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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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"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."

Every generation thinks that they are the first to be shit on.


I like Mike!


Eripsa - here here. And Eric, I felt sort of the same as you.

I like that you amended this. I think it needed amending. And I think it brings an interesting point to light. Living through the past few decades of nonsense, financial ruin, doublespeak, and senseless war, I'd been deeply disappointed in our lack of social protest, on an organized level, extending beyond blog bitching. People do it, yes. Thank God for those people. Wish there were more like you. But do enough people? To the degree that it is necessary? To the fever pitch of our politically conscious smelly hairy hippie predecessors? Or civil rights activists? The fever for change and activism does seem buried, low. Like 99 degrees. I'm not sure if cycnicism is as much to blame as apathy. So, people moving together to do something, feeling strongly about something, enough to get off their butt to make a statement, that uplifts me. I just wish it was for something that really mattered. Nice amendment. Don't shut up. ever.


AND, if you stop being a douchebag, I'll quit following you - - -


I love Conan. I always have and I always will. However, when you suggest that people rally at inappropriate times, it's because people are generally scared and selfish. They don't want to get involved when it really counts because it might mean they'll have to volunteer hours of their time to make a difference in the world. They don't get involved because they don't want to risk their security in the world - job, home, self. They don't get involved because when it comes right down to it, people don't care. Conan is so far removed from our immediate lives, that to rally for him is akin to flashing your breasts at Mardi Gras - it's fun, nobody's really watching and nobody really cares.



Whitney G

I appreciate the sincere response to the people who disagreed (and agreed) with your last post. As a huge fan of yours since the "The State," I was a bit dismayed to see what I perceived as cynicism and judgment against some people, based solely on their actions in this whole mess.

However... I don't see Conan as hopeless. He's an intelligent, funny, KIND person who always appreciated everything and who always looked out for others. I think that his brand of outlook on life should be celebrated. He represents rising above negativity and misfortune.

When we take a principled stand against something in which we believe, and it doesn't work out, then we should react with kindness and grace, and then keep trying in our own way to change the world. In my (admittedly humble) opinion, there are few more profound lessons than that.

Whitney G

Jennifer said: However, when you suggest that people rally at inappropriate times, it's because people are generally scared and selfish. They don't want to get involved when it really counts because it might mean they'll have to volunteer hours of their time to make a difference in the world.

I've volunteered as a suicide hotline counselor, domestic violence advocate, and rape response advocate for 10 years now. I've also done hundreds of hours of volunteer work at animal shelters, homeless shelters, political campaigns, inner city elementary schools, and nursing homes. Not to mention the money I've donated to causes like Planned Parenthood, Doctors Without Borders, RAINN, and relief efforts for disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake. And I'm 28 years old, with (hopefully) many years of volunteering left in me.

Let me have my passion for Team Coco, too. I think I do enough for my little corner of the world that I'm allowed that escapist fun. After all, art and entertainment are society's way of reacting to the world around us. It should be meaningful to us. We need that escape, that different perspective on the world. It's only human nature.


What are your thoughts on what this all tells us about the state of comedy in the US and on network television? I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter. Thanks!


Well as much as I like Coco, I thought he was in trouble when he did his own demographic study with the old people and they didn't like him. This is probably the real problem: With money tightening up, media has to think how to appeal to the broadest amount of people. Or how your sponsor can get the most bang for the buck.

And this is why I'm getting frustrated because sponsors have been calling the shots on life for a long time. I'm getting tired of it. Back the hell off Johnson & Johnson.

Coco may have slowed down the riot by distracting us for a moment but something is going to give and give soon.


I bite my thumb at you sir. I just wanted you to know that I am so mad at you for your heartless statements about Coco. When your show gets canceled you won't see me at the rallies. Do you still have a show? I'm just kidding, I'm a big MIB fan. I really loved that thing you were in on that one channel. Just wanted to throw in my two pesos. We don't just live in a cynical world, we live in a world where most people are indifferent to anything that matters. The very small choices and actions that we make have such a huge impact on people's lives. From holding an elevator for someone, paying someone a compliment, or not just saying the words "how are you doing?", but actually taking the time to listen to someone's problem if nothing more then to let them vent. But we're too busy, too self self-absorbed to really get invovled. These people who go to these silly protests and rallies are there for the event. They can feel like they did something without doing anything that matters and still have something to brag about around the water cooler. Well I've wasted enough time here. Gotta go do something really important, like watch Avatar for the third time.


Funny you should mention cynicism. Conan made of point of expressing his immense dislike of that quality in people on his last show. So you have that in common.


