George Carlin, Muse of the 99%

The Legacy of a Truth Teller

George Carlin was one of America's most beloved standup comedians. Even after his death, his great performances have lived on in the memories of many. There is now a whole new generation discovering his work on the cyber-stage. Some recorded performances have become hits on YouTube with waves of laughter going viral on Social Media.

George Carlin had a way of revealing the truth. With his gift of irreverent satire, he softened the truth of his biting social commentary with a unique humor. He could for a short time cut through America's collective consciousness and belief systems. His performances gave the audience enough distance to not feel offended when invited to look at the truth about their own lives. Truth can hurt, especially if one has long avoided confronting it. But Carlin's truth-telling left the audience at ease. His words have become more and more relevant and seem to have a prophetic edge. Let's take a look at one popular piece where he dismantles the notion of the American Dream:

But there’s a reason. There’s a reason. There’s a reason for this, there’s a reason education SUCKS, and it’s the same reason it will never … ever … EVER be fixed. It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you’ve got. … BECAUSE … OWNERS, OF THIS COUNTRY, DON’T WANT THAT! I’m talking about the real owners now … the BIG owners! … The Wealthy, the REAL owners!

In this performance he points out how a small percentage of America’s population, driven by narrow self-interests control the destiny of the majority. Four years after his death, in light of recent bank bailouts and massive mortgage and student loan scams perpetrated on the populace, his passionate words on stage seemed to have captured the sentiment behind the growing 99%. The Occupy Movement is a sign of people becoming aware of a more overt takeover by the wealthy elite, whom Carlin referred to as 'the owners of this country'. Carlin’s performance brought attention to the unconscious narratives that guide Americans and his piece on the American dream revealed how the constructed story brought so many under its spell.

What is the American dream? It is a concocted ethos that proclaims the idea that with simple hard work, anyone can succeed economically regardless of their class and race. Over the years, the idea of American Dream had become an essential part of American popular political culture and was normalized to the point that its validity was not even questioned. Carlin confronted this dominant idea very aggressively. He dismantled the myth of equal opportunity and revealed how it has covered up the reality of inequality and injustice with a false sense of hope.

The American dream was in a sense a transition from the blunt racism in America to the subversive subjugation of the will under corporate masters rather than slave-masters. Color lines matter goes the narrative, but the American dream offered the promise that if one worked hard enough, even black and brown people could succeed and rise in social and economic status.

In actuality, this idea of bootstrap success enslaved a majority to a system that is run almost exclusively by greed driven profit motives. Not just businessmen on Wall Street, but politicians and government officials increasingly have subjugated their autonomy to corporate elites. Carlin concluded this particular performance with the statement

The fact that Americans will probably remain willfully ignorant of the big red, white and blue dick that's being jammed up their assholes everyday, because the owners of this country know the truth. Its called the American Dream, … cause you have to be asleep to believe it …

Carlin was right. The American dream required a nation to fall asleep in order for it to work as a shared illusion. By collectively falling asleep to the glorious materialistic Maya of American capitalism, many have closed their eyes to the suffering of others, which is necessary to sustain this illusion of the dream back home. The victims of this illusion are found both inside and outside the country, the neoliberal world order being the most recent expression of the shadow of the American dream. People outside the US and even whole nations (currently in the Middle East) are systematically placed on the wrong side of the barrel of the gun, with the military industrial complex enforcing a globally extractive economy. In the US, the socially abandoned poor class in this country was always hidden and never meant to have any real access or voice in electoral politics or middle class advantage.

Carlin's performance showed this dream as a kind of constructed delusion that sucked a majority of the American people in. Through mass media and films, the images carried the idea of the American Dream across the nation. Mainstream media in the US, in a reality TV of corporate entertaining consumerism and false portrayal, has till now insulated people from the injustices supported and perpetrated by their own government, which itself has been effectively hijacked by transnational corporations. It is becoming more obvious that the much vaunted American Dream revealed by Carlin as an illusion is sustained by a false bipartisan framework of electoral buffoonery, where voters allow their spectrum of potential to be narrowed by a manufactured mindset of the lesser of two evils infecting a contrived political landscape.

The last couple years have been the beginning of a historical era of awakening and revelation. WikiLeaks, with its scientific journalism have cut open the mask of shielded reality concurrently with the largest economic meltdown in 80 years and helped kick-start a global movement. Leaked documents showed to the world many brutal actions of the US regime overseas carried out while the many of this nation's sleepers still hitting the snooze button. With more and more Internet based information sharing and citizen journalism, the true actions and corruption of governments and corporations are exposed and this ugly reality is becoming harder to conceal.

People are gradually coming to realize the true nature and purpose of brutal military operations overseas, invading countries for 'humanitarian' reasons, or in the name of 'bringing democracy' and 'liberating innocents from dictators'. It is increasingly clear that this is part of a larger lie. What all these countries have in common is a black sticky substance and most of the people are clearly worse off after US 'intervention'. Inhumane labor conditions and corporate exploitation of sweat shops carried out in a service to this Western exploitation and consumerism are also coming to public light. Now the fleecing of the middle class itself has left little room for the sleep to continue.

American audiences have been laughing long enough. Held in collective amusement, many still remain asleep. But this amusement is quickly coming to an end. Carlin's prophetic view is now being powerfully confirmed. When the gravity of reality hits home, laughter slowly fades, replaced with a numbing silence. More have started to feel the pain in the humor of George Carlin. It is in this silence that the Occupy Movement across the country struck a new chord. Audiences once entertained by Carlin's humor and his brash honesty are now beginning to wake up.

Who would have imagined the rise of the 99%; standing up and starting to take hold of the course of history? In the eyes of some, Carlin appeared as a simple entertainer. He inserted himself in the constrained reality of the American dream as a satirical comedian and performed his magic of truth-telling. He used the stage to mirror back the theater of our own lives, bringing laughter that serves as a safe context and catharsis for those waking up from the dreaming state of American illusion.

George Carlin is the muse for the 99%. His dry wit is now transformed into awareness, anger and passion for a greater social movement and transformation. Perhaps America lost a great comedian, but the transformative power of his humor lives on in the hearts of his audience. He was surely ahead of his time and his legacy of truth-telling is truly revolutionary.

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is an essayist and author of WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening (Libertarian Books, 2018). Find her on twitter @nozomimagine. Read other articles by Nozomi.