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Floating Like a (Meta)Butterfly

If MTV’s Celebrity Death Match were brought back,* here’s how the tilt between Jon Stewart and Tucker Carlson would go:

Carlson, by dint of his superior nastiness and single-mindedness, gets hold of Stewart and seemingly strangles the life out of him –¬† but then the audience descries a wavering, astral being slowing descending over the oblivious Carlson. With ironic detachment, Meta Stewart reaches over Carlson’s head and pulls off his bowtie, opening a gaping hole in Carlson’s neck and causing his life force to escape (accompanied by unearthly screams, of course).

(*BTW, if you still pine for the days when MTV ran videos, I’m here to tell you that they were not as good as you remember. One word: Kajagoogoo. (Not Lady Gaga.) Through some horrible warp in the space-time continuum, they have apparently reunited.)

This imaginary joust is but barely removed from the real thing. In response to Stewart’s by-now famous flaying of CNBC blatherer Jim Cramer, the remnants of Tucker Carlson lashed into Stewart, labeling him a partisan hack and, succumbing to the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, (loosely, “since one event followed another, the second event must have been caused by the first”) accused the comedian of attacking Cramer only because¬† CNBC had criticized Obama’s budget. His anger barely under control, Carlson expanded his criticism, calling Stewart “sanctimonious” and saying that it was only a matter of time before he became “unfunny.”

But the problem for Carlson and for all of Stewart’s defeated adversaries is that he is funny, and in a very smart way. Can you watch the endless news cycle the same way after seeing The Daily Show’s withering cut-and-paste of countless talking heads, all parroting the same pablum? The media empire stands stripped, and Stewart’s meta-take on the whole shebang is ascendant.

When it comes to Carlson, the image of nakedness is closer to literal, because Stewart stripped him of his faux gravitas some time ago. Watch and listen to this video (from 2004); note how the bow tie stands in for what’s wrong with Carlson (et al.). Stewart might as well as torn it from his neck —¬† except that he didn’t need to.

Today, Carlson is at the margin and Stewart at the center: not only or even mostly because Stewart’s politics are Zeitgeist-ier than Carlson’s, but because of Stewart’s ability to tack between the wide-angle lens of ironic (and often hilarious) observation and the occasionally serious attack. He probably can’t do the attack stuff too often, but so far his instincts have been spot-on. And this infuriates people like Carlson; especially Carlson, who, as the following clip shows, isn’t even allowed to wear his bow tie any more. (Would you?)

Well, at least Carlson is willing to take on the sacred cow, as he self-congratulatorily (what an adverb!) notes. Too bad he’s the worst messenger for it, what with being angry at losing his bowtie, and all….

  1. Brent
    March 27th, 2009 at 15:02 | #1

    I read a pretty funny analysis someplace that related how Stewart hung around CNN after that appearance trying to actually engage Tucker and others about his points, but Tucker just didn’t get it and kept thinking “why won’t Stewart leave?” Empty suit.

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