George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Porkchops?

Carlin considers the softening of language and political correctness bullshit. He illustrates how language is softened by examining the progress of the concept of shell shock. During World War I, shell shock was the term used to describe the condition that occurs when a soldier’s nervous system reaches a breaking point.  During the Second World War, the term “shell shock” expanded to four syllables and was called “battle fatigue” and, during the Korean War, the term expanded to eight syllables and was called “operational exhaustion.” Finally, during the Vietnam War the term became eight syllables with a hyphen and was called “posttraumatic stress disorder.” Given that, in America, realism is the same thing as pessimism and pessimism is less popular than optimism, Carlin argues that this kind of softening of language is effective because it makes reality “less vivid” and therefore bullshit.

Another thing that Carlin considers bullshit is political correctness. In particular, he argues that political correctness is “America’s newest form of intolerance and it’s especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance.” Carlin sheds light on liberal tendencies to rename groups of victims with less offensive names, as if the new name somehow solves initial malfunction. For example, over the last few decades, the term “cripple” fell out of favor and has since been replaced by the term “physically challenged” or “differently abled.” Carlin mocks this transition by pointing out that liberals tend to focus on the external, changing offensive words, rather than the internal, the underlying bigotry and insensitivity.

I view many of Carlin’s observations as examples of hidden idealism. He doesn’t want language to soften with time because he wants the truth to hit people smack in the face. For example, he wants to call a person in a wheelchair who was hit by a drunk or texting driver a “cripple” rather than “differently abled.” He argues that rather than being offended by the word, society should be offended by what the word represents. I see this as the purest form of idealism. In other words, rather than calling a person in a wheelchair “differently abled” and going along our merry way, we as the society should call him a “cripple” and be outraged by this stupidity of the situation that caused him to be a cripple. Maybe then we will be outraged enough to change the situation so that the same thing doesn’t happen in the future.

Regina Barreca’s They used to call me Snow White… But I drifted

I really enjoyed Regina Barreca’s analysis of approaches to literature in They used to call me Snow White… But I drifted. In the piece, Barreca points out that many women writers are considered secondhand because their subject matter has limited appeal. The same can probably be said about writers who write about the experiences of particular races. As a result, their work is put into categories of African-American, Chicano writing, etc. If we assume that these categories are not simply created by publishers to sell more books then we have to address why these categories exist. These categories remind me of the various types of genre fiction: western, mystery, romance, science fiction, horror writing etc. There are writers who work within these genres but their work is not necessarily considered genre. For example, Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian, can be easily classified as a Western but the work is so good that it transcends the genre and is actually a work of literary fiction. Similarly, Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Everything that rises must converge, can easily be classified as women’s writing because the author is a woman but it’s so good that it transcends the category and is actually work of literary fiction. Finally, Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man can also easily be considered African-American writing but again the work is so good it transcends the category and becomes a work of literary fiction. Therefore, I would argue that it’s not that women or ethnic writers are considered second hand but rather that some of these writers are just not as good (the way that some genre writing is not as good). And the ones that are become literary fiction.

Garrison Keillor’s Marooned

While Garrison Keillor’s Marooned is not ha-ha funny story, it is funny because it’s a serious story that uses humor to enlighten the reader’s experience. The stories focus on the narrator’s brother-in-law, Dave Grebe, an unremarkable and narcissistic stationery store clerk who tries on religions like socks. In the beginning, he renounces materialism, becomes a Tuan, the kind of Buddhist, and wanders around airport terminals holding up signs “your life is a lie.” His ego doesn’t allow him to keep his philosophy to himself (as someone with a real philosophy would) and he switches to a different religion called capitalism. Here he becomes one with Milo from Catch-22. Dave takes over the stationery store, makes it a huge success and then writes a book that turned “Tuanism inside out and restated it in capitalist terms, and made low cash flow seems like a denial of God’s love.” Naturally, the book sells millions. The narrator, a person entrenched in the American capitalist system as an advertiser, becomes its victim. Capitalism and the American dream are about boom and busts, not people who want a steady job and a good retirement. As a result, the brother-in-law is a success even though he’s a hack while the narrator is a failure even though he’s a hard worker who means well. Thankfully, things get turned around by end of the story.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’s Colonel Sherburn: More than Just a Satire of a Southern Gentleman

           In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses Huck’s keen observations of the world around him to address and attack a variety of societal problems, the most problematic of which is the general state of man within a so-called civilized society. The town of Bricksville, Arkansas and the incident that involves two of its citizens, Boggs and Sherburn, is just one of many examples within the novel that illustrate the power of Huck’s observations and Twain’s response to the poor state of humanity. While the portrayal of Colonel Sherburn is easy to dismiss as just another satire of a Southern gentleman, Sherburn and his speech also serve another purpose, namely to deliver Twain’s visceral attack on the cowardice of man.

