Monday, June 23, 2008

Celebrating Carlin. Pricey pushes.

Was it just last Monday that we met in this space to talk about the death of Tim Russert? Today we have a somewhat more momentous death to discuss—the loss of a man whose life actually stood for the sort of "no spin" commentary about American mores that O'Reilly, Russert and the rest of their peers merely preach (and yet tirelessly pat themselves on the back for).

You weren't ambivalent about George Carlin. You loved him or hated him. My mother-in-law, for instance, couldn't even stand to see his scruffy face on the tube; she'd groan as if her sciatica were acting up and instantly change the channel. But regardless of how you felt about Carlin's comedy—and despite falling into the "love" category, I thought his routines were uneven—you had to give the man his due for "going places" that few other mainstream comedians (and zero journalists) ever went. I have to laugh every time I hear Anderson Cooper say that he and his CNN news team are "keeping them honest," as if Cooper's show owns the franchise on discerning truth from lies, good from bad. Carlin's entire career was devoted to devil's advocacy: exploring the Givens. In every single one of his highly rated HBO comedy specials, there came a moment when he sliced-and-diced some absurdity of life with a painful acuity that the Coopers and Russerts could only dream about.

The eulogies I've heard so far today have tended to summarize George Carlin via his "seven words you can never say on television," as if the comic peaked with that controversial routine, which he first unveiled in the early 1970s. ("Seven words" later landed on the Supreme Court's desk, inspiring a landmark free-speech ruling.) Carlin never stopped courting controversy. In more recent times he notably lampooned America's own warlike tendencies ("And if your country has brown people in it, we’ll bomb the shit out of you! We love bombing brown people…"), the nation's schizophrenic posture on guns ("We're gonna ban toy guns...and keep the fuckin'* real ones!"), the Dr. Seussian gibberish of corporate-speak and ad copy, the inherent paradox of today's Nanny-state-ism, which seeks to protect everybody against everything, and, maybe above all, our abiding faith in faith. A few years ago the Catholic-born Carlin had his audience shifting in their seats with a bit in which he grew serious towards the end and just said quietly from the stage, "There is no God, folks. Never has been…." The point is that for all his silliness and oft-excess in the area of bathroom humor, Carlin got us thinking about politics, people and life itself, and he did it routinely. The average journalist could only hope to have such an impact even once.

P.S., 11:38 a.m. When I first posted this, I somehow forgot to include my all-time-favorite Carlin line, where he's riffing on the contemporary depression epidemic and white people who get the blues: "What the hell do white people have to be blue about? What, did Banana Republic run out of khakis....?" As they say in those VISA ads, priceless.


By the way... I'm also looking into another noteworthy death—one that you probably haven't heard about, and that's tied to the SHAMscape in a subtly significant way. I may have more on this soon, depending on what I find.


Finally, for today, I've been hearing a lot of late about so-called "push presents"—gifts given to women, by their husbands, to commemorate a birth. Typically these gifts take the form of jewelry; typically it's assumed that such jewelry will be expensive. (Just as one doesn't give a cheap engagement ring, one doesn't give a cheap push present. The word "Tiffany," for example, makes a cameo appearance in this morning's article on the trend in my local paper.) I could go on, but perhaps it's best that I just invite those of you who're interested to read the article, paying particular attention to the quotes from some of the women, which I found to be almost nauseatingly materialistic and, for want of a better word, girlie.

I say again: Nowadays there is very little that men do to women to perpetuate gender stereotypes that even comes close to some of the practices that women gleefully embrace for themselves.

* I took some leeway for myself here in quoting the line verbatim.


Steven Sashen said...

I remember memorizing Carlin's "FM/AM" at an age where I didn't know what some of those words meant.

And while I don't think Carlin was defined by the 7 words, I also remember being struck with a bout of awe and reverence when I was in the NY radio studio, in the same booth, in the same chair, that George was in when he uttered those words.

