The chair now has the floor

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Clint Eastwood opened his now-infamous speech at the Republican National Convention thusly:

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘What’s a movie tradesman doing out here?’”

For that brief moment on Aug. 30, the convention’s closing night, he had a handle on the situation. That’s exactly what many viewers were thinking. But Eastwood’s lengthy speech — characterized by even top Republican aides as “weird” — did little to justify his presence on that stage. All it managed to do, according to jubilant Democrats, was make the Republicans look like fools for not vetting their opening speaker’s talking points. It also turned a vacant chair into a symbol for the empty, absurd construct that American presidential elections have become. (Eastwood talked to a chair throughout his speech, pretending a petulant, pissed-off President Obama was seated on it.)

Twitter went, predictably, nuts. Memes for the Republican 2016 candidates (Clint Eastwood for President and A Chair for Vice-President) made the snarky rounds. But of all the memorable, if inscrutable, Clint-isms that emerged from the 12-minute ramble, perhaps his opening question should stay with us most vividly.

What was he doing there? Why should entertainers have a lion’s share of the political endorsement arena? 

Surely they’ve eaten up enough of our lives not only with the movies, perfumes and albums they’re shilling, but with their personal views both bizarre and mundane. We’re inundated with what stars want to tell us. They’ve become our under-qualified travel guides to living in the modern world. 

Entire publications are devoted to letting us know exactly where Hollywoodites think we should eat in London and why we should buy vegan lipstick. From lowbrow magazines that use euphemisms like “assets” to talk about stars’ bums to highbrow magazines like Vogue that run interviews with both starlets and actual political figures (usually giving precedence to the starlets), the insinuation is that we should take all our cues from entertainers. 

Perhaps we should thank Eastwood for reminding us just how nonsensical it is to place entertainers on every stage that’s available. Some stages are not meant for them. 

Perhaps we should focus on the irony of Eastwood deriding the President’s training as an attorney, as if a thorough knowledge of the law were a laughable asset in the face of Eastwood’s formidable knowledge of cameras and red carpets.

Perhaps we should wonder at Eastwood styling himself as a “tradesman.” Electricians are tradesmen. Drywallers are tradesmen. I’m pretty sure even the guys who wheelbarrow the broken bits of rebar around a construction site are tradesmen, or at least are closer to the term than an actor whose net worth is estimated at nearly $400 million. 

But 12.8 million Americans are unemployed, after all (not 23 million, the figure Eastwood used in his speech). I suppose there are a few unemployed tradesmen in the mix, and Eastwood is just trying to represent their interests. Trouble is, cinema’s favourite gunslinger has overshot the mark. 

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