The reader is introduced to Bricksville, Arkansas through Huck’s description of the town’s stores and houses. Despite its name, the stores and houses in Bricksville are not made of brick but wood that are “most all old shackly dried-up frame” (Twain 127). The unpainted houses are surrounded by gardens in which the townspeople “raise…jimpson weeds, and sunflowers, and ash-piles, and old curled up boots and shoes, and pieces of bottles, and rags, and played out tin-ware” (Twain 127). These images illustrate the townspeople’s apathy toward their homes and surroundings and leave the reader with the impression that the problem with these individuals is their laziness. Thus, the unpainted homes and yards full of garbage are representative of not only a general state of disrepair of the town of Bricksville but also of the general disrepair of the quality of humanity that lives there.

As Huck travels further into town, he takes note of the hogs and old men loafing around doing nothing, the latter chewing tobacco. The hogs and men are presented with images of mud further reinforcing the portrayal of a backwards society. For example, “you’d see a muddy sow and a litter of pigs come lazing along the street… And she’d stretch out, and shut her eyes… and looked as happy as if she was on salary” (Twain 129). The hogs and their ways are a metaphor for the lazy citizens of Bricksville who do not do an honest day’s work. While at first this metaphor may appear unfair, Huck’s disgust with the town makes more sense when he reveals the sadistic nature of its lazy inhabitants. “There couldn’t anything wake them up all over, and make them happy all over, like a dogfight – unless it might be putting turpentine on a stray dog and setting fire to him, or tying a tin pan to this tail and see him run himself to death” (Twain 129). Given the natural antagonism between pigs and dogs, the sentence reinforces the idea that the hogs are a metaphor for the population of Bricksville. However, the sentence also serves to explain Huck’s disdain toward the townspeople who seem to only come out of their slothful state when there is an opportunity for bloodlust directed at someone weaker.

The following paragraph, in which Huck describes the poor state of the houses on the riverfront, fully conceptualizes the town as a whole. The water eats away at the structures until they cave in but remain standing, “such a town as that has to be always moving back, and back, and back, because the river’s always gnawing at it” (Twain 129). Through Huck, Twain shows the reader that there is no hope that anything about the town will ever change except that the conditions of both the town and its inhabitants will continue to get worse and worse. The Boggs-Sherburn scene that comes soon after this argument illustrates this point.

The townspeople get excited at the sight of man Boggs, the town drunk and something of a court Jester, who comes “in from the country” joking that he is on a war path and the price of coffins is about to rise (Twain 130). Boggs makes preposterous threats against Sherburn that no one takes seriously, including Huck. Nevertheless, Sherburn, “the best dressed man in that town” and something of a respectable town elder, is not amused (Twain 130). He makes an unassuming threat of his own. This time the townspeople get concerned and even find Boggs’ daughter to try to calm him down. Unfortunately Boggs doesn’t listen and Sherburn does what he promises.

Despite the tragedy, the townspeople don’t mourn for long. Once Boggs dies and his daughter is pulled away from him, the good people comfort each other by “squirming and scrounging and pushing and shoving to get window and have a look” (Twain 132). They fight for a chance to get a glimpse of the dead body. The injustice that first gets them riled up is not the murder but rather that some people who already looked at the body are not being fair and giving others the opportunity to look, “other folks has their rights as well as you” (Twain 132). Huck slides out of the crowd and observes the rest of the town’s reaction. Besides fighting over who gets to see dead Boggs and for how long, the people of Bricksville also start to reenact the incident for others who missed seeing it happen live. Here Twain reports Huck’s observation with almost stoic realism, “the people that had seen the thing said he’d done it perfect; said it was just exactly the way it all happened” (132).  

The townspeople’s progression of reactions to Boggs death is as follows: brief period of mourning, voyeurism and vulture like squabbling over a piece the dead, reenactment of the incident in a celebratory spectacle, and finally a call for a lynching. Given this progression of events, the call for a lynching barely passes for righteous indignation. Instead it appears as just another form of sadistic entertainment, something similar to their other favorite pastime of tormenting dogs.

