On the final night of the 2012 Republican Convention, just before MR spoke, (MR WHO?) 82-year-old actor/director icon Clint Eastwood walked on stage and delivered the only unscripted moment (actually 11 minutes) of the otherwise stultifying 3-day event – an imaginary conversation with an invisible President Obama, sitting in an empty chair. People have not stopped talking about it since, and Clint Eastwood has walked away with the biggest headlines and the most memorable clip of the 2012 Republican Convention.
News teams were shocked and embarrassed by Eastwood’s unscripted, improvised skit. They couldn’t believe that the convention officials would have been so stupid as to turn over such a significant chunk of time, immediately prior to the most important speech of MR’s life, to an obviously senile old actor who embarrassed everyone. Kerrik Lang of the Associated Press called the performance “kooky and long-winded.” Roger Ebert tweeted, “sad & pathetic.”
Two days later on my current fav, MSNBC liberal political commentary talk show, “Up with Chris Hayes,” the moderator, incredibly brilliant and articulate Mr. Chris Hayes himself, ranted that Eastwood’s performance was “disrespectful, vulgar, gross and insulting” – a criticism that might have been more deserved had it been levied against the Republican Platform or the ticket itself, rather than aiming it at 82-year-old creative artist Clint Eastwood. Almost nobody has noted that while the actor/director is indeed a fiscal conservative who clearly likes the idea of electing a businessman to the presidency, he also holds left-leaning attitudes regarding gay marriage and environmental protection.
On his HBO show Bill Maher also commented on Eastwood’s unscripted sketch, starting with the disclaimer that it makes him sad to see a talent he respects so much supporting the Republican campaign. But then Maher pointed out that as a stand-up comedian himself, he had to give Clint Eastwood major props for walking onto an empty stage and improvising a comedy routine with no script, no teleprompter, and nothing but a simple chair for support. “And he KILLED!” said Maher.
I heard Eastwood’s bit live, and Maher is right. “He KILLED!” That audience went crazy. They LOVED it. He held the total attention of not only the convention attendees, but the entire TV audience and every “journalist,” and my five dogs, in the palm of his hand, as he extended it to an empty chair where we all visualized President Obama squirming for 11 full minutes. Eastwood woke up the masses and thoroughly entertained and delighted them without a script or teleprompter, and the consummate actor/director accomplished all of this at the advanced age of 82, alone on stage.
Give me a break! The last time I can remember the nation’s full attention being riveted on anything for 11 whole minutes was on 9-11 when the towers fell. To listen to some of Eastwood’s critics, immediately following and ever since he brought the house down on Thursday night, you’d think he had just succeeded in delivering the next major terrorist attack on American soil – at the Republican Convention, no less, and on national TV! He is apparently guilty of an unforgivable sin: Free Speech.
The only crime Clint Eastwood committed to bring down this wholesale condemnation upon his poor old head was to violate the unwritten modern-day law that the major party conventions are required to be totally fake, boring and scripted. But Clint Eastwood and I can remember the days when conventions were real, fermented, exciting events, chock full of drama and surprises. I miss those old political conventions, and apparently Mr. Eastwood does too. There were smoke-filled back rooms, where unexpected deals were made. There were demonstrations, and reporters were strong-armed off the floor while on camera. Battles raged about platform content. And the votes were really consequential and suspenseful, because nobody knew how they would turn out. I’ll bet Clint remembers and misses those conventions like I do. So, he had the audacity to speak from his heart through the very gutsy and risky creative vehicle of an improvised solo comedy sketch. And “He KILLED!” Of course he did. He’s an 82-year-old master actor/director. He knows how to do this.
I hasten to add that I did NOT agree with very many of the messages in Mr. Eastwood’s creative theatrical performance. I disagreed with most of its content. But there were two exceptions. I couldn’t help laughing when he somehow managed to lead the entire Republican Convention audience into screaming approval for the idea of bringing the troops home from Afghanistan tomorrow! Talking to the invisible President Obama in that empty chair, Eastwood said, “I think you’ve mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home. You gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question. You know, he says ‘Why are you giving the date out now? (Applause) Why don’t you just bring them home tomorrow morning?!” The audience unwittingly rewarded this masterful manipulation with a raucous ovation of approval! Shouldn’t we give Mr. Eastwood some credit for putting the 2012 Republican Convention on record as supporting an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by spontaneous acclamation?
