Saturday, January 23, 2010

Coco Go Goes

Reading some of the entertainment message boards, you'd think that Conan O'Brien was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, big red head blown back by NBC sniper bullets. Much of the mistiness comes from younger folk, for whom Conan is an elder comic they grew up watching. So part of their pain is nostalgic, which I understand, though from a longer distance. American pop culture is a mind-bending force. It's all I knew until I went into the Army, where real world concerns altered the fantasies, making me cling to them so tightly that they broke into glittering bits that still float through my thoughts, as you may have noticed.

Don't weep for Conan O'Brien. Dude has it made. He knows and has repeatedly confessed this. Ninety-nine percent of comics never breathe the air that fills Conan's lungs, so it's hard to feel empathy on his behalf. Hopefully, this recent late night bitch-fest, "an escalation in hostilities in which everybody comes off looking petty and juvenile, millionaires fighting over parking privileges," Jim Wolcott accurately observed, will come to an end, and we can return to safe, banal comedy programming. That powerless consumers actually cared about which rich white guy gets the better time slot says volumes about American passivity and distraction at a time when our owners are openly robbing and further disenfranchising us.

"Corporations are people! They're peo-ple!" as Chuck Heston might scream while being dragged away.

In his closing Tonight Show statement, Conan advised his young flock to avoid cynicism, his "least favorite quality." He added, "If you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen." Hard work and kindness are indeed noble traits (for a second I thought that Conan was channeling Hulk Hogan, who told his fans to take their vitamins and say their prayers), but American showbiz is a parasitic organism where kindness has no place, and hard work is often exploited and hijacked by those with more power.

I like Conan's humor and am impressed with his knowledge of early comedy forms, a rarity in the profession, but he's no smiling babe in the woods. He came to prominence thanks to Lorne Michaels, who is as cutthroat and mercenary as it gets in television. And anyone who's hung out with or talked to Harvard Lampoon alums knows how cynical and cutting they can be. The illusion offered by Conan rarely matches the reality, but it made for a moist goodbye until the next go-round, when we can again work ourselves into an online lather over nothing.