Yes, George has been uneven (after the 3rd heart attack, he had a couple years of un- without the even), but there was always at least one nugget in every album or special that will echo in our minds (and generate laughs every time) in a way that rarely happens with the material from any other comic.

Hell, I remember some of Carlin's old bits better than I remember my own.

Steve Salerno said...

"Tonight's forecast: dark. Followed by continuing dark through the night till morning, when it will become partly light..." Or some such.

Cal said...

Regarding the newspaper article, I guess the saying "material things don't matter" is kaput.

Belatedly, I'm glad you decided to continue the blog on your own schedule. It amazes that you can put together such a terrific long post in such a short period of time. I heard about Carlin's death on the late local news last night.

Even if the posts aren't specifically about SHAM, I still think I would find them interesting.

Mike Cane said...

Well, you know what's next: conception gifts!

Steve Salerno said...

Mike: They already exist. Among today's generation, they're called "wedding bands." (At least the ones who bother with such formalities.)

roger o'keefe said...

I can't say Carlin was my taste, but it's a nice post and you make some very good points, as usual. The thing about push presents makes me physically ill.

Anonymous said...


Diamonds have always been a girl's best friend so some marketing guru (male or female) has jumped on the idea and the concept of push present was born.

What push presents would you guys want?


Anonymous said...

So what do you object to here, the idea of gifts from men to women? or just those birth-related? or the fact that men are expected to acknowledge women's effort, pain and sacrifice in giving birth and motherhood at all...? And yeah, those wedding bands, phew... How ridiculous it that, huh? "Materialistic" is usually an epithet one hears from (misogynistic) men who are too cheap and lazy to buy their mate a gift (or even acknowledge that it is a legitimate expression of affection and love, not limited to humans, but also encountered in the rest of the animal kingdom--at least among the species that pair up, sexually). IMO, complaints about "materialism" among women, lobbed by men, usually say more about the men making them than about women.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: Doing justice to the answer to the question you pose would require a book in its own right. (Crack, where are you when I need ya?) Seriously, to be as succinct as possible: What I "object to" is a climate wherein women expect to be compensated, in effect, for each stage of the act of loving, and being loved by, a man. We have all known women who will actually judge a man's fitness for coupling based on whether or not he provides an adequate degree of material "care and feeding." I find that loathsome. Understand, I'm not talking here about whether a woman gives some thought to a prospective partner's livelihood or his inclination to pay the bills; that's just good common sense (though even that can be overdone). I'm talking more about women who literally expect to receive gifts of substantial value at what they consider appropriate intervals or milestones in the relationship. I'm talking about women who see another woman's engagement ring and--if they deem it to be of inferior size or pedigree--turn up their noses or make comments to mutual friends when they go to the ladies' room. I'm talking about a woman who values a diamond tennis bracelet or a comparable gift every six months over a hug and a sweet, sincere kiss every night before dinner. By extension, I'm also talking about women who don't feel that they're "dressed" unless they're wearing this season's hot shoe, at a cost of over $300.

Who the hell do such women think they are? (And yes, by the way, the same applies to the guy who simply "must" drive a Porsche--not for performance reasons, but for status.)

Finally, Anon, if you peruse this blog, you will see just how often I have come to the defense of women in so many important areas: the endless cultural emphasis on appearance, ageism (as practiced singularly against women), body image, and even the unspeakable (IMO) assault on a woman's sense of well-being about her personal hygiene. That said, I feel that I should be allowed to call a spade a spade, on a case by case basis, without opening myself to cries of "misogyny!"

Anonymous said...

Are women "pushing" anymore? Do you mean scheduled C-section gifts? How come women can complain about "push gifts," but never get upset about scheduling a child's birth to fit into a schedule?

Even Ricki Lake copped out when it came to be honest about this horrible birth problem happening in the U.S. She was given a stern lecture by the Medical Association anyway.

Anon 2:45 pm, get upset about that.

