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Lost in all the eulogies this week, I think, will be recognition of how unhip the Tonight Show was for a while. Not Lawrence-Welk unhip; it always had enough residual Vegas swank to keep it from becoming a relic from the grandpa demographic. But what had seemed cosmopolitan and urbane to a kid was fossilized and irrelevant to the know-it-all 18 year old. Everything had changed for you, but nothing had changed for them. The drunk jokes. Hi-yo. Doc’s fashion sense. Remarks about the band’s wild ways, or Tommy Newsome’s impassivity. Ed fargin’ Ames throwing the tomahawk – was it funny because he planted it the yarbles, or because it resembled homo erectus? Both? That was still funny, but you had to sit through a lot to get there. Get out of your car, cut off your Slausen – if you smiled at that, it was because you remembered how cool you felt the first time you knew that line was coming. But it wasn’t hip. Saturday Night Live was hip. SNL was now and the Tonight Show was most definitely then. Carson always did that golf swing. No one you knew golfed.

That’s what I remember – how much I admired it as a kid, when it was part of the Adult World you were allowed to glimpse on a Friday night, and how little it mattered or offerered later. But while the show may have lost its charm, Carson’s image never suffered. He was always cool – and not because he adapted his personality to meet the definitions of the era, but because he was surpassingly cool. He didn’t conform to the eras; the times adopted to him, asking only that he dress in whatever bad fabrics the era provided. No, we made fun of Ed; we made fun of Karnac, the mayo jar on the porch of Funk & Wagnal’s, the petrified format that worked more for Dad than for you. But we never made fun of him.

When you thought about it, you didn’t want to live in an era where Johnny Carson wasn’t cool. And I hope we never do.

In the mail Friday, a small glossy ad. Quite lovely:

Well, what could this be about? Let’s open it up and see.


Hmmm. Okay. I’m sure the absence of any names gives them plausible denial, but I think we all know who this refers to. How Oedipus applies to the current government I am not sure, since footage from the inauguration showed the elder Bush to be hale, and Barbara Bush not hanging on her son’s arm wearing Laura’s jewels. The author probably didn’t rewrite Sophocles to conform to current events, since such efforts are never regarded fondly by history. If someone had rewritten Lear to reflect the Ford administration, for example, it wouldn’t be in great demand today, unless it was brought back as a camp classic with a new score by the Scissors Sisters.

I don’t think it occurred to the people who cooked up this campaign that it might not give everyone the same self-satisfied smirk it provided to the author of the copy. I think this one got anointed with groupthink lubricant and slid unhindered down the chute. I think they’d honestly be surprised to find that anyone objected. No, amend that: anyone who mattered. Anyone who didn’t pronounce the name of the play as OhEeedeePus. “But that could never happen. Right?” Meaning, it already has, and we all know it. One can certainly argue that a powerful leader is the cause of some countrymen’s distress, since a certain percentage of the electorate will always regard the other party as a hydra-headed tapeworm that slithered out of Satan’s hindquarters. But this is a bit more explicit and general. A powerful leader. Fails to see. That he is the cause. Of his country’s distress. Oh! So it’s about Saddam! Right?

The Guthrie has every right to stage what they like, of course; they could redo Othello with Wolfowitz as Iago, Bush as the Moor, Desdemona as the Bill of Rights, and Ashcroft as The Pillow. But I’ve never seen something quite this obvious. A while ago the Guthrie got $25 million in a bonding bill to pop for the new theater on the Mississippi. Public money. And the production is made possible in part by a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Ahem:

One surprise for the humanities and arts communities was the proposed $18 million (15 percent) increase for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The president has proposed a budget line of $139.4 million for the NEA—the largest budget figure for the agency in 20 years (the largest budget for the NEA was in 1992 when $176 million was appropriated). Laura Bush, the president's wife, is a high-profile proponent of the increase. Her strong support puts her in sharp contrast to opponents of the increase that include some conservative organizations and their supporters in Congress. Citizens Against Government Waste, for example, stated that the increase was "unacceptable" in the wake of the deep deficit. The higher funding proposal for the NEA is generally regarded positively by Hill insiders. The NEH and NEA both have their supporters and advocates, and increases to one endowment are rarely offered to the detriment of the other.

Sunday’s paper had a review of the play: nothing about its political relevance. Apparently the ad fabricates the point of the new version, so the disgruntlement it produces is completely gratutitous. This is why companies of all sorts should keep one Republican on staff, perhaps behind glass, with a small hammer on a chain nearby in case of emergency. Run this stuff past the old dinosaur now and then. Just for fun. Could help. Never know.

Update: Saturday afternoon I drove to the Mall of America to receive my boon from the wise and munificent gods of Cupertino: Pages, the new word processor for the Mac. While I was in the Mall I decided to see if the Bath & Body Works store had any of those shampoos I discussed the other day.

I left the Mall with nineteen bottles. I am set for the next year. This week has promise.