services, they do not fall within the FCC’s jurisdiction. Although legally permitted to exercise their First Amendment rights, many cable television stations retain a Standards and Practices department in order to placate their advertisers.
While the FCC continues to target anyone speaking Carlin’s seven dirty words, the Library of Congress recently added 25 audio recordings to the register, including Carlin’s 1972 “Class Clown,” Metallica’s 1986 “Master of Puppets,” and Santana’s 1970 “Abraxas.”
“These recordings, by a wide range of artists in many genres of music and in spoken word, will be preserved for future listeners,” Acting Librarian of Congress David Mao announced on Wednesday. “This collection of blues, jazz, rock, country and classical recordings, interspersed with important recordings of sporting events, speeches, radio shows and comedy, helps safeguard the record of what we’ve done and who we are.”
According to the Library of Congress, George Carlin “stepped back from a successful career as a mainstream standup comedian and reinvented himself with a much funnier, but far riskier, countercultural style. ‘Class Clown’ was the second album of this phase of his career, and contained his ‘Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television’ routine, a discourse not only on those words and their power to offend, but also on the varieties and vagaries of the English language itself. At the time of the album’s release, Carlin had actually been arrested on a charge of obscenity for a live performance of this routine, though the charges were ultimately dropped—yet those words still cannot be spoken on broadcast television.”