Anonymous said...

And what kind of nonsense is that? Are you really saying that all women schedule C-sections? Any evidence to support this ridiculous statement? Or is one celebrity's case enough for you to brand all womenfolk?

And if you have a problem with that, do your own pushing, by all means, but leave others alone. Is this the most pressing problem this country is facing?

Anonymous said...

"And what kind of nonsense is that? Are you really saying that all women schedule C-sections? Any evidence to support this ridiculous statement? Or is one celebrity's case enough for you to brand all womenfolk?"

No, I did not say ALL, but a VAST majority are. The U.S. has the highest rate of elective and non-emergency C-sections of developed countries and the rate grows yearly. Check the CDC and American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization. I have done research and have had natural childbirth. It is not just celebrities scheduling C-sections. Due to malpractice and ease of scheduling, C-sections are being given as an option and not as a final resort. I know this personally, because as an older woman it took me a long time to find a doctor who would allow me to have my children without cutting me open. C-sections are major surgery and women are not getting or trying to get the information they need on this procedure. Ricki Lake was attacked for her documentary The Business of Being Born and she was just censured by the Medical Association. I am SHOCKED more women are not upset about their bodies being mutilated and for actively choosing to do so when it is not needed. Why have children at all?

Steve Salerno said...

Folks, this little debate that has evolved here demonstrates the dangers of talking in off-hand generalities. According to this story, which I have no reason to doubt, about one-third of pregnant women now deliver via C-sections. Unless I misunderstand the way the figures are used, that is the total rate of C-sections, which obviously includes C-sections that are considered medically necessary (i.e. non-elective ones. So this tells us that, while a fair percentage of women are electing to have C-sections, it is certainly not the "vast majority," as one of our Anons claims.

Arguments always carry greater weight when they're anchored in facts and figures. That doesn't mean that the rate of elective C-sections isn't a problem. But when you resort to hyperbole, you weaken your entire argument, even when it has merit.

Anonymous said...

Apparently some women choose to have elective C-sections. What's wrong with that? Why is it anyone's business to condemn the practice if adult women make a conscious decision to do so, what's the big deal? There is no evidence that it's harmful to the baby (or mother), just like there is no evidence that push gifts do any harm to anyone other than irate social critics with too much time on their hands. And perhaps the beauty of pushing is overrated. That holier-than-you attitude (I had natural birth, wow! You should too) has no place when it comes to such personal decisions. And oh yeah, a stern lecture from AMA is something to fear more than labor itself. Doctors are known to have the best interests of mothers and babies at heart, 60 years ago they spoke against breastfeeding and wrote tons of nonsense on the importance of feeding infants on a fixed schedule. Authorities, you know.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - As to the "dangers of talking in off-hand generalities," I think I'll risk one here: This time, it's not you (or even Roger or Carl) who's in need of some bran muffins!

There's a new organic cereal out that provides all the fiber of a bale of hay in every bowl. Don't ask about side effects.

Steve Salerno said...

Not to detour this totally onto another path, but speaking of bran and side effects...have you seen the ones listed for that new weight-loss "godsend," Alli? Yeegads!

Debbie said...

I was heartbroken when I heard about Carlin's death. It was a sad day for comedy and political and social commentary alike. As usual, a wonderful post.

Regarding the "push presents" (as a mother to 3 and 1-year old boys, this obviously 'pushed' some buttons): my first impression on reading the article was that some women give the rest of us a bad name. "I got the goods anyway"??? Really? Is that why you have children? I'm having nightmarish flashbacks of Rebecca Ekler articles.

But, I think a more dangerous outcome of this is financial in nature. How many husbands are going to go into debt (or put themselves deeper in debt) trying to keep up with the Joneses on yet one more material item? It's not enough to have the house, the cars, the swimming pool, now you must be purchasing expensive bling for your wife for every life event that comes along.