Whitney G., I commend you for your bravery, selflessness and generosity. You are a true humanitarian, but unfortunately, you are one of a very, very few. I would never deny you, or anybody, the right to passionately unite for Team CoCo; I'm on your side. It's just disheartening to see so many people show so much support for a TV personality, and so few show so little support for what really matters in this world - healthcare reform, joblessness, needless war......


This way of thinking follows a little closer to the way I, ardently and vociferously on Team Conan, felt about the whole deal, but I still contend with what the rallies meant.

The press and the bandwagon-jumpers touted the events as protests, which wasn't how they were conceived or promoted. They were rallies held in support and celebration of a comedian who inspired us in some way. As in any rally, there's always going to be a little bit of "Boo to the other guy" going on, but rallies are primarily a gathering of support. To me, it was a genuine show of love, and as opposite of cynical as anything.

Somewhere along the line, the mass turned into a mob and things got distorted. I was frustrated watching it happen.


You explained yourself way better in this post. Sounded much less hostile :) I can only speak for myself when I say that my personal obsession with Conan stems from just loving the shit out of him. We "civilians" tend to glom onto certain forms of entertainment. TV is about all we have time for after a long day of work. Conan is one of the funniest men alive. He never shoved politics down my throat. He makes me cocoa for cookoo poops!


Obviously you haven't tuned in to the Cone zone for as long as others have. I started watching at 14 and I'm 25 now. So Conan leaving is a big deal! I thought the protests were meant to show moral support for Conan the man and NOT the actual tv show. Who cares about the TS? nobody! Conan is the real reason why people were up in arms not because he represents something bigger but simply because his great talent and following was being overlooked in favor of that streetclown Jay.


I think people are keying in on this situation because it's close to home: the sense that your employer can let you go at the flip of a switch if they want to. Let's not forget that this is happening after hundreds of thousands of Americans have been let go at work and their coworkers have been watching for the next wave of firings....


You really are a douche, man, no two ways about it.

What's with all this "hopelessness" bullshit? Who are you to say we all were feeling hopeless when rallying for a guy who makes more money than most people ever will?

Of course people knew from the beginning that NBC wouldn't change their minds, no matter what we said. But what's wrong with riling up network executives with the pure power of people with a sense of humor?

I don't think this was "cynicism masquerading as activism." If we are so cynical, why would we get off our asses in the first place?

And you are definitely over-thinking this.


totally agree you douche!


Isn't it cynical to make negative assumptions about our society based on Conan O'Brien rallies? For a guy that works in comedy, you are taking this far too seriously. I don't get why people can't wear ginger wigs and hold signs for a few hours without being accused of shallowness. Of course it's silly to do those things but it makes people happy. We don't have much power over anything that happens. You say we should save our energies for government issues? Why exactly? Someone always gets screwed. At least Conan rallies are fun.


... and yes, I'm a generally cynical person. I'm Larry David and I kinda love it.


Michael Ian Black wrote: "...Conan (is) somebody who is as far from hopeless as could be imagined....I've been trying to figure out why people are so up in arms about something so trivial as 'The Tonight Show.'"

These have been my EXACT thoughts, too.


Hey wait a minute. Are you taking an unpopular stance on the Conan situation to generate movement on your blog?? It's working like a charm. Seriously folks. There might be some dingleberries out there that are supporting Conan for dumb reasons. I like to think that most are truly fans of his. Conan is a very rich guy and will be okay. However, Conan is a cool enough guy that we honestly do feel for him in this situation. He's not your garden variety egotistical prick celebrity. He's one of the good guys. Couple that with enthusiasm for his show and you have yourself a rally.


Hi, I think celebrities are heroes. For making people smile and laugh. If you, Michael, got fired from acting, I for one would rally just to say thank you. I wanted to rally when there was no season 2 of Stella, but I didn't know where to do that. Conan is in a big building in LA which made it easy for him, and people only rallied because they're nice, but not TOO nice. I would be even more upset at society if there were no rallies at all. They took a sad situation and turned it into a happy celebration, and that's good. Good is good.


Michael, I'm blown away by your exaggerated opinion on this. According to your estimations, nobody should be doing anything recreational ever because our government is troubled??? Seriously? I don't understand how a man who seems to twitter nonsense all day is in a position to criticize innocent Conan fans. Why are you lambasting Comic Con? Or the ever-horrendous Golden Globes? Why are you picking on Conan rather than these yearly idiot fests? This was a one-time rally for a pretty remarkable comedian. Conan appreciated it so much. He invites a crowd of people into his life DAILY. He's an interactive comedian unlike most. He loves his fans. His fans love him. I don't know why you are so offended by the relationship Conan has with his supporters.


Too late now, but I want to edit my post.

I meant to say * "Why AREN'T you lambasting...." Fucking ruins my post that i wrote it the other way. Goddammit

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