[P]athetic is all I can muster.
But no, it must be funny, because David is funny and hip. Right? Or maybe not; maybe he’s actually a brackish, hermetically-souled guy who’s spend the last twenty years going from table to table with a giant wooden grinder, asking anyone if they want some fresh-ground scorn with that. Say when. Or maybe he’s about as edgy as a soccer ball, and exists only to remind people they were Edgy once, and hence must be ever-blessed with the gift of Wryness and Irony. With those shields we can never grow old, you know. We’ll always be as sharp and perceptive as we were when we were sitting on a cast-off sofa in college, working through a midweek buzz, happily fellated by the preconceptions the TV so charitably provided.
Or so I remember; haven’t watched the show in years. I thought it was brilliant at first, but at some point early on Bill Wendell’s introduction stopped being Bill Wendell as Don Pardo and became Bill Wendell Intentionally and Ironically Being Don Pardo for Your Ironic Enjoyment. The introductory graphics got slick. Paul Shaffer morphed into this eyeless homunculus yes-man, like Ed McMahon on painkillers converted into handy portable Idol form (really, sometimes I see a picture of this tiny fellow wearing shades, grinning at nothing, and he reminds me of something Indiana Jones would replace with a weighted bag of sand before he stole it.)
What’s amusing is how unamusing he is in the clip. How sour he seems. Compare him to his predecessors: Carson was all midwestern charm, with unreadable yet mannerly reserve; Steve Allen was almost as smart as he was certain you thought he must be, but he was cheerful; Parr was a nattering nutball covered with a rich creamy nougat of ego, but he was engaging. Letterman is empty; he’s inert; he stands for nothing except disdain for people foolish enough to stand for anything - aside from rote obesciance to all the things Decent People stand for, of course, all those shopworn assumptions passed around in the bubble.
This posture was fresh in ’80; it even had energy. But it paralyzes the heart after a while. You end up an SOB who shows up at the end of the night to reassure that nothing matters. I think he may have invented the posture of Nerd Cool, an aspect so familiar to anyone who reads message boards - the skill at deflating enthusiasm, puncturing passion with a hatpin lobbed from a safe distance. The instinctive unease with the wet messy energy of actual people.
Yes, reading too much into it. Really, it’s just a rote slam: If your mother is a loathed politician, and your older sister gets pregnant, famous old men can make jokes about you being knocked up by rich baseball players, and there’s nothing you can do. That’s the culture: a flat, dead-eyed, square-headed old man who’ll go back to the writers and ask for more Palin-daughter knocked-up jokes, because that one went over well. Other children he won’t touch, but not because he’s decent. It’s because he’s a coward.
Oh, one more thing: it’s okay for David to say that because someone said something else about someone, and since I didn’t write about that, I’m a hypocrite. Just so we’re clear.
Well, one more thing. Some say Dave - I’m sorry, the staff members who wrote the joke and had it printed on cards for him to read - thought the daughter in attendance was the older one who had the pregnancy controversy last year. This is possible; it also means that we accept as an excuse the fact that the writers confused the daughters they wished to humiliate.
That confusion must be the reason the NYT left the joke out of its transcript of the monologue.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Lileks Fisks Letterman