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September 21, 2012

F-ing With Your Mind: What Makes the Austin “Chair Lynching” so Brilliantly Hateful

I posted this on the Bag’s Facebook page yesterday not knowing how much the discussion and disturbance surrounding it would grow. As not just an analyst of visual politics but having done my doctoral dissertation on the psychological properties of effective metaphors, I wanted to explain in a simple way why this display is as manipulative as any other I’ve ever seen:

What makes this picture so insidious is how brilliantly novel and subliminal it is, baiting you to first and instantaneously call up your own mental image of the Eastwood performance, then immediately editing it together in your mind with a scene or a sense impression from your personal storehouse of lynching imagery,  and then “deeply getting” the result because you were invited unaware, in a millisecond, to not just conjure the components but to tailor-and-stitch the result on your own. Finally, bypassing reason for the gut, and doing so before there is any possible filter you can apply, the sickness is that you can’t help but finish off the compilation — you being the one (all these dots connecting like quick fire in your mind’s eye) to add-in Obama there. Someone could spent a whole life creating images of hate and never come up with something as manipulative or timely.

Backstory and photo via Burnt Orange Report -

  • LanceThruster

    Still, if one is looking to use the imagery of lynching, is a hangman’s noose that hard to tie?

    • Stan B.

      Exactly! Far from brilliant- the guy couldn’t even follow through on his own piece de resistance! Like the vast majority of racial “jokes,” they serve more to expose the ignorance of the person who creates or repeates it.

    • Michael Shaw

      Well, in this case, I think it’s more powerful without the noose. To make more of the suggestion external is to remove some of the power of having/making you deduce (and mentally visualize) it for yourself.

  • black_dog_barking

    Yet another visual pun. Something in the air?

    This is a lazy implementation of the idea. The chair as pictured could just as easily be an old tire, a poor man’s backyard swing. For starters, there is such a thing as a hangman’s knot but not here.

    To get the chair-Obama-KKK necktie party connection solidly into the viewer’s mind the artist could have mutilated a couple of the chair’s limbs, perhaps burnt some parts of it as well to pay homage to the genre. Maybe cut out part of the seat.

    Having an idea is only 2% of the process in Alva Edison’s formulation. The other 98% is the hard part, perspiration.

  • Enoch Root

    It’s a 9/10 on the troll-o-meter. I say 9 because the chair needs to be more similar to the one Eastwood argued with. If it had a hangman’s knot, it would be too obvious and that would lower its score on the troll-o-meter (though not on the hate-o-meter, which is a totally different metric).

    What amuses me, however, is imagining two Secret Service agents at the door trying to ask the guy why he hung a chair from a tree in his yard without implying that he’s a racist.

  • Scarabus

    I was interested in the effect of the canted composition, so I created the attached composite, original on the left and straightened on the right.

    (Strange fruit indeed.)

  • maveet

    What about the lettering on the underside? Looks like BO to me.

  • Elaine

    Just curious…did this site ever do an “in-depth analysis” on this photo?

    • Michael Shaw

      No, but we clearly remember it, though. Not sure there was all that much depth to go into though. Seems somebody just reversed the roles.

    • Michael Shaw

      Not to condone the other act, but I think it’s difficult to draw that direct a comparison. One difference, for example, is that the other photo had a McCain figure sitting on the roof making the context much more personal and specific to the political and personality dynamic between the candidate and his running mate. Certainly, you can look at that scene also as being heinously misogynistic. That is only one aspect of a more contending set of meanings, however (whereas this lynching seen is “largely uncomplicated” in what it implies). A large part of the power dynamic between Palin and McCain, by the way, was that Palin (going rogue) was really manipulating/”hangng” McCain. Given how much power Palin was exercising in a role that IS subordinate from a political standpoint, the scene largely expresses how the otherwise helpless McCain surely had bad thoughts toward her — one’s that he wasn’t able to vent at all. Again, I’m not condoning the other scene or saying that it isn’t disgusting and parallel in many ways. The point of my analysis, however, is to emphasize how pure and unique the Austin image is in inducing citizens to supply and compose all the pieces together from next-to-nothing.

  • robert e
  • Lenox Napier

    That’s just plain ‘nasty’. Powerful and ugly. It really kicks you in the gut.

  • Pingback: Links 23/11/2012 | The website of Jackson James Wood

  • Dominique Storni

    I am SOOOOOO sick of this shit. People, get a grip!

  • Bugboy

    When I first saw this, I had a hard time deciding if it was satire or not. Just like Eastwood’s “skit”.

    I’m actually still not sure about either…

  • Michael Kelly

    I saw the coverage on this when it happened a while back. I say shame on every media outlet that referred to this as a “white man LYNCHING a chair from a tree in his yard”. The word LYNCH was inciting and race bating from the start. Why not say it was hanging from a tree. There was no noose, which would clearly have been a metaphor or statement. But as stated in the comments below, THE ABSENSE OF THE NOOSE IS SO MUCH MORE POWERFUL SO YOU OBSERVE IT YOURSELF. To that I say BULLSH!Ti The media, including this JACKHOLE, uses provocative language to paint that image in your mind: BRILLIANTLY HATEFUL? If this guy hated the black race, then why not stand by the lynching and tell his side of it to God and every camera that poured onto his streets in the days and weeks following the story? There are two types of racists in this world: cowards hiding under a white cloaks meeting in secret, and the extreme, ever vigilant in their hate, screaming it with venom every chance they get. Now which role does this old man fit in? He got everyone’s attention (or Burnt Orange got the attention) and then claimed not to be racist. I would doubt he has a Swastika tattooed across his chest then. Yet, he hung a chair in his yard…in front of his own home…where he lives. What Klan member “lynches” a chair in front of his own house? That would be like burning a cross next to your mailbox. It just doesn’t happen. So does any of this make sense? Maybe, just maybe, the guy was practicing his right for free speech and joined in with the nation on displaying the empty chair in front of their house – as millions did. Unfortunately, he is the typical “get off my lawn” kind of old man that didn’t want to damage his well-manicured lawn so he hung it from the tree. Maybe poor judgment on his part, but the worst judgment comes from those who make a decision on this guy without UNDERSTANDING the situation at all. By the way, he took the chair down once he realized everyone was taking it the wrong way…clearly not the brilliant example of hatred performed by a political satirist. Maybe white racists are getting harder and harder to find. Hell, the media is having to move on to white Hispanics now. Why not find a new dead horse to beat?

  • Stan B.

    Hear what you’re saying- perhaps. But the empty chair already serves to do just that… this almost looks like it could be some accidental, alcohol fueled, college party/stunt remain.

  • bks

    It may be racist but I think it’s great art.


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