Beer and Pavement

Cynic

Posted in Manifesto, Pop by Zac on January 24, 2010

I watched the last couple of episodes of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien this past week. I hadn’t watched one episode of the late night talk show since O’Brien took over, but I always knew that I preferred O’Brien over his predecessor Jay Leno from watching Late Night for years. (That and his years with The Simpsons were easily the best in that show’s history.) He is a vastly superior comic who doesn’t have to depend on clichés and newspaper clippings sent in by his viewers to write a joke.

His last few shows included a gag where he pieced together the most expensive comedy bits ever in order to run up NBC’s bill. One night, he dresses up the world’s most expensive car as a mouse whose theme song is the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the next he “buys” a former Kentucky Derby winner dressed in a mink Snuggie™ watching restricted NFL footage. O’Brien outdid that with a giant sloth skeleton “purchased” from the Smithsonian, spraying an “original” Picasso with beluga caviar.

These bits were a stroke of genius as he appeared to be really sticking it to NBC by running up the bill for the show. It’s like that guy in the office who’s about to be laid off, so he gathers as many office supplies as he can fit into his car before leaving. The sketches were so convincing that it prompted outrage from viewers over wasted spending. This is the type of comedy that gets beyond those “wacky politicians in Washington” and men are from Venus” triviality. This is the same “outside-the-box” comedy that doomed shows like Arrested Development or…um…that’s pretty much the list.

Amidst all the comedy, in one truly sincere moment, O’Brien had this to say:

All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.

While positive and gracious in his exit, O’Brien left me feeling a bit…well…cynical about the whole thing. His message was true and from the heart. He’s probably right in that cynicism doesn’t lead to many good things. Of course how can he feel cynical with that $40 million buyout from NBC…

Sorry. Cynicism just took over.

I don’t blame O’Brien for taking the money. I think it was shitty how NBC treated him. I’m with Coco on this one.

His cynicism comment got me thinking about the fine line between cynicism and critique. It’s hard in these days of post-Bushian patriotism and post-Obama Hope™ and Change® to critique anything without running the risk of the “cynic” tag. A cynic looks at an occurrence with skepticism and questions motives or perceived viability – or at least that’s how I take it. Why shouldn’t we closely examine every situation for inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or dishonesty? Should we just accept everything at face value? Is everything as wonderful and altruistic as others would like us to believe?

Because we question one’s motivation or analyze the unseen effects of an event does not mean we are adding nothing to the conversation as the term “cynic” implies, especially in O’Brien’s use of the word.

Is the age of cynicism dead? Did it get thrown out with irony? It sure seems that way sometimes.

Take the Pavement reunion. No one, including myself, thought this gig would happen once much less a full-blown world tour that includes every summer festival on the circuit. It seemed as if front man Stephen Malkmus was tired of working with suspect musicians and the rest of the band was tired of his ego. A reunion seemed out of the question.

Why are they getting back together? It has to be the money. Look at the killing Pixies made. Dinosaur Jr is more popular than ever. Even a band like Cap’n Jazz reunited for one night not just to relive old times and to give their fans another taste of what they miss, but it also happened to coincide with C’nJ off-shoot Joan of Arc’s album release and tour. These bands all wanted to make some cash off their legacies while they still could.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of this. It’s great that Conan O’Brien was at least able to walk away with millions (sadly sans the masturbating bear). I love that my favorite band Pavement will make a ton of money this summer. They should. I won’t begrudge them that. If pointing out monetary benefits as motivation or somewhat justifiable consolation makes me a cynic, then so be it.

Cynicism is not dead (nor irony). Sure, it’s critique’s older, uglier step-brother, but it’s necessary. It shouldn’t paralyze us with apathy. However, it also won’t keep us from smashing those rose-colored glasses of ignorance. I’m okay with tempered cynicism. It has it’s place no matter what Conan O’Brien or anyone else has to say about it.

Of course, as I write this, I’m wondering if I just wanted to up my visitor count by mentioning “Conan O’Brien” and “Pavement reunion” all over this post. Maybe I am, but it doesn’t mean that this post holds any less truth.

Oh, and cynicism is welcome in the comments. See, there is a place for cynicism in this world.

