Thursday, June 26, 2008

George Carlin, Google and Community Values

Taboos change as new communications media determine what is accessible and what is not.

More often than not, commentary on the recent death of comedian George Carlin centers on his famous "7 Words You Can't Say on TV" routine and his confrontation with the FCC. If you haven't heard it yet, gather your children to your side and click here.

Carlin's "7 words," which he correctly identified as taboo in the 1970's, have become less so in the 21st century. Cable denizens, including South Park cartoon children, Sopranos Mafiosi and Comedy Central fake newsmen use any and all of Carlin's words with impunity, while their broadcast counterparts must still watch their mouths. Even so, some proprieties are preserved on cable. Cartman on South Park can say “Shit” and Tony Soprano can say “Fuck”, but John Stewart and Stephen Colbert still get bleeped. Meanwhile, if Oprah or Barbara Walters drop the F-bomb, network executives tremble. One gets the impression that the FCC cracks down on broadcaster language slips just to show they can.

All societies have their taboos. More often than not, forbidden words or places or things define acceptable and non-acceptable public behaviors and tend to support and reinforce the status quo and the existing power structure. Sexual taboos, which are included in Carlin’s “7 Words”, try to define both adult and child boundaries as well as a society’s sexual preoccupations.

As Joshua Meyrowitz documented in his ground-breaking book No Sense of Self, modern communication media have blurred the boundaries that existed in the print era between public and private and between adult and child. Meyrowitz discusses how literacy requirements created learning hurdles that allowed adults to limit the spread of some types of information to prying young minds. With no necessary education required to watch TV, view a movie, or access the World Wide Web, the former taboos are now brought under scrutiny.

Case in point. An article in today's New York Times discusses how the attorney in a Florida obscenity case is using Google search data to defend his client:
In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.
To those of us who came of age under the tutelage of George Carlin, the hypocrisy of so-called obscenity standards has long been evident. Dick Cheney can say "Fuck You" to a United States Senator in the United States Senate, but Janet Jackson can't show a bare breast. Richard Nixon surreptitiously records political, sexual and scatological epithets spoken in the Oval Office while George Carlin and WBAI lose their right to free speech before the Supreme Court.

That cable programming allows Carlin's “7 Words” without hesitation and that Internet giant Google's usage data can be used to challenge attitudes about community values is further evidence of the transformational powers of new media.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Feelings of YouTube Inadequacy

Update Below

(May 30, 2008)
Over at Lance Strate's Blog Time Passing, Lance discusses the new heroes created by the internet and features a hilarious South Park clip lampooning YouTube celebrities. Many of these, like "Tron Guy" and "Sneezing Panda" have generated millions of views each.

A quick check of my own YouTube posting reveals a pitiful 801 viewings as of today, not even close to other YouTube celebrities or even the 1970's TV commercial I posted for L'Eggs pantyhose (7459). This is embarassing.

Let's try a bit of viral social networking. I'm asking you, my loyal blog readers, to send this link:

to five of your friends, asking them to view my video and also to send the link on to five more friends, etc., ect.

Lets see if we can get my YouTube numbers up to at least those of Tron Guy.

Update 6/11/08:

As a tribute to the power of social networking, I'm happy to announce that since I first posted this blog, my "Model Media Ecologist" Youtube views have risen from 801 to 892 views! At this rate I may pass 1000 views by this time next year! During the same period, my L'Eggs commercial rose from 7459 to 7645.

Thank you to everyone who viewed my video and for all the supportive comments. Don't forget to pass it along to five of your friends.