In order to conduct the lynching, the townspeople gather themselves in an uncontrollable mob, “yelling and raging like Injuns” and scaring the women and children to death (Twain 133). Here Twain relies on stereotypical images of Native Americans to portray the townspeople as a mob at the height of incivility. As a side note, this portrayal is surprisingly insensitive given Twain’s otherwise deep compassion for the struggles of the underdogs in American society.

As if in deliberate contrast to the incivility of the mob, Sherburn is portrayed as poised and calm. He stands still on the roof of his front porch holding a double barrel gun and gives a speech that is “slow and scornful” (Twain 133). While at first reading, the character of Sherburn appears to be another one of Twain’s attacks on the concept of a Southern gentleman, this interpretation of the scene is perhaps too simplistic. Instead I view Sherburn and his speech as Twain’s attack on the good people of Bricksville and a response to Huck’s disgust with their behavior. In other words, Twain uses Huck’s voice to build the reader’s contempt for the town and then uses Sherburn’s voice to provide the reader with his own visceral reaction to the townspeople’s appalling behavior.

Through Sherburn, Twain begins his verbal attack by emasculating the crowd and laughing at the idea that they could “lynch a man”(133-134). Sherburn identifies them as cowards since only cowards “tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women,” some of the weakest members of a society (Twain 134). He further proclaims that in this mob’s cowardly hands a real man is safe, “as long as it’s daytime” and he is facing them straight on (Twain 134). By emphasizing these aspects of the townspeople’s behavior, Twain portrays Sherburn as something other than a coward. While it is difficult to commend Sherburn’s attack on Boggs, it is nevertheless an illustration of a different and less cowardly approach. It is as if Twain is saying that despite the brutality of Sherburn’s own actions against Boggs, he is not a coward or a hypocrite because his attack did not come from the shadows, as a surprise, or from the back.

On the surface Sherburn embodies what appears to be a satire of a Southern gentleman. He is a self-important, well-dressed Colonel who commits murder that is supposedly justifiable. However, Sherburn is more dimensional than a Southern satire because, in his own speech, he lampoons the very idea of a Southerner, “Why don’t your juries hang murderers? Because they’re afraid the man’s friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark – and it’s just what they would do” (Twain 134). Here Twain again calls the average man, the average Southerner, a coward because he forgoes going at it alone and gets his strength instead from darkness and numbers.

Twain’s attack on society does not stop there. Given his title, Sherburn is likely aware of the horrors of war and addresses them by drawing comparisons between the actions of the mob and the actions of the Army. “The pitifulest thing out as a mob; that’s what an army is – a mob” (134). It is as if Twain is saying that the horrors of war are possible because the Army is made up of average cowards whose power stems from numbers. At the end of his speech, Sherburn commands the crowd to disperse and it immediately does. Their dispersal is Twain’s confirmation that Sherburn is right.

Unlike people of Bricksville, Huck does not seem to be a coward. He takes what Sherburn says to heart and, given that he is only a teenager, Twain portrays him to be much more of a real man then the rest of the townspeople put together. Huck watches the scene unfold and, after Sherburn finishes his speech, watches the crowd disperse and break apart, “tearing off every which way” (Twain 134). He observes Buck Harkness, the man Sherburn accuses of being the leader and only half a man, run right along with his fellow cowards, “looking tolerably cheap” (Twain 134). These observations are indicative of the fact that Huck sticks around long enough to make them. Therefore, though he eventually takes off like the rest of them, Huck fights the idea of being part of the mob. Huck insists that he could’ve stayed, “if I’d a wanted to, but I didn’t want to” (Twain 134). This insistence is Twain’s way of portraying Huck as someone who is not only not a coward but also as someone who is sensitive to being accused of being one.

In conclusion, the character of Sherburn is much more complex than he appears on the surface and his purpose in the novel extends past satire. He embodies both civilization and barbarism and serves as a reaction to Huck’s contempt for the people of Bricksville. As a result, Twain uses Sherburn’s speech as a way to identify and address the cowardice that he sees in the average man.














Work Cited

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2003. Print.

