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August 31, 2012

The Real Romney Keynote: Eastwood Renders the Invisible Invisible

Eastwood RNC Obama empty chair 2

How do you make the candidate you’re endorsing invisible? You give life and breadth to an Imaginary Obama on stage at the Republican National Convention. “Mystery guest” Clint Eastwood, scratching his head and ad-libbing a talk to an empty chair as if it were Obama managed, in less than 10 minutes, to wipe Romney to an insubstantial shade.

Eastwood appeared to blame Bush for millions of unemployed, gave Obama credit for keeping Gitmo open and for changing his mind about trying terrorists in “downtown New York City.” Osama bin Laden wasn’t mentioned, but Eastwood noted that Obama was against war he ended in Iraq and felt Afghanistan was a war worth fighting and escalating while Romney wanted to bring them home “tomorrow morning.” Misstating Romney’s position on Afghanistan wasn’t the least of it: Eastwood didn’t think attorneys should be president (Romney has a Harvard Law degree) and gave an overwhelmingly ambivalent endorsement for Romney (“possibly” and “maybe” time to elect Romney).

What may have gone unnoticed in watching the Hollywood icon go back and forth with furniture last night is that Eastwood did what nearly every headlining star of the RNC convention had done so far: speak to positions and a person that may not be the real Romney, don’t necessarily represent him or his views, and offered the candidate little more than ambivalent support.  Apropos to Eastwood and the Josey Wales graphic that opened his presentation, it was the Wild West: every speaker for themselves.

Eastwood RNC Obama empty chair 3

People can fault Eastwood for his age or Romney’s handlers over vetting, but marshaling his still formidable creative and directorial instincts, Clint merely (if unintentionally) blew the visual lid off the charade. As of this morning, there should be a new verb in Websters. Eastwooding: to render the invisible invisible.

– Karen Hull and Michael Shaw


  • Ra

    To turn obama into the new, black ‘invisible man.’

  • LanceThruster

    They said he ad-libbed the whole thing but as I recall, he was just plagiarizing the Simpsons.

    Kang: My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball; but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

  • Cactus

    We can excuse, I suppose, a room full of Mormons and
    teapartiers from the white states for not knowing about “The Invisible Man.”
    However, Eastwood surely does. It is unforgivable for him to use the meme to do
    a skit about our first black president. And getting sassy, verging on the
    insulting, about it. I find it difficult to see it as anything but racist.
    That a ‘beloved’ 82-year old icon did it, only makes it worse.

  • irishdave3

    Two words of advice,Clint…Longer naps…

  • Thomas Gokey

    Who was the mystery guest? Was it Eastwood or Obama?

    It’s hard not to think of the whole surreal speech without thinking of Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” It’s remarkable that the first black president is conjured in such a way at the RNC as an invisible man to be put in his place.

    Eastwood walked out on the stage in front of his gunslinger image. The movies that made Eastwood a start were well before my time. In fact I have never seen “Dirty Harry.” Today, while reading about his speech, I came across the YouTube clip of his famous “do you feel lucky punk.”
    What immediately struck me was that the opening line of his speech was a direct quote from this scene. “Now I know what you’re thinking…”

    I watched the full scene and I was stunned by it. In the scene we there is a wounded black man who is completely at the mercy of Eastwood’s character Dirty Harry. Yet even so, Dirty Harry turns the scene into a standoff intentionally standing just far enough away from the gun on the ground, which is turned the wrong way to be really useful in a quick draw, to try to tempt the “punk” into making a move. What I see in this, coming at it with fresh eyes, is a display of total mastery over a defeated adversary. Dirty Harry taunts him, calls him a punk, which originally meant something closer to what the word faggot means to us now. The wounded black man wisely doesn’t make a move. Harry wins, but afterward, when the wounded man wants to know what his fate would have been (did Harry have any bullets left at all or was it a total bluff?) Harry goes back to, there is no other word for it, terrorize and humiliate an already defeated foe.

    At the end of Eastwood’s speech, he lead the crowd in another of his famous line’s “go ahead, make my day.” Of course I’m familiar with this line but I had never seen the movie it was from so I sought out the clip:

    Again I amazed by the racial element of the scene. A lone badass white guy fending off a bunch of young black men who he address as “boys” killing most of them and then, once again, ending up in a standoff where a battle of wills takes place. Imagine if Eastwoods character had just quickly shot and killed this foe. That is a certain kind of victory, but by intimidating him into giving up he exerts real mastery. He didn’t just win the standoff, he was in control.

    I don’t want to make it look like I’m reading too much into it, but it is hard for me to re-watch this speech and not see it in light of these scenes. Newt Gingrich’s entire campaign was premised on the idea that he would tell Obama off in the debates. Newt seemed to care more about winning those debates than winning the actual election. There was a real desire from the Republican base not just to beat Obama politically, but to some how beat him on a more personal level. That’s what I think Eastwood offered them. He was in complete control of the President of the United States, was able to put words into his mouth, tell the President to stop talking, discipline him, put him in his place and ultimately attempt to humiliate him.

    The one really coherent and effective line of the speech was when he said “When someone does not do the job we’ve got to let ‘em go.” The crowd started chanting “let him go! let him go!” at which point Eastwood drew his finger across his throat miming a throat slicing:

    Tell me I’m not stretching to see all of this. I studied a little bit of field based anthropology in school where I got the chance to live for a semester with a tribe in New Guinea. One of the things that I found so fascinating about this tribe and the neighboring tribes was that they were constantly at war with each other, but their war was more like theater than actual war. Imagine a Civil War re-enactment in which, every year, one or two people got killed and that’s more or less what this tribes warfare was like.

    I think anthropologists would have a field day with Eastwood’s speech. Tell me I’m not making this up, but did Eastwood, one of our most celebrated actors in the country, not just symbolically enact the mastery over, humiliation of–and lynching of–the first black president? Can you imagine Eastwood making this speech about Bill Clinton or George W. Bush?

    I re-read the opening lines of Ellison: “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplashms….When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, everything and anything except me.”

    Did not Eastwood just conjure Obama as “spook,” only to play the badass hero who can control and banish him?

    Honestly, I think this speech will be very important for anthropologists and future historians. Republican’s can’t just come out and be openly racist (or at the very least they’ll get kicked out when they throw peanuts to “feed the animals,” or be chastised by the responsible adults in the room when they shout down someone from Puerto Rico with chants of “USA, USA). Instead they have to symbolically enact their racism.

    In a way I think Eastwood’s speech is brilliant. He created, probably unintentionally, a ritual. If it was “surreal” that is only because rituals are structured like dreams.

    It was by far the most interesting thing of the convention.

    • Michael Shaw

      I hadn’t thought much about the dimension of the invisible black man, but it definitely makes me acutely aware of how hard the GOP worked to build a rainbow on stage the rest of the time.

    • Bill Wolfe

      I had exactly the same thoughts and impressions of the Eastwooding

    • BooksAlive

      Jonathan Moreno, a professor and son of the psychiatrist J. L. Moreno, chided Eastwood for not taking a seat in the chair. The technique, psychodrama, was developed by his father “nearly 100 years ago.” After reading the your analysis, the actor’s “missed opportunity for therapeutic insight” is all the more meaningful.

  • kidzmom1

    After some thought about the incident, I think Eastwood was punking the GOP. He is on record not giving a fvck who marries who and I believe supports a woman’s right to personal decisions. I think he went on the show and played the role that HE – and many more – see the GOP occupying these days: angry old white guy arguing with an imaginary Obama.

    Mitt who?

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