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Context of 'September 10, 2001: Stand-Up Comic George Carlin Performs a Joke about a Plane Exploding and Bin Laden Being Blamed'

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George Carlin.George Carlin. [Source: TheFamousPeople (.com)]The comedian George Carlin makes a joke during a performance that, ironically in light of the terrorist attacks the following day, is about a passenger aircraft being caused to explode in mid-air and Osama bin Laden getting blamed for the incident. Tonight, as on the previous night, Carlin performs a show at the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas in which he works through material he intends to use when he records his next HBO special, in November. That special is going to be called “I Kinda Like It When a Lotta People Die.”
Carlin Jokes about Emergencies in Which the 'Back End of the Plane Blows Off' - During the show, Carlin makes a joke about what can happen when passengers fart in an airliner. “In these third world flights, in the economy section, about an hour after the meal service they quite often have these life-threatening fart emergencies,” he begins. He says that in these situations, “the worst place to be is in the last three rows, because what happens is these planes get flying so fast that all the most vicious, lethal, volatile, flammable, unstable farts get pushed toward the back of the airplane where they begin to build up pressure.” This can lead to the plane exploding in mid-air, he claims. He says: “They build and they build and they build until they reach critical fart density—CFD—and they continue to build throughout the flight until finally some kid turns on a Game Boy, and b-boom-boom! The whole back end of the plane blows off.”
Carlin Says Bin Laden Gets Wrongly Blamed for the Incidents - Carlin then mentions the al-Qaeda leader when he says: “And you know who gets blamed? Osama bin Laden. Terrorists get blamed for these explosions that are nothing more than cabbage-fart detonations.” He adds that, after the disasters, the “FBI don’t know what to do” because its agents are “looking for explosives” when “they should be looking for minute traces of rice and bok choy.” [New York Times, 9/4/2016; New Yorker, 9/10/2016; Carlin, 9/16/2016]
Joke Will Be Unused after 9/11 - Carlin will abandon or rewrite much of the material he has been working on for his HBO special, including this joke, in response to the 9/11 attacks and the name of the special will be changed to “Complaints and Grievances.” The joke about bin Laden and exploding airplanes will remain virtually unknown until September 2016, eight years after Carlin’s death, when it is included on an album that includes material recorded during the comedian’s September 2001 performances in Las Vegas. [Washington Post, 9/7/2016; New Yorker, 9/10/2016; CNN, 9/12/2016]
Carlin Is a Controversial Comedian and Social Commentator - Carlin is “the dean of counterculture comedians,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. His jokes have frequently breached the accepted boundaries of comedy and language, and he is also “as much a social commentator and philosopher as comedian.” [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 6/23/2008] The New York Times will call him “the greatest political comic in history if measured only by stand-up specials.” [New York Times, 9/4/2016] In his social commentary and his comedy routines he attacks “what he thought of as the palliating and obfuscating agents of American life—politicians, advertisements, religion, the media, and conventional thinking of all stripes,” the Times will report. [New York Times, 6/24/2008]

Entity Tags: George Carlin, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Toronto Star reporter Lynda Hurst examines the US media’s coverage of foreign affairs after 9/11, and concludes that while the media generally intensified its coverage of foreign events and issues after the terrorist attacks, that burst of coverage was short-lived, giving way to the usual focus on sensationalistic celebrity and “true crime” stories, and to a fixation on retaliation and revenge for the attacks. In-depth reporting was shelved in favor of superficial reporting on battle tactics in Afghanistan and prominent displays of flag pins and red-white-and-blue bunting. “In the first few days [after the attacks], they performed a Herculean task and did an epochal job,” says Vince Carlin, an American-born Canadian media executive and chair of the journalism school at Ryerson University. However, the media did not follow through with its initial focus, he says. Within weeks, any attempts to analyze or understand the myriad issues surrounding the terrorist attacks—what Hurst calls “the ‘other’ side of the story”—were, she writes, “subsumed by the demands of… Bush’s with-us-or-against-us war on terrorism.” Carlin notes: “Evil is evil. When something is demonized, there’s no need to analyze it. In that, Bush reflects a fairly broad spectrum of the population.” With the notable exception of the New York Times, Carlin says that the same thinking is in place today: “Americans were not noted for their interest in the rest of the world before 9/11 and they’re not interested after. There are all sorts of places in the world they should be looking at, but they’re not.” Carlin cites the example of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, whose Canadian ancestry was of little import to viewers before the attacks. Afterwards, Carlin says, when Jennings “tried to bring a more sophisticated approach to the broadcast,” ABC producers “were warned off and went back to cheerleading.” CBS news anchor Dan Rather recently observed, “The fear of being accused of lacking patriotism keeps journalists from asking the toughest of tough questions.” [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Rather, Lynda Hurst, New York Times, Peter Jennings, Vince Carlin

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales contacts John Carlin, archivist of the United States, and asks him to step down, but does not provide reasons for the request. “The administration would like to appoint a new archivist,” Gonzales reportedly says. No reason is given, even after Carlin asks why he should leave. Some critics will suggest that Carlin’s removal is connected to President Bush’s Executive Order 13233 limiting access to presidential records. The records of former President George H. W. Bush, the father of the current president, were due to be released in January 2005. Incoming archivist Allen Weinstein will later note that he met with the director of presidential personnel, Dina Powell, on September 23, 2003, and was asked to submit investigative forms to the White House and the FBI in November and December. Weinstein will also note that although he professed distaste for President Bush’s executive order, he “would feel obliged to defend the order against a lawsuit by the American Historical Association seeking to overturn it.” [Washington Post, 6/26/2004]

Entity Tags: John William Carlin, Allen Weinstein, Dina Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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