Catch-22’s Limited Omniscient Narrator: A Subtle Weapon in the Satiric Attack on American Business

A Catch-22 is a rule that makes two opposing and contradictory claims both of which are true. For example, a man who wants to fly many missions is insane because a sane man would not risk his life in this manner. Simultaneously, a man who does not want to go on flying missions is not insane because, if he were really insane, he would not mind flying the missions. This paradox is at the heart of Joseph Heller’s novel which, among other things, explores the absurdity of military life during World War II. While Catch-22’s numerous characters and seemingly non-chronological events present a rather convoluted plot, its third person omniscient narrator helps Heller avoid preachy rhetoric in his satiric attack on American business.

Catch-22 is divided into chapters that typically focus on different characters. The advantage of the third person omniscient narrator is that it gives the reader a fragmented view of reality by presenting various incidents from different perspectives with, what appears to be, a non-chronological plot. But events only seem out of order on the surface. In reality, the novel is structured around free associations and random connections between various characters and events. For example, in the first chapter, Yossarian uses the name Washington Irving to censor the letters he reads. The name is then adopted by Major Major, in chapter 9, who uses it to forge official documents prior to switching to John Milton. This use of free associations creates something of an inconsistent narrative that nevertheless strengthens the impact of the novel’s satire. In particular, it allows Heller the opportunity to discuss different characters and events episodically.

The main character of Catch-22 is Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, whose primary concern in life is to avoid getting killed. Yossarian’s preoccupation with this idea is almost single-minded in focus and borders on paranoia. But unlike the main characters from other classic works of literature, including Huckleberry Finn, Yossarian is less of a prominent protagonist and more of a common thread that runs throughout the story.

Heller launches his attack against one of the most important American institutions using the character of First Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, a mess officer at the US Army Air Corps. In chapter 24, Milo started a business called M & M enterprises. The two M’s stood for Milo and Minderbinder and the “&” was inserted “to nullify any impression that the syndicate was a one-man operation” (Heller 253). This decision sheds light on two important details that encapsulate Heller’s satire of American business. First, truth is inconsequential when it comes to the pursuit of profit and, second, egomania rules all. The one-man operation could have been disguised using any number of fake names, like M & K or M& T. But Milo’s ego and pride do not allow him to part with any of the credit, even with a fictitious third-party.  

Later in the same chapter, Milo’s men painted over German swastikas and replaced them with the sign: M & M Enterprises, Fine Fruits and Produce. Once the syndicate grew into “an international cartel” and reached its saturation point in clients, Milo formed “a wholly owned subsidiary” and expanded his operations into fancy pastries (Heller 254). Milo’s corporate model is the quintessential American business, a stereotype that remains appropriate today. For instance, in 1919, the automobile manufacturer General Motors formed a subsidiary called GMAC in order to provide automobile financing and, in 1985, expanded their business into home purchases by forming GMAC Mortgage. In 1999, the company bought Bank of New York’s asset-based lending and factoring business, acquired a number of mortgage loan operations including, and created GMAC Commercial Finance Group (Our History). In 2005, the enterprise launched Residential Capital, a new parent holding company for its global real estate mortgage business, before finally becoming a bank, in 2008. Unfortunately, the absurdity of a company transforming from an automobile manufacturer into a bank is so common in today’s society that it is barely noticeable.

Besides satirizing the expansionist model of American business, Heller also satirizes the relationship between corporations and war. In chapter 24, Milo makes two deals, one with American authorities to bomb a bridge held by the Germans and another with German authorities to defend the bridge against his own bombing. Even though both countries paid large sums of money for their military contracts, Milo wastes none of the syndicate’s resources “to bomb and defend the bridge” because both countries have “ample men and material right there to do so and were perfectly happy to contribute them” (Heller 255). As a result, Milo, like many military contractors, “realized a fantastic profit” off the war effort “for doing nothing more than signing his name twice” (Heller 255). As a character, Milo is the embodiment of capitalism and his willingness to contract with both sides of the war is a scathing satire of corporate America’s uncompromising business tactics.

The third person limited omniscient narrator allows Heller to portray Yossarian as someone with a kind of sick fascination with Milo: “Yossarian thought that Milo was a jerk; but he also knew the Milo was a genius” (Heller 253). This portrayal is similar to American society’s view of investment bankers. On one hand, society is astonished by Wall Street’s lack of allegiance to the nation and their lack of remorse for closing factories and sending local jobs overseas. On the other hand, society is impressed by Wall Street’s single-minded pursuit of profit and the traders’ ability to make money out of almost nothing. Unfortunately, the American people only tend to be less impressed and more astonished during economic recessions, despite the fact that Wall Street’s intentions, however deplorable, remain consistent throughout.