I agree with you Steve, this article says more about women who love to get stuff than it does about love between a couple. A reward for giving birth? Vulgar in my opinion and these people are obviously compensating for something.

I'm actually surprised I haven't seen more of this where I live, considering the serious case of 'affluenza' that's going around.

Anonymous said...

Carlin himself was god, that's all there is to it. RIP.

Steve Salerno said...

Debbie, I have to say, even as a man who's reasonably intelligent and perceptive, I don't understand that whole "diamonds are a girl's best friend" phenomenon. I truly don't, no matter how I try to think about it. To me it seems so incredibly shallow (and even gauche, in a big-picture kind of way), as well as a vestige of a bygone era when people were just, well, dumber. It would be one thing if women (or any diamond lovers, as there are some men, too, notably among the ranks of professional athletes and rap stars) valued the stones for their inherent beauty--as one might stand in awe of a Monet or a Rembrandt. That's clearly not what this is about: The magic of diamonds consists in the mere having of it, the acquisitive satisfaction, if you will. And I gotta be honest, though I try very hard to not be judgmental (no laughter allowed, now), that's one of the few things in life that just makes we want to puke. You can justify an expensive car ("it goes really fast and corners like crazy"); maybe you can even justify an expensive pair of shoes ("they're unbelievably comfortable"--though most pricey shoes aren't). How do you justify a diamond?? What does it DO?

Anonymous said...

How do you justify a diamond?? What does it DO?

The same way you justify a flower: it is pretty. An object does not have to "do" anything to be of value. C'mon, Steve, get off your high horse already.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, but wait now--do people really have diamonds because they're "pretty" (i.e. as in my remark about appreciating the beauty of a painting)? I don't think so. And if it's the beauty you're after...what's wrong with your basic cubic zirconium? To the naked eye, it looks exactly the same.

Yet how many women are gonna swoon over that?

Steve Salerno said...

Just to add something: I think I'm edging closer to my overarching point, which I've made rather carelessly thus far. Seems to me that diamonds--from the POV of the woman who covets them--are one of those things that fall into the "if he really loves me, he'd..." category. But for my part, I'm not sure that sentence should be finished with anything a man buys.

Some preferred sample endings? "If he really loves me, he'd...

" faithful."
"...rub my feet at night."
"...give me a back rub."
"...make dinner or take me out to dinner so I don't have to make it."
"...not stare at the waitress' ass when she walks by."
" to me sweetly, in a voice that shows patience, even when he's busy...."
"...occupy the kids sometimes (and not just when he's taking them to Little League or soccer) so I can have some time for myself..."

Point being, "buy me something expensive" should be way, way, WAY down on the list.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Steve, what low expectations you've just voiced here for men. These are givens in any good relationship ("occupy kids sometimes"?? aren't those his kids too, and thus his responsibility too? you make it sound as if husbands may act as babysitters from time to time and this should be considered a sign of their love for the wife, rather than hands-on child care being an explicit expectation involved in being a father). Same with the rest of your list. How special of him to cook dinner once in a while... And not stare at other women. Sheesh.

No wonder women prefer diamonds if these were the best expressions of love men were capable of.

And for some buying diamonds is not such a financial burden.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, look, we could go round and round here. I did not mean to imply that the sorts of things I listed were the be-all-and-end-all of relationship fitness; if anything, they're minimum requirements. But I know from hearing the litany of complaints from women (and don't forget, I worked for a time at Men's Health, where we researched such things) that even these modest expectations too often go unmet.

But you seem like someone who needs to have the last word, so I'll give it to you. Go ahead now. Make my day.

Anonymous said...

Any woman who gets off on diamonds and considers it a necessary part of the marriage deserves what she gets, to get cheated on, to have her husband fall into the arms of a woman who cares about what he offers as a man besides material things.

Steve Salerno said...

