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David Arquette? The subtle art of the C-SPAN breakup

It's like the Cole Porter song. "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it." It, in this case, is having an uncomfortable public breakup.

It's a modern art form. "At the end of dinner it used to be that the men would retire into the billiard room and the women would go into the parlor. Men and women no longer separate after dinner, however," P.J. O'Rourke wrote. "They now separate after twenty years of apparently happy marriage."

Last week, David Arquette and Courteney Cox crashed and burned. The American public let out the breath it had been collectively holding since their wedding eleven years earlier. So did Christina Aguilera and Jordan Bratman. The American public let out the total indifference to anything that happens to Christina Aguilera or Jordan Bratman that it had been collectively holding since their wedding almost five years ago.

Everything's breaking up, like a bad phone connection. I once had the experience of breaking up with someone over a bad phone connection, and it was the worst of all possible worlds. "I can't hear you!" I kept saying. "What?" he would say. "You're breaking up on me." "Yes!" I responded. It's not an experience I'd recommend. As a consequence of misunderstandings incurred in that phone call, it is entirely possible we're still dating.

And in case we needed proof of a trend, it's finally penetrated that last bastion of the utterly dull and civilized: C-SPAN.


The video has gone viral -- two "rising young conservatives" at a debating to promote "Proud to Be Right," the new book edited by Jonah Goldberg, when Todd Seavey, the male half of the former couple, suddenly begins "relitigating the past."

At first, the discussion is civil. The woman, in a conservative red sweater with buttons on the shoulders, talks about her philosophy. The man sits next to her, with a buzzed haircut and the kind of raw physical appeal generally reserved for grapefruits that have been left out in the rain. The discussion they're having is almost unrecognizable to the uninitiated as conversation. It sounds as though someone is trying to make reservations at a restaurant named after a series of conservative thinkers. "Burkian philosophy, paging party of the right," I swear I heard someone saying at one point. As someone who usually views C-SPAN as an inexpensive, store-brand version of Lunesta, this is the part where I get comfortable, settle down, and prepare for a long winter's nap.

But then -- wham!

Suddenly, from unrecognizable ranting about conservative political ethics, or something -- Todd Seavey was speaking a language we all understood. He came plunging down from the rarefied empyrean of his peak in Darien to walk among us. Take away his vocabulary and his political beliefs, throw on a beard, and suddenly, there's David Arquette, bitterly ranting and oversharing about relationships past.

But I guess this does finally answer the question: if you denounce Helen Rittelmeyer for three minutes, but it's on C-SPAN, does it make a sound?

Yes. And suddenly, C-SPAN went from being the channel of Things We Should Care About to the channel of Things We Do Care About. For what it is, Todd's C-SPAN diatribe is scathing! He gets going. He impugns her character in a two-minute intellectual rant! He uses words like "creepy" and "sadomasochistic," and at one point accuses her of "brutal" "gamesmanship!" The diatribe begins with his admission that "I probably should confess that Helen and I dated for two years... there are probably some people in this room who also dated Helen during those two years, given how tumultuous things got." He goes on to insist that "the party of the right" would "play matchmaker and set up a couple and then seduce the man away to play with his mind and hurt the woman" "Is this going on C-SPAN?" Rittelmeyer interrupts to ask.

Yes! This has all been preserved for posterity-- on C-SPAN's Book TV! That's like denouncing your ex-girlfriend during a recording for the white noise that comes with certain alarm clocks. It's like composing a passive aggressive sonata at her. This is somewhere on the aggression scale below writing a memoir that portrays her unflatteringly and above commissioning a statue of her by someone you know is bad at sculpting. The most excitement that's happened on this program before this was when David McCullough momentarily confused federalism with anti-federalism, and that was back in 1996. And now, look at this!

Talk about nerdy revenges.

In this scenario, I suspect Mr. Seavey is somewhat overstating the case, given that his website consists of several 2500+-word diatribes about how, if you don't want to meet up with the "fella" you've agreed to go out with, don't STRING HIM ALONG LIKE THE HARLOT YOU ARE. It also includes a questionnaire, with questions such as "5. Is your IQ, if it has been tested, significantly above average (average being approximately 100)? If so, we may be able to build a romantic relationship." Are women actually lining up outside the house of this 180-pound Brown alum so that he has to weed them out in this way? ("Sane chicks are hot," Mr. Seavey notes at one point, I guess proving the old adage that opposites attract.) I wouldn't date him with a ten-foot pole, or whatever the expression is! In the comments section, he notes: "I mentioned my opposition to feminism in an earlier post called "Brief Statement of Principles," which is now also posted as one of the Permanent Things in my right margin, as is my half-joking Personal Ad -- something you should read instead of the current post if you happen to be a feminist who might be willing to date me but will cease to be willing if you read my denunciation of feminism." I would love to see someone having this problem. "Wow," she thinks, "this guy sounds like a real shining wit, as Rev. Spooner would say! I would date him, but let me see what he thinks about feminism."

This compares quite easily to David Arquette -- it has all the hallmarks of the classic post-post-connubial-bliss confessional! She was tired of being his mother! They may or may not have seen other people!

It was as though someone had run David Arquette's semi-lucid Howard Stern rant through Google Translate, set on "C-SPAN-ese."

And that's what makes it so riveting. Messy breakups? They're no longer the sole provenance of celebs or faux-lebs, or whatever they're calling Levi and Bristol these days. It even happens to Bright Young Conservative Things, on C-SPAN! They're just like you and me.

By Alexandra Petri  | October 19, 2010; 9:50 AM ET
Categories:  Petri, Reality? Television, That's awkward  | Tags:  CSPAN, breakups  
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