Monday, March 16, 2015

Compare/Contrast via George Carlin

With the issue of voice in writing - or speaking - I am a huge proponent of using humor and sarcasm. For example, when we begin style analysis, I have a scathingly sarcastic column from Chicago Tribune writer Mike Royko on gun control policies. I follow that with a hilarious political commentary from Dave Barry on voting in Florida. Both these pieces sing with style and tone. And, students get it - they can relate to it. To that end, when I introduce the idea of commentary, and I plan for students to craft their own piece of comparative writing, I often show them this:

Finding effective models for student writing is an important tool. And, asking students to work within a framework of say, comparing two sports or products, in a sarcastic way, is a great way to generate some voice in their writing. So, I share with my students Carlin's views on baseball vs. football, and then I also have them look at one of the most brilliant examples of a politician playing "both sides of the fence" - that is the infamous speech from Mississippi legislator, Noah Sweat, when asked to speak about prohibition policies.

Whisky Speech
Noah Sweat - 1948
My friends,
I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.
If when you say “whiskey” you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness – then certainly I am against it.
But, if when you say “whiskey” you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools – then certainly I am for it.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.
The Clarion Ledger, Saturday, February 24, 1996, Jackson, MS, p. 3B.


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