To the previous Anon (6:48), who I assume is responsible for several earlier anonymous comments in this thread: Now that (Anon 7:41) sounds more like misogyny--though even there, I'm not so sure a logical defense can't be mounted for the sentiments.

dreamewon said...

Thanks for continuing the blog. There's always something interesting goin' on here no matter what side of the fence I'm on. Very entertaining!

Debbie said...

Steve, as a woman, I often don't understand the whole best friend idea either. But, maybe I'm just not like most women. I'm the one who tells my husband if he wants to buy me flowers to do it AFTER Mother's Day so we're not spending as much. I appreciate and love things for their beauty, but function is part of beauty for me as well.

I can appreciate someone admiring diamonds just for their beauty. There is a strength to all diamonds, especially 'raw' ones, and a fire in a properly prepared commercial stone. Their crystal structure makes them incredibly unique. They are not easily obtained. Perhaps this explains the awe diamonds have held for so long. In crystal lore they are associated with longevity, balance and clarity to name a few.

On the other hand, as a geologist, I know diamonds for what they are. A mass of carbon created in a unique environment. There is so much controversy surrounding the mining of diamonds save for one or two locales.

Anon 12:40: I would suggest it's almost impossible to compare a flower to a diamond in this context. People don't spend hundreds, thousands of dollars to supply their loved ones with a few flowers. And the loved ones don't 'expect' it either.

I was going to say more, but have been sidetracked...perhaps later.

Steve Salerno said...

Debbie et al, I guess I still haven't been clear in my feelings on this, because people are still responding as if I'm arguing that diamonds can't be beautiful in their own right. I am not saying that. I am simply saying that I don't think beauty has much to do with why women (or at least most women) love them. I think women love a given piece of diamond jewelry primarily (a) because they're conditioned to think they're supposed to, (b) because it's a status symbol, and (c) because they somehow "get off" on the idea that Their Man "loves me enough" to splurge that kind of money on something like that.

What I'm saying is this: If we limited the universe of diamond-wearing women to those who wear them simply for aesthetic reasons--beauty alone--I think you'd have a much smaller market for diamond jewelry, and each given piece would cost about $4.98. But maybe I can be persuaded otherwise.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, I'm a woman (at least I think so) and know many other women. Among them, there is not one who'd be in love with diamonds, or expect expensive gifts for the sake of it (or for the sake of love). And I do not think I am atypical in any way (nor are any of the many American women I know, ranging from humble working class to the very comfortable upper class).

I think that, first, you are looking at "push advertising" here more than anything else; and, second, this just may be a specific demographic in which the trend is so prevalent (just my guess, though).

Having said that, I do not see anything wrong with celebrating life's milestones, including childbirth, with gifts appropriate to the occasion -- whatever suits the couple/family. It is not necessary, certainly, but it can be a nice touch. If buying jewelry (or expensive gifts) is the main way to express love, however, then there are other, more pressing problems in a relationship than excessive gift-giving/wanting.

P.S. Don't own a diamond. Never desired one, nor would be able to tell it from any other kind of shiny stone.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I think we owe the DeBeers consortium thanks for the obsession with diamonds. In truth, emeralds are far more rare than diamonds, yet DeBeers has effectively manipulated the market and industry so as to confer higher value on the less-rare stones in order to boost its own revenues.

Once again, I admit to getting a chuckle, this time at the "outrage" your post has elicited, not to mention the efforts to trivialize your examples of genuine expressions of affection, as opposed to commercialized affectations. If a woman values empty (yet expensive) tokens above loving acts, the Hallmark people really need to raise the prices of their greeting cards. :-)

Debbie said...


I agree with you about WHY most women prefer diamonds.

However, and maybe I'm being optimistic, I see a shift in that thinking among my own generation and younger. Admittedly, maybe I notice it because I am surrounded by male and female engineers and scientists who tend to have a more pragmatic, practical approach to life.

Many of the young women in our social and work circles have very simple taste when it comes to adornment, almost as a rallying cry AGAINST what their mothers and mothers-in-law display.

