Don’t Shoot The Cowboy
In defense of Clint Eastwood.
The great actor and director was reprimanded by the vast majority of commentators and Internet users – even among Republicans – for his prime-time performance on Thursday night at the Republican convention in which he conversed with an imaginary Barack Obama seated on an empty stool:
Clint Eastwood was invited by Mitt Romney himself to speak at the Convention and the general content of his “speech” was coordinated with the communications team of the Republican candidate. However, the conversation with the empty stool – which Eastwood requested from the organizers at the last moment without explaining the reason for his request – was the actor’s idea. Team Romney trusted Eastwood so much that they asked him neither to submit a written version of his speech for validation nor to rehearse his performance. On stage, Eastwood improvised, did not respect the time allotted to him – he spoke more than eleven minutes instead of five -, and ignored the light signals indicating that his time was up.
Even if some criticisms of Eastwood’s discourse were aggressive, partisan and contemptuous, many were humorous. Among them, let’s mention the creation of an “Invisible Obama” account on Twitter (see below) which already has over 60,000 subscribers and the invention of a new meme, Eastwooding, which involves talking to an empty chair. Obama’s campaign also gave a funny response to Eastwood: They posted a message on Twitter indicating that the President’s seat was already taken (see below).
One of the most biting comments on Eastwood’s performance was made by Obama’s spokesperson Lis Smith: “Clint Eastwood’s speech tonight brought new meaning to the good, the bad and the ugly … but mostly just the bad and the ugly.”
Still, I would like to take Clint Eastwood’s defense in a totally subjective way:
- Eastwood is an artist, not a politician. Artists take risks. Taking risks is even what defines the greatest artists. An artist who takes no risk is reduced to mediocrity. The best example that comes to my mind is Zach Galifianakis who was great in “The Hangover” but now seems to always play the same role – in various characters – as demonstrated by his last performance in “The Campaign.” He is capable of doing much better but he takes fewer artistic risks. Eastwood took a huge risk with his ad-lib: The risk of tarnishing his reputation during a performance seen by tens of millions of people that would remain on his resume – and in his obituary – if he missed the boat. Certainly, it would have been easier and less risky for Eastwood to read a speech written by someone else, one of these speeches loaded with platitudes and unfunny jokes that we see so many actors deliver with more or less conviction during movie ceremonies (Academy Awards, Cannes Film Festival…). But it would have had no interest. At least, Clint Eastwood tried to leave the beaten track and, despite his age (82 years), delivered a performance that I found funny even if it was flawed in form (lack of fluidity, disrespect vis-à-vis the presidential office…) and substance (factual errors, contradictory arguments with Romney’s messaging…).
- To evaluate his performance, we should compare Clint Eastwood’s discourse with those of the other speakers at the Republican convention in Tampa. With few exceptions (Condoleezza Rice and Mia Love in particular), the speeches of the leaders of the Republican Party were characterized by political emptiness and/or outright lies. In this regard, Condoleezza Rice’s speech really stood out both in form – it was written using correctly-structured sentences and elaborate vocabulary – and substance – it was IMHO the most presidential speech delivered during the convention. As for the young Mia Love, she has, in addition to a predestined name, a passion and a talent that portend a bright future for herself and for the Republicans if the Party gives her a prominent role. Otherwise, if we consider the Republican ticket, Mitt Romney delivered an almost contentless speech – but his purpose was mainly to correct the perception of Americans towards him as an individual – and the reinvention of the facts in Paul Ryan’s speech was shameless, especially on deficit reduction, Medicare, the U.S. credit rating and the closing of a General Motors plant in his hometown. By the way, the growing practice of dishonesty is not limited, far from it, to Republicans. The supposed virtuous Obama also indulges in political smear more often than not. Republicans and Democrats are in effect betting that the media are both so discredited and radicalized that lying has become a profitable political tactic. That’s why we should rather focus on asking more from those so-called statesmen rather than blaming an artist for pleasing the wrong audience: Clint Eastwood delighted Republicans gathered in Tampa, forgetting that it is the talking heads and Internet opinion makers who would dictate the posterity of his performance.
Ultimately, the most negative consequence of Clint Eastwood’s ad-lib in terms of communications lies in the fact that it significantly diverted the attention of the most important speech of Mitt Romney’s life.
The next Clint Eastwood movie comes out on September 21 in the U.S. Mitt Romney has two more weeks to find a way to ruin its launch. 🙂