Forty years ago today, on July 21, 1972, George Carlin was arrested for performing “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Carlin was subsequently charged with violating obscenity laws, but the case was dismissed in December of ‘72, with a ruling that Carlin’s language was indecent, but not obscene.
The following year a similar case entered the court system when a man complained to the Federal Communications Commission after he and his son heard a radio broadcast of Carlin’s “Filfty Words” on WBAI in New York City. Thus began the five-year battle of F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation (Pacifica owned WBAI). The FCC cited Pacifica for violating FCC regulations that prohibited broadcasting obscene material, and the Supreme Court ruled that Carlin’s routine was “indecent but not obscene,” and declared that the FCC could require that indecent broadcasts air during hours when children were not likely to be listening (hence the beginning of “safe harbor” hours between 10pm and 6am). The battle over what constitutes indecent vs. obscene is still being waged today, which Carlin must be getting a kick out of.
Here’s the man himself on how he came up with the now infamous “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”:
Watch George Carlin’s full Archive interview.
- by Adrienne Faillace