I spent a good part of the day yesterday wondering what it was that makes this Meet The Press handout almost unbearable for me to look at. (It shows James Carville and wife Mary Matalin breaking down during the taping of last Sunday’s program memorializing Tim Russert.)
What I arrived at is this: In our typical consumption of Carville and Matalin, the only thing we can put 100% faith in is their consistency as entertainers who only play themselves on TV.
In blowing out of proportion the latest scuttlebutt, or pimping their side’s two to three main talking points, or exacerbating whatever happens to be polarizing the opposition right then, Carville and Matalin — with an arsenal of characteristic grins, winks, nods and guffaws — maintain viability only to the extent they also continuously remind viewers that they — be they cheerleaders, fire-breathers or hate mongers that moment — are also just working it up.
So, to completely drop role and emotionally go to pieces on set is beyond jarring. To take their grief onto that stage is to emphasize — analogous to the most painful Lenny Bruce or Andy Kaufman “performance” — that who and what they are the rest of the time is completely vacuous. And even worse — which is probably where my pain comes in — they also expose the viewer as complicit in it.
(By the way: If you haven’t read the comments on Sunday’s Death In The Family post concerning Russert’s passing, I recommend every one of them.)
(image: Alex Wong/Reuters/Meet the Press/Handout. Washington. June 15, 2008)