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January 23, 2010

Norma Rae: The Sequel

 A lot of commenters got upset with me over my last post, in which I made the case that Conan O’Brien has become the nation’s most unlikely poster boy for the disillusioned and dispossessed, a modern day Norma Rae. At the end of the post, I took people to task for going to rallies in support of Conan, and suggested that if they want to expend their political energies on something, there are probably better causes. People made the valid point, albeit usually amended with the word “douchebag,” that just because they support Conan doesn’t mean they don’t also do worthwhile things with their time, like donate kidneys or adopt other people.

Fair enough, and they’re right. Of course the two things aren’t mutually exclusive, and I could have chosen my words more carefully. But I was attempting to express a general frustration I’ve had with the situation that I couldn’t quite articulate; after many people made the point that the rallies were meant to be satirical, though, I kind of clarified for myself the reason I’ve been feeling so frustrated.

For satire to be effective it has to be parodying something. In the case of these rallies, ultimately what they were protesting was futility. Of course they didn’t expect the rallies to change NBC’s mind, didn’t expect them to result in Conan retaining “The Tonight Show” because most people feel like protest never changes anything. Instead the end result was exactly what they expected: absurdity. It was silly street theater for the sake of silliness, which as somebody who has spent his whole career making stupid shit, I am all in favor of. But to me it spoke to something much deeper and much sadder. Consciously or not, to me what these rallies were really about was the very real powerlessness many people feel about creating change in anything. Consequently, I think what I feel frustrated about is cynicism masquerading as activism.

My argument isn’t with Conan. I said in my last post I think he’s great. Nor is it with the sincere appreciation his fans have for him. My problem is with hopelessness, of which there seems to be an abundance of lately, and which manifested itself as a rallying cry for a late night talk show host. What’s frustrating is that Conan came to represent this hopelessness when he’s somebody who is as far from hopeless as could be imagined.

Many of you said I was over-thinking this. I probably am. But it’s because I’ve been trying to figure out why people are so up in arms about something so trivial as “The Tonight Show.” Thirty years ago people could rally behind a fictional figure like Norma Rae because she represented a situation in which millions of people found themselves. Who does Conan really represent besides Conan? To me he’s an odd hero, a strangely poignant cultural figure at a time when the culture is so profoundly fucked up.

And yes, I’ll shut up now.




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Very insightful, and I agree. You douche.


right on MIB!

I also appreciated your tweet regarding the fact that most of the people on the save coco bandwagon were the same people not watching his show. I'm one of them.

Velveteen Ballsac

Wow, you actually read the comments??


I think you stated yourself beautifully.


The only thing that makes any of your readers hopeless is that you FAILED to include nudity in your post.


Don't you dare shut-up, sir. :)


as a member of the deformed ginger race, you said it fine in the last one, and people are just depressed whiney bitches. keep on truckin'.


I didn't know you could make such pretty words, Michael Ian Black.


I was behind you on the last post, Michael, and I could see that you weren't trying to attack Conan or his fans.

I'm suffering from the same frustration as you are, and was moved to read these two very candid entries. Every time I find out one of my friends is politically apathetic, I want to throttle them! They anger me more than people I disagree with politically.

Anyway, I will do my part to make "Waiting on the World to Change" NOT be the song that defines my generation.

Peace and love! You were always a favorite comedian of mine, and now you're a favorite fellow human being of mine!


The next time you want to speak openly about a public figure, you better pick one less popular among the internet masses. Like Jesus! :D

Seriously though, I think you're right that there is a heavy tone of cynicism that goes along with the Conan support but I think that's just a reflection of the times. At the moment, a lot of people in this country are struggling with unemployment or having to endure employment that they hate for fear of unemployment and it's a pretty big bummer. I think maybe a lot of people saw in the Conan situation a reflection of how they feel - good people getting screwed over in ways that they can't really control. You're absolutely right that those feelings are improperly imprinted on Conan since he himself said - he's a very lucky guy who has a comfortable life and this is a disappointment for him but it's far from a crushing defeat.

