An off-duty police officer in Milwaukee sat in an audience at Summerfest with his wife and then nine-year-old son as they waited for a musical act that followed. He was deeply offended.
"I couldn't believe my ears," he remembers. "I couldn't see why nobody was doing anything about it."
Lenz was on duty that hot Friday night of July 21, 1972, and if it was up to him, he would have stormed the main stage, stopped the show and dragged Carlin off to jail. Instead, he went to the stage area and complained to a superior officer.
"He said, 'We'll get him when it's over,' " said Lenz, retired these past 27 years in northern Wisconsin, where he traded crime fighting for trout fishing.And get him they did. When the District Attorney wouldn't pursue disorderly conduct charge, the police headed en masse to the city offices to find justice.
Carlin, who was freed on $150 bail, was unapologetic. In an on-camera interview at the time (and included in the excellent documentary "Summerfest Stories" that recently aired on Milwaukee Public TV), he said, "I wouldn't have changed anything I did if I had known there were children in the audience. I think children need to hear those words the most because as yet they don't have the hang-ups. It's adults who are locked into certain thought patterns."
"I find it kind of funny to be hassled for using them [the words that I can't repeat here in a family newspaper even in 2007] when my intention is to free us from hassling people for using them," said Carlin, who recently turned 70.The case was dismissed after the county had to import a judge to try the case. It seems the fact that most of the audience laughed and no 'disturbance' was noted made the charge in the case pointless. Oh, and free speech was noted. Yet a lawsuit filed after his 1972 arrest led to a 1978 Supreme Court decision supporting the right of the FCC to regulate the broadcast of inappropriate language on television.
And this remains a subject of great contention.
As Robert Anton Wilson wrote in Quantum Psychology, "If the word "fuck" "is" obscene or "dirty", why isn't the word "duck" 75% "dirty?"
The words themselves don't have power. The people who react to those words do. Some obviously find them amusing. Some people make a career from them.
For the people who are deeply offended, may I ask why? Because you got slapped upside the head by your Mama or Papa when you said them? Why do most of them have to do with things that our bodies do or parts out bodies posses?
"I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately."
"Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part to us, do they?"
- George Carlin
It's called Freedom of Speech for a reason.