Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood gave a memorable performance at the Republican convention last Thursday. But he was thoroughly upstaged by his co-star: an empty chair.
Eastwood spoke to the chair – and an imaginary Obama – for much of his speech. ‘Obama’ seemed in a cantankerous mood: he told Eastwood to shut up more than once and, it seems, asked him to tell Mitt Romney to perform sexual acts on himself.
Eastwood’s message (when not bantering with the chair) was that, with 23 million people unemployed, ‘possibly it may be time for someone else to come along and solve the problem’. Bizarrely, he suggested that lawyers shouldn’t be presidents. ‘It’s time for maybe a businessman.’ Perhaps he forgot that Romney has a law degree.
‘Politicians are employees of ours,’ he said. ‘When somebody does not do the job, we’ve got to let them go.’
The internet has exploded in response to the speech: #eastwooding has become a trending topic on Twitter, with thousands tweeting photos of themselves with (or berating) empty chairs. Even Obama himself got in on the action, tweeting a photo of himself in a chair with ‘This seat’s taken’.
Obama was unfussed by Eastwood’s speech; he says he’s still a fan. ‘He is a great actor, and an even better director.’ Asked if he was offended, he said, ‘One thing about being president or running for president – if you’re easily offended, you should probably choose another profession.’
It’s fair to say that while the Romney campaign was delighted to have the support and endorsement of such an icon (one who was a politician himself – Eastwood was mayor of Carmel, California for two years) – it didn’t quite work out as they’d hoped. But while the star’s performance met with mostly ridicule and amusement, it won’t hurt people’s perceptions of Romney and it’s unlikely to hurt him.
The big misstep of Eastwood’s chair act is the way it dominated coverage of the Republican convention and completely overshadowed Romney’s speech.
The most retweeted tweet of the campaign was Obama’s ‘This chair’s taken’, at 51,400 times. Romney’s top tweet of the convention was, ‘Our economy runs on freedom, not government. It’s time we put our faith back in the American people’, retweeted about about 4,800 times.
Left-wing comedian Bill Maher, a financial supporter of Obama, gave props to Eastwood for his performance. ‘As a performer, as a stand-up comedian for 30 years who knows how hard it is to get laughs, excuse me, he went up there … without a net, on a tightrope. There was no teleprompter. He did a bit with just an empty chair and killed,’ he said. ‘He committed to it, it was consistent and it worked.’
Roger Ebert, long-time film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, also defended Eastwood, in a fascinating column. ‘It takes brass balls to ad-lib for 12 minutes in front of 30 million people on live TV, just working with yourself and an empty chair.’
After watching the Eastwood speech several times, I believe that what we saw was a combination of two speeches: (1) Clint delivering what was intended as ironic wit, and (2) his half-hearted attempt to recycle some of the “talking points” we now know the GOP staff pumped him with backstage. Speech One was a miscalculation and Speech Two contained some of the right words floating in a muddled void.
At the end of the speech, Eastwood says, Okay, you want to make my day? in an offhand manner, teasing the crowd with his famous punchline. ‘I’ll start it, you finish it,’ he says. ‘Go ahead …’
And they chant, as one, MAKE MY DAY.
Clint Eastwood has made a lot of people’s day recently. But, just possibly, he hasn’t had the best couple of days himself. He’s not giving interviews and has said that the next interview he gives will be about his forthcoming film – that, and nothing else.
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