I know you might be burned out on the whole Conan/work hard image thing (I haven’t been on Tumblr in the past couple of days! I’m behind on any recent dramz!) but Tumblrer lineara left me a really thoughtful comment on the phenomenon:
I’m with you on celebrity-worship; I’ve never even watched an episode on Conan (or Leno for that matter.) But here’s the thing: I still knew exactly what the “work hard” image referred to when it popped up on tumblr, because the same people who posted it had been posting about the entire saga all along (and Facebook was filled with chatter, and the story was on the front page of NYTimes.com, etc.) And when I saw it, even though I had nothing invested mentally in the narrative, I realized what a nice gesture it was, using your farewell speech to say something that would uplift the audience in the face of cynicism.
So while it’s possible the reference would be lost to some, so what? Scroll past, the way we do with all the other inane crap we encounter.
And for the people in the know, it serves as a pleasant reminder, and a signifier that the poster and viewer have a shared connection. It doesn’t replace or enhance, but it does communicate the narrative in a different way than a video, or audio clip, or transcription of the speech. The value is in its immediacy, and that it asks the viewer to recall their personal memories of the event, rather than showing them again.
(For the full comment thread: go here.)