8 Responses

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  1. Carrie said, on January 24, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    You know, his farewell address kind of struck a chord with me, I guess. I don’t think he was attacking skepticism and questioning of situations, but rather the defeatism and general negativity that might be associated with younger cynics. I dictionaried it, and the first definition reads:
    a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.

    and I think that is the particular brand of cynicsm he’s opposed to.

    Now I’m normally not so susceptible to these things. I didn’t buy into Obama’s Hope or charisma (in fact, I refuse to vote because I lack confidence in most politicians). However, since Coco doesn’t make empty promises, or permeate every media for months (Sometimes years) at a time, his words hit me. This doesn’t mean I’m going to start voting or anything, but being an asshole to other people because other people have been total selfish dicks to you isn’t going to fix anything or really make anything better. And I think there’s truth to his words, that by being a decent-ass person can get you a lot farther than being a distrustful asshole.

    Now, that’s not to suggest that there aren’t some people motivated by greed and selfishness, nor do we have to go all To Kill a Mockingbird on this thing and believe that all people are good. But I think what he wanted us to take away is basically, don’t be a dick, and don’t get defeated when people like Jay Leno and Jeff Zucker roll around.

  2. doublewordscore said, on January 24, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    What’s tempered cynicism? I worry that I might be too cynical.

  3. builderofcoalitions said, on January 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Carrie, you make a good point. I don’t think Conan was talking about skepticism. He did mean it in the sincerest way and I totally support what he was saying. I was responding to a theme that has dominated the last decade which calls everyone a cynic who questions things like government or celebrity.

    Now, I did buy into Obama’s hope and charisma in that I thought he could convince a lot of voters to pick him over McCain. I thought he was the better candidate and still do. Sure, he doesn’t do everything the way I want him to, but I also don’t think anyone else could do better.

    Now, on the voting front…You really should vote. I’m more down on our political system right now than almost anyone, but I still think we all need to participate, especially people as thoughtful and intelligent as yourself. I don’t know that we can have much of an effect, but we have NO effect if we do nothing. And that is at the heart of what O’Brien was saying, not exactly what I was fighting in my post.

    Oh, and Carrie, I’m loving the taint-themed poetry. I think doublewordscore would like it immensely.

    • doublewordscore said, on January 26, 2010 at 12:32 am

      I too love the taint-themed poetry. “Erotic” isn’t quite the right word. “Freaking amazing” is more like it.

      For some reason, Carrie, blogger won’t let me post praises o’er on its website. I hope you check back to get your well-deserved kudos.

  4. Carrie said, on January 25, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I don’t vote because:
    1. it’s my democratic right not to
    2. I have some weird issues that involve not being able to trust any group of people united for a common cause (I guess they call this “indie personality disorder”).
    3. It’s become more of a protest of the way elections work as a general media shenanigan. Sure, most politicians are way more qualified for their jobs than I am, but I don’t like how voting, particularly for liberals, has turned into a “well, we really don’t want the other guy to win” sort of thing. I would vote if I genuinely felt confident in the person I was electing…wishin I could go back to the days of lincoln-douglas debating before the tv got involved to a sickening degree. I think Barry Obammy is a good dude, I’m surprised at the steps he’s taken towards (at least trying) to get healthcare nationalized (despite the huge blocks along the way) but with that degree of hype around any person or thing makes me more inclined to be disinterested. I hate feeling like a target market too, just because I’m young, I have a pulse and a brain. I guess it’s just a bit reactionary of me, but it’s really a turn-off how every four years everyone makes politics their business…and people just get downright nasty. I don’t want to see any of these people again, let alone elect one to govern the country I live in.
    I will, however, vote on issues. For me that is what’s important.

  5. builderofcoalitions said, on January 25, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Cynic.

    I kid. I kid.

    Your argument demonstrates why someone like should be involved, but I can’t fault your logic. You’ve obviously thought this through for some time. I certainly don’t disagree with you sentiments. However, I often have to remind myself that politicians have to be more of populists than than you or I would like, appealing to the lowest common denominator and such. So, I try to accept the good with the bad and just hope more of it’s good than bad.

    I won’t push you on this voting thing. I respect your position. Thanks for finding me here.

  6. Carrie said, on January 26, 2010 at 5:40 am

    thanks a bunch doublewordscore.

  7. [...] For reasons readers in my demographic would probably understand, I have been very interested in the late night talk show wars.  As a younger sprat, I really enjoyed the Late Shift I was very young when it came out, but I [...]


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