Sunday, February 3, 2013

Conan O'Brien says Xbox 360 is best game console

From Conan (January 30, 2013): "US Citizenship Test: Anderson Cooper 360 Edition"

In case the video goes down, or if you're not at leisure to listen to the audio, this is a recurring bit, wherein Conan answers questions from the U.S. naturalization test on air.

Immigrants are normally required to pass the test, covering English and civics, in order to become citizens of the United States. Every once in a while, some politician will propose that passing the test should also be required as part of the voter registration process, in order to ensure that voters have at least a bare minimum understanding of how America's government works, before they start casting votes that would affect how the country is run. The reality, however, is that we are such a politically agnostic society overall that, if quizzed on civics, the average American on the street would likely stand no chance whatsoever.

Rather than actually quizzing people on the street to show just how unqualified they are to vote (since that's already a bit on another show), Conan, on this recurring sketch, instead volunteers himself, with mock American bravado, to take a version of the test, which actually turns out to be mostly a series of joke questions focusing on the sorts of dumb information that more accurately reflect the average American's low-minded concerns and knowledge.

From the most recent installment, here's the titular joke:
Question: What's the best game console?

Conan: Xbox 360.

Question: And what's the worst?

Conan: The Anderson Cooper 360.

If you didn't get that punchline, Anderson Cooper 360° is the title of popular broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper's television news show on CNN. But don't worry; I don't think most people know what that is. What's funnier by far (and also depressing) is the reaction Conan got, probably unintentionally, with the first part of the joke—the setup.

Up to that point, the audience had laughingly applauded every joke answer Conan had given. But when he, without hesitation, answered that the Xbox 360 was the best game console, there was, instead of laughter, only a hushed murmur (well, and one guy offering a "Woo!"), as though Conan had said something terribly controversial, and people were perturbed and uneasy about sticking their own necks out to applaud, lest they be perceived as taking any kind of position on his position. Yes, of all questions, this—the video game question (which, as it turned out, was just the setup to a well-received zinger at Anderson Cooper's expense)—was the one that proved a little too real for the live audience.

The rule of thumb to be generally observed, when you're in polite society and not interested in getting into a debate, is to stay off any topics that would have the potential to agitate, namely politics and religion (and I would usually add team sports to that list). On Conan, however, politics is regularly fodder for his monologue, and he's not afraid to poke fun at religious fundamentalism either, always to the audience's delight. But here we see that there is one topic that is perhaps even more sensitive: the console war.

Even ignoring the fact (since I'm not convinced the writers actually put that much thought into it) that, given the theme of the segment, the Microsoft Xbox 360 is the properly patriotic answer (Sony and Nintendo both being Japanese), Conan has made it pretty clear already, with his "Clueless Gamer" segment, that he doesn't really play, like, or know much about video games, so we can safely assume that he doesn't mean it when he says the 360 is the best. But it doesn't really matter whether he means it or not; the audience's conditioned reflexive unease at his words has been nakedly captured on film.

We are now at the point in the life of this debate when, whether we have a position ourselves, we are, most of us, not actively engaged in the console war, but rather try to steer clear of it altogether, because we've seen how ugly it can get—seriously, random guys at GameStop will fight you over your game console preference—and it's simply not safe to take a stand either way. It's the same kind of nervousness that usually accompanies workplace talk of politics or religion, only, I dare say, people these days are even more passionate (and, therefore, protective) about their positions on video games than about their political or religious affiliations. In fact, having been among folks who are highly politically active, as well as folks who are deeply religious (and that's two different groups I'm talking about), I can say that, out of all the circles I've personally observed, no other is as defensive, and militantly so, as the hardcore video game enthusiasts.

This is why, as often as politicians and the mainstream media try to come after video games and scapegoat it for everything wrong with this country, I really do not see them ever prevailing. I don't know why exactly, nor whether it's a good thing, but, fact is, nobody riles up and rallies for its interests harder than the gaming community.

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