Accordingly, Milo’s approach to the structure of his syndicate is likewise satirical of the internal structure of corporations. In chapter 24, Major Danby points out that Milo’s company is using German planes to which Milo replies: “They are no such thing! Those planes belong to the syndicate, and everybody has a share” (Heller 254). This insistence on sharing is likewise found in corporate advertisements that refer to employees as family members in an effort to build loyalty and get the employees to invest their retirement. The sad reality, however, is that the corporation’s ruthless pursuit of profit makes it impossible for them to be loyal in return. The betrayals are evident in the cutbacks and layoffs of low-level employees and in the stock splits of their 401(k) plans. The result is an entity, reminiscent of Soviet society, which acts solely for the good of the few at the top.

In addition to displaying yet another lack of allegiance to either his country or his fellow soldiers, Milo’s response to Major Danby is also an example of the way that corporations tend to argue out of both sides of their mouth. On one hand, Wall Street firms lobby for less regulation in order to facilitate a kind of ultracompetitive, kill or be killed, approach to capitalism. On the other hand, they lobby in order to merge and consolidate until they are so ingrained in society that they are deemed “too big to fail” (Stern and Feldman ix). The result is a kind of corporate welfare in which their financial losses become subsidized by taxpayers. By talking out of both sides of their mouth, corporate America makes two opposing claims. Since both claims cannot be true, these actions are a kind of contemporary Catch-22.

By portraying Milo and his business ventures from the perspective of a third person omniscient narrator, Heller is able to present the readers with an overarching point of view. This view, which is grounded in facts, figures and details, is not muddled with unnecessary emotions. It allows events to unfold from an appropriate distance without incorporating an ounce of preachy rhetoric and the result is a highly effective satire of one the most important American institutions.

Work Cited

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.

“Our History.” Ally Financial, n.d. Web.  20 October, 2011.

Stern, Gary & Feldman, Ron. (2004). Too Big to Fail: The Hazards of Bank Bailouts. Maryland: The Brookings Institution, 2004. Print.

George Carlin: Our Language, Our Selves

Language is both a tool that allows individuals within a society to communicate with one another and a mirror that reflects the true values of that society. In When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, George Carlin sheds light on a variety of problems in American society by studying language that is used to convey them. In particular, he examines euphemisms, political correctness, and patriotic talk in order to illustrate how all of these misuses of language soften its effectiveness and contribute to a kind of degeneration of reality within our culture as a whole. 

In Euphemisms: Shell Shock to PTSD, Carlin observes that euphemisms are used for a variety of reasons such as “to avoid unpleasant realities,” “to make things sound more important,” to fulfill the demands of marketplace, and to increase the general level of pretentiousness and political correctness (39). He argues that, while they tend to vary according to purpose, all euphemisms “soften the language” by portraying reality as less than vivid (39). In order to illustrate this softening of language, Carlin focuses on how the concept of shell shock evolved over the years. During World War I, the two syllable term “shell shock” was used to describe the condition that occurs when a soldier’s nervous system reaches its breaking point (40). During the Second World War, the concept of “shell shock” expanded to four syllables and became known as “battle fatigue” and, during the Korean War, the concept expanded to eight syllables and became known as “operational exhaustion.” Finally, during the Vietnam War, the concept added a hyphen and became known as “post-traumatic stress disorder” (40). To Carlin, the increasing number of syllables and the increasing imprecision within the words themselves is a softening of language that is evidence of a degeneration of reality.

Instead of only increasing the number of syllables and the imprecision of the words themselves, contemporary instances of the softening of language also exhibit an increasing number of additional unnecessary categories. Let’s examine three examples that all deal with the concept of assault. When one individual causes bodily harm to another, his action is called an assault. However, when a husband causes bodily harm to his wife or vice versa, his action is called domestic violence or a domestic violence incident.  Similarly, an adult who causes bodily harm to a stranger’s child is guilty of assault while an adult who causes bodily harm to his own child is guilty only of disciplining or corporal punishment. Finally, an adult who makes fun of another adult by calling him ugly names is guilty of verbal assault while a child who makes fun of another child by calling him ugly names is guilty of bullying.

Each one of these additional and unnecessary categories acts to make language more imprecise. Besides being syllabically longer, the word ‘assault’ has two syllables while ‘domestic violence’ and ‘domestic violence incident’ have six and nine syllables, respectively, the phrase ‘domestic violence incident’ is so soft and indefinite that, as an act, it sounds less bad than an ‘assault.’ In reality, however, the act of domestic violence is actually at least as bad as an assault because domestic violence is a physical assault against a loved one, often one who is physically weaker.

