News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Who dat in the empty chair?

Clint Eastwood says he got the idea to address the empty chair for his endorsement of Romney at the last minute.

Eastwood has had a remarkable career.  He gained recognition in spaghetti westerns, expanded into the Dirty Harry roles, and then became a distinguished producer, director, and actor in his own films.  A jazz fan, he made "Bird." the story of Charlie Parker.  His performance at the Republican National Convention probably cannot be explained as a lapse into a racial stereotype.    Bob Newland at Decorum Forum attributes his performance to a bad case of doddering. 

I picked up his performance in the middle of a grueling trip during which my laptop malfunctioned and cut me off from the usual sources I would turn to when I ask WTF was that all about.  But in the performance I saw something that was sort of a standard routine during the civil rights era.  It is a stage technique made most famous by Bob Newhart's routines when he engages a presence who is unheard and unseen on stage, and whose persona is defined by the imagery and dialogue that the audience imagines. (Newhart has commented on Eastwood's routine.)

However, this technique was used widely by civil rights era comics to satirize the white attitudes toward blacks.  Richard Pryor, a genius at miming and imitating voices would also use this technique in his sketches to imply rather than portray things being said.  It was used particularly by comedians to satirize white racial attitudes as black characters responded to racial insults and attitudes that did not have to be stated because everyone knew what they were. The images that came to mind  were grounded in the facts of common experience.  

The problem with Eastwood's characterization is that what he tried to evoke was  based upon contrived and false party-line propaganda.  He claimed he was going to ask the imagined Obama about his broken promises.  The first semantic problem is in calling goals iterated in the campaign promises, some of which goals were achieved, others which were obstinately and openly obstructed by the Republican opposition.  Three of Obama's responses that Eastwood wanted to imply in the minds of the audience was Obama telling someone to go fuck themselves.  This was merely a throw-away cliche which in no way characterizes the attitude or speech of the circumspect Obama.  The attempt at criticism and satire was totally based upon party-line cant, not upon any actual situations that could be satirized.  It was merely an attempted  comic exercise.

But as a number of commentators have pointed out, the ill-imagined and impertinent little skit did capture the intellectual deficiency and disarray that drives the Republican party.  There are very legitimate criticisms that can  be made about Obama's performance and policies, but ironically they come from the dedicated left, not the petulant, often racist,  and incoherent right.

Like many people who find the current political dialogue to be the ravings of  deranged and deficient mentalities, I find the outcome of the election really doesn't matter much.  If Romney wins and the 30-year history of diminishing and disenfranchising the middle class is given national sanction,  the left will have to directly confront the political reality of the nation.  If Obama wins, the obstruction and obeisance to a corporate monarchy of the GOP will frustrate any goals he will work toward.  

A year ago, the anti-fascist movement puzzled the nation with the peaceful demonstrations of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Although the movement has been relatively quiet since a year ago, largely because of police suppression, it has not gone away.  Its activities during this campaign are largely conducted through the Internet and social media, but the forces are there to be martialed.  What its activism of last year taught it was that peaceful and non-violent demonstrations can be easily suppressed and are not effective in voicing concerns that will be heard for long and respectfully considered.  

The political future of the U.S. is unlikely to be decided in Congress and the state legislatures.  It is being relegated to the streets, where the side with the most fire power will probably win.  If there can be such a thing as a winner. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States