Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Johnny Angel

For Pete's sake, enough already with the tributes to Johnny Carson. He died about a week ago, and yet a couple of days ago, I was still reading about him in Dana Steven's column on Slate (I think).

The only comment on Carson that was far short of laudatory that I encountered anywhere was Terry Teachout's, on his blog:

I used to watch Johnny Carson for years and years, but I can only remember one moment from the show, when Carson, costumed as Karnak, tripped and fell onto a balsa wood replica of his desk, smashing it flat.

What perplexes me is what motivates everyone in the mass media to give some kind of eulogy or remembrance not just of Carson, but any entertainer who was around and remained fairly famous for decades (like the accolades for Bob Hope). Even Chris Matthews' Sunday panel had to each weigh in with some assessment of Carson's supposed significance. Why? Did they think that viewers would be angry at them if they didn't? Or is it just reflexive opportunism? This tendency to engage in universal, excessive and often false eulogizing every time some celebrity dies is yet another trend to bemoan. When Katharine Hepburn died, the New York Times ran not just an obituary, but a whole series of articles about her. Our society is obsessed with trivia and entertainment and the mass media, instead of trying to hold the line, cheerlead for it because of their obsession with ratings. And that's the triumph of capitalism. It destroys the idea that there are inherently different levels of quality in any area of human endeavor. Which is exactly what Johnny Carson's show and the talk show format initiated. Johnny would have some airhead actress or the Playmate of the Year talk about her collection of stuffed toys and then have Carl Sagan discussing cosmology in the last five minutes of the show. Popularity and longevity are all you need to have enjoyed in order to be celebrated as a significant person. What you actually did is of no importance. If Paris Hilton dies when she is 79, and her whole life consists of periodic reptitions of what she's done so far to become famous, no doubt the New York Times will devote a series of articles assessing her life too.

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