The softening of language in the other two examples, ‘disciplining’ and ‘bullying,’ is not so much a result of the extra syllables but rather the passivity of the –ing verbs. An ‘assault’ is a noun that describes an event that took place while an –ing verb is a present progressive tense of the verb which makes the word less active. While the condition depicted in the situation remains the same, the weight of the language decreases and diminishes its impact. The language puts forth the idea that domestic violence/ corporal punishment and bullying are somehow less bad than a physical or a verbal assault and, as a result, alters our views as a society.

In another selection, Crippled, Ugly and Stupid, Carlin attacks another method for softening language, political correctness, and argues that it is “America’s newest form of intolerance and it’s especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance” (69). Using the example of “cripples,” Carlin sheds light on how liberals tend to focus their energy on renaming groups of victims rather than addressing the particulars of what makes offensive words offensive. In particular, Carlin mocks the substitution of “physically challenged” or “differently abled” for the word “cripple” by pointing out that every individual can be described as differently abled just by the nature of the fact that he can do something that someone else cannot (69). For example, “Barry Bonds can’t play the cello, Yo-Yo Ma can’t hit the curveball. They’re differently abled” (70). Since Barry Bonds is not actually a cripple just because he cannot play the cello and Yo-Yo Ma is not actually a cripple just because he cannot hit the curveball, Carlin argues that phrases like “differently abled” or “physically challenged” are inadequate substitutions that only serve to soften the language unnecessarily.

This attack on political correctness is Carlin’s way of mocking liberals for their naiveté. Their tendency to rename groups of victims with less offensive names is evidence of the idea that a new name somehow makes up or solves the inherent malfunction. According to Carline, “political correctness cripples discourse, create ugly language and is generally stupid” because it shifts focus from internal factors like the underlying bigotry and insensitivity to external factors like offensive words (70). For Carlin, offensive words are offensive for reason. They are precise and accurate descriptions of the offensive thing or behavior. For example, it sounds more offensive to call a paralyzed individual who is hit by a drunk or texting driver a “cripple” than a “differently abled” person because politically correct words are softer, less precise and less true. The individual’s situation is exactly the same yet calling him “differently abled” somehow makes what happened to him less outrageous. For Carlin, this softening of language and political correctness are nothing more than an illusion. They make difficult situations easier to stomach and allow Americans to be less outraged at things that they have every right to be outraged about.

In another selection, Politician Talk #3: Senator Patriot Speaks, Carlin examines language used by politicians and mocks the idea of patriotic talk. He notes that their language changes depending on whether America is at peace or at war. In times of peace, politicians tend to refer to servicemen as “our young men and women around the world” and, in times of war, the language expands to “our brave young fighting men and women stationed halfway around the world” (83). Occasionally, for extra patriotic zest, the term “men and women” is replaced with “sons and daughters” (83). In addition to its insincere patriotism in exchange for votes, political language is also infused with a large dose of righteous ignorance. In particular, Carlin points out that politicians display no shame in disclosing their and Americans’ own lack of education when they proudly announce that the military’s “sons and daughters” are often stationed “in places whose names we can’t pronounce” or “the average American can’t find on a map” (83).  Only last month, Herman Cain, a presidential GOP hopeful, boasted:  I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, you know, I don’t know. Do you know?” (The Week).  

Given that politicians are the ones who regularly refer to America as “the greatest nation on earth,” it is shocking how unembarrassed they are by their own ignorance (83). Carlin refers to this display as “racist geographic chauvinism” (83). But politicians are elected individuals who are known to say anything to get elected. As a result, rather than being a simple reflection of their own ignorance, these kinds of statements found in the language of politicians are actually a reflection on America as a whole. Regular Americans are themselves unashamed by the fact that many cannot find Germany or Pakistan on the map thus they feel no shame in electing individuals with those same sentiments.

Carlin’s examination of our society’s language illustrates the various difficulties that we face as a nation. However rather than addressing the problems head-on, both sides of the power elite deal with them superficially. They use euphemisms, political correctness, and patriotic insincerities to soften language and disguise the truth by blurring reality until our problems appear less problematic than they really are.


Carlin, George.  When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.

The Week. MSNBC. The List: 9 most ridiculed Herman Cain quotes at Powerwall, 18 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.