I think a lot of people took his disappointment for defeat because there are a lot of defeated people out there right now looking for the comfort of company. Who better than Conan to fit the bill?


wow that was a epic post, I think you looking into it a little too much.more then the people who went to the rallies, but who am I to tell you what to think, Keep up the deep shit cause I love ya, you big ol douchebag xoxo


I think this is definitely of matter of you over thinking things. My last comment wasn't about being "pissed" at you for dissing Conan rallies. It was just confusion for why you're over analyzing conan's situation. Plus it's just strange hearing Michael ian black making a serious statement... On this of all things! But you have a right to your opinion, even if (to me) is very overthought.

We still love you :)

it was definitely an interesting perspective on this whole thing.

Angie the Anti-Theist

Funny & smart - where do I sign up?


Conan's final speech decried the same cynicism you reject. And that's fine, except that Conan's on stage persona has been consistently cynical since long before he got the Tonight Show, and moreover neither you nor him have proposed a viable alternative to cynicism. If we are genuinely powerless, what other options do we have but grave dancing and gallows humor? This is only frustrating if you think there is something better to do than silly rallies, and I'm not sure there is.


I think you're trying way too hard to make meaningful conclusions out of an opinion. Stuff like this post just perpetrates more stuff like this post, and then all of the people who wrote the articles are wondering "why dudes are taking it so seriously."


It's bullshit. I'll bet at least half those people that care so much about Conan O'Brien don't give a crap about real world problems. They tune all of that out and live in a world of total escapist entertainment. Everything is a joke and nothing is real. It isn't cool to be serious, not even for a second. Douchebag.


I'm not marching for Conan, but I'm enjoying the general outrage. For me, it's basically an expression of disgust that an original, inspired show got cancelled in favor of a bland, crappy one. It's the same sentiment, coincidentally, that I had when Stella was cancelled and when I haven't heard anything from Michael and Michael in a while. There are a lot of people who care about good comedy - this should be good news for you.


I can't speak for everyone but as for myself, two things made me tear up yesterday - the Haiti tribute and Conan's show ending. You might think me stupid for crying over the latter but the fact remains I did and I'm not embarassed.

For over 10 years, Conan has made me laugh. Every night. Without fail. My life isn't easy, a lot of bad stuff has happened to me but the one thing I could generally count on throughout my teenage years is that red haired kook putting a smile on my face and making me feel less awkward and alone.

Long and drawn out but just thought I'd share.


screw unfunny this was borderline profound. love stella but knew there was layers waiting to be peeled back. this is tapping into that peeling back process. the world needs this insight mib. honestly, share more.


beautiful <3


well said and sadly true. i do agree conan makes a curious choice for those disenfranchised, however perhaps his "underdog" persona strikes a cord with people who also feel that they are being steamrolled or unheard in their place of business - or even moreoever - those who were recently canned. A lot of people in this economy can relate to THAT.


You are correct that people are protesting hopelessly, but what else is there? The last time there were mass protests (I'm not counting the manufactured teabaggers.), the administration then in power barely took note of it, before launching the war in Iraq.

You mentioned in the previous post rallying outside huge corporations, like GM or Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs I can understand, but GM? What would the signs read? 'Stop Your Backward Corporate Culture'? Regardless, the message the government sends when it bails out these massive institutions is that they are "too big to fail." Even if it is true, we've been beaten to death with that phrase.

Standing outside of these huge multi-nationals now means that you're not only protesting their unchecked, immoral greed, but also the government that bailed them out. Only throwing rocks at the sun to extinguish it seems more futile.

John Thomas-Mason

I agree and I am so furious that other people don't agree, I'm going to lodge a protest. Street marching begines at 23 hundred hours. Have picthforks and torches at the ready, people!!!


I agree. Yeah, it's uncool, but life is sometimes uncool. I've got other things to occupy my time & head space. I do think Conan has handled the situation so artfully, he will benefit in the long run. I was inspired by the fact he did not throw a celebrity temper tantrum. p.s. You are my favorite douchebag.


The millions of young people in the Millenial Generation have had the outpouring of support and love for Conan O'Brien, because like them, he is the victim of other peoples poor decisions.

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