I'm not sure I agree with your last paragraph, but that's a strictly economic arguement. Demand would definitely drop for diamonds causing some price lowering, but the costs of producing them are still high.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, that's a good (and pointed) line about Hallmark.

Deb: I don't think we're really that far apart in how we look at this. I do get what you're saying.

Eliz: OTOH, I'm not sure I get what you're saying. You wrote, "...there is not one who'd be in love with diamonds, or expect expensive gifts for the sake of it (or for the sake of love)." So you're saying...what, then? That women do love diamonds for aesthetic reasons? Or that women don't love diamonds as much as we (or at least I) think they do?

Elizabeth said...

The latter, Steve. (But I concede that there may be women who are in love with diamonds (or expensive gifts); I just have not met one so far.)

Steve Salerno said...

Oh come on, Elizabeth! Now I know that one of us (and I'm not saying which one) lives in a parallel universe. You haven't many any women who love diamonds or expensive gifts?

Elizabeth said...

No, Steve, I haven't. The women I know are a hard-working and practical lot, all. If they love expensive gifts, they have not voiced or demonstrated it in any observable way. You know, it just may be a parallel universe, now that you've mentioned it.

Elizabeth said...

Now this is a news item that supports your observations, Steve. I'll quote it at length to make the point:

"Uma Thurman, who played The Bride in "Kill Bill," is ready to walk down the aisle again with financier Arpad (Arki) Busson, sources tell the Daily News.

Busson, who has two children with supermodel Elle Macpherson, just presented Thurman with a engagement ring so big "she can't fit it through the sleeve of her coat," a friend said.

Thurman showed off the honkin' sparkler Thursday night at Elton John's British manor house, where he's throwing his 10th White Tie and Tiara benefit.

"All the ladies' eyes were buggin' out," said a spy at the Chopard-sponsored bash.

Thurman's spokesman didn't respond by deadline but a friend of her family confirmed, "It's a done deal. They're already planning the wedding." "
Full text:

So yes, a diamond so big it won't fit through a sleeve (huh?). All the ladies' eye were bugging out... And apparently all this is important enough to become news. My question: Why? My next question: Who the hell are these people and why should we care? And my last (somewhat redundant) question/comment: Who cares...

P.S. And as fate would have it, I got a response to my last question in the form of the current verification word: tvprrcx...

Parallel universes, you're right. :)

Steve Salerno said...

Oh, Eliz, I am so very tempted to make a thoroughly ribald comment that plays off that "friend's" description of Uma's diamond...but you know how hard I try to hold the line on good taste here. ;)

Elizabeth said...

I'm tempted to tempt you, though I'm also afraid to know... :)

(But how ridiculous is that 'diamond-sleeve' comment, anyway? And what kind of coat was she wearing? And wouldn't that stupid rock bother any normal person wearing it? C'mon, you can't do much with it on, can you -- like shake hands, play with kids, comb hair, cook, clean, do dishes... Oh, wait. These people do not do any of these things. Parallel universe indeed.)

Jen said...

My brother and I used to listen to George Carlin's albums with our father, who nearly worshipped old George, much to our mother's chagrin. (Mom cringed at the slightest utterance of a profane word or thought, although now that we are adults I don't think she minds quite so much anymore.)

My daughter reminded me recently of his priceless routine on homeless people and golf.

Elizabeth said...

Speaking of Carlin: yesterday, SNL re-ran its first episode from 1975, hosted by Carlin. Don't know if you watched it, but Carlin's last monologue there was devoted to God and religion -- and, yes, it was good:

"Religion - religion, at best - at BEST - is like a lift in your shoe. If you need it for a while, and it makes you walk straight and feel better - fine. But you don't need it forever, or you can become permanently disabled. Religion is like a lift in the shoe, and I say just don't ask me to wear your shoes. And let's not go down and nail lifts onto the natives' feet."

Full transcript: