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.

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