How could anybody dislike the way Eastwood ended his sketch? Speaking directly into the camera and to the audience he proclaimed, “We OWN this country! We OWN it! It’s not you owning it, and not politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours!…” Yes they are, Mr. Eastwood. Yes they are. Thank you for asserting the power of authentic creative expression over the stale, stilted, scripted restrictions of today’s conventions. Thank you for showing us how it’s done. You made my day! You inserted 11 minutes of real, authentic creative expression into an otherwise lifeless convention. I sincerely hope your example will encourage others to practice creative free speech too.
Now… turnabout is fair play, right? So I have a suggestion for Barack Obama’s upcoming nomination acceptance speech: Wouldn’t it be totally cool if President Obama walked out onto an empty stage, carrying a straight-back chair, and started talking to it as if Clint Eastwood were sitting there: “Oh!… Hello Clint… (applause) I didn’t see you there. You look a little pale. Are you okay?… Need some water or anything?…” Imagine how wild the response would be from the Democratic Convention audience! President Obama would have the rapt attention of the entire world as he answered Clint Eastwood’s charges, one by one, AND he’d KILL! Nobody improvises better than Barack Obama.
Sadly, we all know that the president’s handlers and the convention planners would never allow him to do such a thing without a painstakingly written script on a teleprompter. And of course, that would throw ice water on at least 50% of the impact. But we certainly cannot risk authentic creative expression of deeply held beliefs! That would be crazy. And anyone who would dare to risk such a real, unscripted form of creative communication at a political convention would have to be senile or crazy.
While writing the rough draft of this post for Two Old Liberals on the back of an envelope and 3 Post-It notes, I was listening to Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry moderating their Saturday morning liberal political commentary shows – my favs, as I admitted earlier. Both moderators, for whom I hold the highest respect and admiration, and their panels, continued to mock and condemn Mr. Eastwood’s improvised comedy sketch, creatively expressing his criticism of the president (with which we liberals disagree) to the wildly enthusiastic response of his audience. At the same time, they complained throughout their commentaries about the lack of truth and authenticity in the Republican Convention.
Come on, Chris and Melissa! You can’t have it both ways! Isn’t it the MESSAGE in Clint Eastwood’s creative performance that we object to, and NOT the METHOD? In fact, aren’t you insinuating that Eastwood is senile and that his comedy sketch was awkward and eccentric precisely because it was so effective in bringing down the house in support of his critical message about President Obama? Please tell me, oh revered liberal commentators and moderators, that you are NOT afraid of creative expression itself – just offended by the content of this sketch. There’s a distinction between content and process. Please acknowledge that. Don’t condemn all oil paintings, or the painters, just because you happen to see a masterfully done satirical portrait of someone you admire.
Just ask yourselves, Chris and Melissa, what you might want to say next weekend after the Democratic Convention, if a similar creative comedy sketch is offered on stage by an American actor icon. Let’s imagine, for example, that Betty White walks on stage and talks to an empty chair as if MR is sitting there. Let’s say her monologue is an irreverent, hilarious, risky expose of the hypocrisy, reversals and aristocratic paternalism of MR. Her performance brings down the house. The entire Democratic Convention audience goes wild, leaping to their feet and giving dear Betty a thunderous standing O. Immediately, Fox News labels Betty White a sad and senile old lady who has clearly embarrassed herself with this eccentric, awkward, disrespectful, vulgar, gross and insulting spectacle.
What would you say then, liberal critics of Clint Eastwood?… Oh… You say THAT could never happen at the Democratic Convention?… Exactly my point. Why not? Why couldn’t we allow an improvised comedy sketch on our stage? Are we really that afraid and uncomfortable with authentic, unscripted, brilliantly delivered creative expression? Are we that insecure?… that lacking in humor?… that wary of creativity?
Come to think of it… this idea of inviting National Treasure Actress Betty White to talk to an invisible MR in an empty chair at the Democratic Convention is not bad… not bad at all. She’d KILL! Let’s try it! What do you think, Betty?… Are you willing to KILL for President Obama?… Oh… You say you’re afraid the press would kill YOU after seeing what they have done to Clint?… I don’t blame you… Well, what if we provided two highly trained body guards and a white steed to see you through the ordeal? Would you agree to do it then?
Under these terms and conditions (hunks and horse) Betty says she’ll agree to talk to an empty chair at the Democratic National Convention next week. We’ll see you there, Betty!