Sunday, September 2, 2012

White Riot: Clint Eastwood, an Invisible Man, and the final images of the RNC

It is hard, very hard, to refrain from all the obvious jokes about the Republican National Convention of 2012.  Just when the commentators had exhausted themselves -- on screen, blog, and tweet -- in comes Bronco Billy talking to a chair. After all the lying and pandering, something that actually mattered unfolded on inside the "We Built It (with half the money coming from government) Arena" in Tampa.
The most popular tweet was Jamell Bouie's  "This is a perfect representation of the campaign: an old white man arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama." There have been many variations on this, you can get a ton of memes with hilarious remarks concerning the image of Eastwood and the chair. (My favorite is "Every which way but lucid.")

Of the octogenarian actor and director I have little to say.   What disturbs me is the image and the underlying discourses of race politics that are behind Eastwood's "debate."   I was thinking about Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man before coming across Craig Detweiler's post on the matter.  And when his political opponents see Barack Obama, they don't see him: they see him as a Kenyan Muslim Socialist etc.  When others who took to the podium lied about the President's policies, they were constructing an image of a man who does not exist.   (This of course is nothing new in politics: for some campaigns, that's the very point.  Think the notorious anti-Goldwater ad of the Johnson campaign.) 

In thinking about Clint and the chair, I also thought of someone else who didn't get to sit in a chair and explain himself: Rodney King.   In the state trial against the four officers charged with beating the crap out of him, Rodney King did not take the stand to explain any of his actions on the night he was finally pulled over (after leading the cops on a high-speed chase, driving while intoxicated).   Only the officers who beat him and their lawyers explained what he was doing, and how all they did was react to his movements.  In that sense, Rodney King beat himself up. At one point, an argument was put forth that in beating King up, the cops may have saved his life

Welcome to the postmodern world. 

Some on the right have suggested that it is lame to accuse Eastwood of racism, or that those who are crying racism now are just part of the media elite, and the "regular" Americans liked Eastwood's rambling.  Of course, his speech took place at a convention where a couple of yahoos attacked a Black CNN camerawoman and said obviously racist things, so in a sense, sure: Clint's not a racist! 

It's not about the explicit racism that does still exist in America, though yes, it frightens me.  It's about the assumptions we all make about social norms.   It's about a party that has made no bones about changing voting rules to minimize participation of people of color.   It's about a party that has successfully demonized Black people since 1968, and still gets majority votes.

All that said, Eastwood's speech to the Invisible Man does highlight something very real:  the last stand of a generation of white males to hold on to cultural power. (Their money, too? Maybe.)  Fact is, the Republican party is going to have to appeal to non-white, non-heterosexual, non-males if it is going to survive this century.  And they can't make them invisible, no matter how hard they try.

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