Goodbye, Mr. Conductor

June 23rd, 2008

George Carlin

George Carlin.

One of my all-time favorite comics, George Carlin, died yesterday.

I really don’t have heroes or people I idolize. I see traits and qualities in everyone which are worthy emulating. My favorite thing about George was the when he smelled bullshit, he called it what it was.

I liked his unconventional way of looking at conventional things. In all parts of our society (even in science and medicine) certain notions become “accepted wisdom” and then “dogma”. It was Carlin’s way of looking behind the facade and questioning the validity of some assumptions that really resonated with me. Sure, he could be irreverent, absurd and even profane, but his material always reminded me that we should never complacently accept the party dictum.

He was controversial and contrary. Not for the sake of being controversial and contrary, but because he thought about things: the world and people. And then he said what he thought. While some of it was out there, and at times he seemed to be spitting in our eye, it was never mindless nihilism. There always seemed to be an understanding between George and his audience: No matter how close to home he hit, everyone knew that he had really thought about it and expected them to think independently.

One of the things Carlin riled and ranted about was the influence of marketing on our society’s consciousness. We are a capitalist society and consummate consumers. However, it was that polished “advertising-speak” that really got him going. He understood how advertising uses language and other cultural symbols to manipulate people’s thinking about issues and commercial products.

Much of wine marketing, these days, goes under the guise of “Wine Education” but it really is a series of “Brand Awareness Campaigns” which aim to drive a consumer towards a particular brand. It’s really just advertising. It’s no surprise, then, that brand equity often rests not in the product (the stuff in the bottle) but in the packaging: the name -words on a piece of paper stuck on the outside of the bottle.

George – who claimed to take a bit too much wine, himself – would probably have a good routine about that. He had some pointed comments about our society consuming the packaging and not the stuff inside.

If we focus on the packaging, will we accept anything inside – as long as the packaging is right?


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One Response to “Goodbye, Mr. Conductor”

  1. Tish Says:

    I was shocked to hear about George Carlin this morning. I recently read Richard Zoglin’s book on standup in the 1970s, and there is a freat chapter about Carlin reinventing himself (from mainstream to the hippie dippie stuff).

    Agree about the education – brand-awareness switcheroo. It was, is and always will be tricky to market wine in its fullest sense. Appreciation, as we leathery old drinkers know, is a enjoyable yet time-consuming and cumulative journey. Not easily dispensed in soundbites. Then again, with 15 years of rising consumption, some things are clearly working…