|George Carlin 1937-2008|
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Comedians: Last of the Philosophers
When we think about the word Philosopher and what a philosopher is there are certain names that are quick to pop to mind. Names such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates to name but a few. We generally create this idea in our minds of some old man in a white robe, sporting a long grey beard sitting around thinking. Obviously we no longer have that type of philosopher in our world. Most of our philosophy is taught in Universities and other institutions and much of it is still that which was taught thousands of years ago.
We all philosophize in some degree or another. Much of the time when you are doing this, you may be completely unaware that you are doing it. The thing about philosophy is that you don't need to be Aristotle or Plato to be a philosopher. We are all, each one of us, a philosopher. We develop ideas and beliefs based on knowledge, experience and observation (sounds like science doesn't it?). That is philosophy, in its basic form. I just want to touch on the comment I made about science. I think it is very relevant to mention that the scientific method of discovery is not that different from how you philosophize. Both are journey's to discovery; both require critical thought; both require observation; both entail variables, both controlled and uncontrolled; both begin with an idea. Philosophy and Science are, in my own opinion, two parts to a single whole; they are interdependent of one another.
Moving forward to the core of my post. Comedians. Now you may be wondering how it is I have come to associate comedy with an area of knowledge that is dependent on critical, deep and reflective thought. Philosophy isn't a joke you might be thinking and you're right. So what is the connection between Comedians and Philosophers then? Comedians, not all but many, are the last, true Philosophers because they are the only ones who can openly question and analyze anything and everything without boundary. Nothing is off limits so long as the philosopher is wise enough to present it in the right manner.
You see, there are a number of mediums in which a philosopher can express their ideas to the masses. The music industry is a real good example of this. The problem with the music industry is that it is controlled; it is censored; it is limited. You have limitations on your creativeness no matter how independent you are. Then you also run into the problem of demographics. If you are in the music industry then you most likely are part of a specific and particular type of genre (rock, rap, country, etc.) and because of that, your reach is also limited. You are not being heard by everyone.
Another great medium is publishing. What better way to reach people than to write about it? But again here you are limited. Your type of writing will be pigeon-holed into a genre which will immediately limit the number of people you will be able to reach. As influential as books or writings may be, there will always be a large minority or majority who remain untouched by your message.
The film industry is another medium however the entire process of creation from beginning (script writing) to the end (final editing) takes a large amount of investment both financially and with time. Although films can have an extremely powerful effect on us and drive us to action, they are also limited to audience. Some films do reach a much more significant amount of people than others; I am not trying to discount any of these mediums, only use their shortcomings to contrast against my point; which I am now coming to.
Comedians are exempt from all of this. Their audience is truly limitless because they are offering something that all people share in common: the joy of laughter. A love song appeals to the emotional population; a book of science-fiction appeals to a different part of the population (though that is not to say that there aren't some from both but that they are two different messages or philosophies from two different sources); and the same goes for an action film. It only appeals to a certain type of person. Laughter appeals to us all.
Censorship. Comedians are censored when albums are released but live they are uncensored (and yes musicians are too but swearing is not philosophy) and free to discuss what they choose. And the good ones make us laugh by using ideas and thoughts that are actually very serious. This is where the philosophy comes into play.
The best example I can give, well my favorite, for what I mean is George Carlin. This is a philosopher who made his career off of telling people how bad society was. Pointing out its failures, its shortcomings and warning of the inevitable consequences to come as a result. He questioned religion on the grandest scale I have seen by a comedian in a manner that did not disrespect, but made you think (and laugh of course). He brought together and identified the common things we all share together, as human beings. George Carlin showed us our worst, let us in on our sameness and all the while made us laugh.
You don't need to listen to Carlin to understand how comedians are truly the last philosophers because they are still free to do so. They are not constrained by the normal boundaries of social acceptance because their ideas and philosophies are clouded in laughter. Slowly, it is these comedians who are planting seeds of thought into the minds of their audience. For comfort, I have yet to encounter a bad philosopher; only bad comedians. Another comedian that you might consider is Chris Rock. I would suggest that you listen to some of his older stand up. His earlier stuff was undeveloped and angry. He has since become one of the more interesting philosophers around; although it has been a few years.
You see, we are controlled by what we are permitted to discuss or even to say. Every day, many times a day, I am sure that like me, you have to stop and catch yourself from saying something inappropriate or something that may be misconstrued as such; comedians do not have this limitation so long as they are wise enough to understand how to turn true philosophy into something the general masses can understand while seeing it as a joke. Comedians are the last line of real truth available to the people. You can't trust the media; you can't trust the government; you can't trust celebrities. Who can you trust?
Comedians: the last of the Philosophers; they just want to make you laugh.