The Day an Empty Chair Ruled the Internet

Empty Obama Chair, Clint Eastwood's arch-enemyBehold the face of America’s newest sensation. LOLcats, Kardashians, and the horrors of something calling itself “Honey Boo Boo” all took a back seat to the poor, defenseless chair that withstood a tongue-lashing from Academy Award Winner Clint Eastwood at the closing of the Republican National Convention, which in turn drew an awful lot of press to cover any number of foregone conclusions.

I refuse to watch the video on principle — the principle being, partisan politics don’t interest me. This keeps me shut out of a lot of online discussions and ensures no one will ever pay me a steady income to become a TV pundit. I’m fine with that, but it usually means I have to go slink off into a dark corner and find ways to entertain myself until politics go away.

My admittedly secondhand understanding of the situation, then, is that the 82-year-old director was invited to close the ceremony with no small amount of star power, somehow mistook the chair for President Barack Obama, and attempted to bully it until it cried. I’ve yet to confirm if anyone involved in the incident referred this peculiar condition to Dr. Oliver Sacks.

Maybe this merciless haranguing was the most hilarious improv set of the year. Maybe it was an unmitigated disaster, like the time Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosted the Oscars. Maybe I’ve misread and Obama was actually standing off-camera on the other side of the chair, or had been shrunk with Pym particles and was resting comfortably under the chair. All I know for sure is that this spirited but one-sided argument took over my Twitter feed Thursday night and effectively shut down all other topics and memes. On Facebook, the empty chair emerged from its humble beginnings in Nowheresville and became the talk of the town, superseding the usual daily barrage of Photoshop yuks and Zynga proclamations. This week, NASA launched a rocket bearing twin probes to study the Van Allen radiation belts (the real story here being: believe it or not, NASA is still in the launching business), but that link has now been kicked off all front pages in favor of headlines about verbally abused furniture.

Some people have joked about its unintentional symbolism. Others applaud the moment as Eastwood’s best comedy gig since the flicks he made with that annoying orangutan. Someone naturally registered “Invisible Obama” as a Twitter alias. Rest assured our nation’s crack Photoshop gag specialists rushed to fill the chair with repurposed images of Kermit the Frog, the Sad Keanu meme, and Lord knows what other variations I’ve missed. The Internet plans to milk this new, inanimate media personality for all it can, until the Chair gets greedy and begins demanding large paychecks to make forgettable cameos in terrible films.

Nothing I could write about anything right now could hold an audience’s attention a fraction as much as that now-legendary empty chair’s misadventure has. I’ll just shut up and let the video roll below for the truly, insatiably curious who missed this unique spectacle. I did watch a few seconds of it just to confirm that, of all the versions uploaded, the Wall Street Journal‘s version had the best screen resolution, but that’s as far as I went.

I salute you, empty chair. Enjoy your fifteen minutes, and try to be kind to us little people during your wild ride on the shaky wooden coaster of fly-by-night stardom. Remember, today’s celebrity is tomorrow’s Goodwill bargain.

62 responses

  1. I despair for the celebrity culture in politics. Ysually the vacuous celebrity endorsement is the realm of Obamaworld, I prayed the GOP would have the dignity to avoid it. Sadly, no…


  2. BARACK having spent years in office where the reality
    (he need never have been there) rather than protecting
    the right’s of americans BARACK but removed the few
    rights that still remaining / even ones right to a just trial
    BARACK removed it now the time to remove BARACK.

    Clint said everything needed be said in a few words in
    an few minutes that many have tried explain in speech
    or the written book. BARACK needs be removed from
    office the american people need to awake unto reality.


  3. Hilarious and insightful post about a truly bizarre incident. Thanks for mentioning the NASA launch. I confess that I was too preoccupied watching Colbert interview The Chair to read/watch any real news. It’s a good reminder that during the agonizing next two months leading up to the election, real news will actually continue to occur, whether or not we choose to take note of it.


    • To be honest, I owe many thanks to my son for making me aware of the NASA project. I’d completely missed it myself until he mentioned it the other day, in the middle of a sharp tirade about the news that’s easily provided to us versus the real news we sometimes have to work hard to discover…


  4. Supposedly, Mitt asked Clint if he would be interested several weeks ago after he had already thrown his endorsement to Romney. Who doesn’t like Clint? And to see him in his later years in “Gran Torino,” pure magic. He’s a talented actor and director. That being said, he should have stuck to a script like Obama and other actors do. I’ve known and worked with many octogenerians, and I can tell you that: a. They speak their mind, and b. They tend to be a bit forgetful. No surprise there.The surprise was the way the last night of the convention was scheduled. Clint should have been on earlier, and the film about Romney’s life should have come right before Romney took the stage. Painful? Yes. It’s always painful to watch someone you’re rooting for fall flat, just ask Obama everytime Biden speaks. Age bought Clint a ticket to forgivesville. Good post, and thanks for not taking sides.


    • My pleasure, and thanks very much for reading and responding. I remember all too well when my grandmother was in her 80s. Forgetfulness and candor certainly went hand-in-hand.

      I’d like to think Clint has plenty of good works still ahead. Just the same, it’s tough to remember sometimes that not every performer will age as seamlessly as George Burns or Betty White.


      • George Burns, yes. Betty White? That dirty old woman? Not my idea of aging with grace and wit. She’s let herself become a cruel stereotype and undermined anything useful she ever said or did. But that’s just her.

        Not every geezer is dimwitted. My gran is 85, and she can brain-whip the lot of you.

        It’s hip to ascribe Clint’s “bizarre” skit to his supposedly failing mind, because then there’s no need to give his opinions any thought. Color me un-hip, because I thought it was funny, once I saw it. Reminded me of the early work of Bob Newhart, in which he played one side of a telephone conversation. You never heard what the other guy was saying, but the comedy gold was in Newhart’s reaction.

        Next, you’ll tell me that Seinfeld’s TV show was the epitome of hilarity.

        And yes, thanks for not taking sides. I have had plenty of that already, and plan to spend the next two months, plus the endless, inane, mind-numbingly boring inauguration season, under the bed with my fingers in my ears.



        • Newhart! Ah, yes, now there is a class act. He came to Indy a few years ago and did some of his old stand-up routines. Hadn’t lost his touch. If Eastwood’s performance was anything like Newhart, I may have to relent and watch the clip after all.

          (For what it’s worth, I can take or leave Seinfeld (only saw a handful of episodes), but my wife thought was a complete dud, too.)


  5. Terrific post. I wish I could just laugh at this but Ugh..Just more of the same…ridiculous shots at the opposition. Conservatives and Liberals alike. Question for all voters: How much more of this insanity are we going to take? Time to vote for “the stellar businessman”? ,,, You’ve got to be kidding me…this is an insult to our intelligence. Somebody tell me how I’m supposed to swallow this bad tasting rhetoric. Make my day?…not even close.


    • The fact that both sides have found positive takeaways from this event to their benefit just confounds me to no end. One side says, “Look what Clint for us!” while the other side says, “Look what Clint did to them!” So…everybody wins? Neat trick, if it were true.


    • Why not try a businessman? My first choice would be a female comedian (Tina Fey) but if not her a businessman sounds refreshing. Haven’t lawyers kind of had their day?


  6. There were lines in his impromptu I absolutely loved. “YOU own this country.” Several others, too, were riveting.
    You can’t micromanage every detail, though in this day of millisecond news we’ve come to expect that. Some of his lines spoke bare, honest truth and I will never forget them.
    And I think that’s a great accomplishment.
    The use of the chair? One thing’s for sure, I will never forget the visual that accompanied the words.
    And I think that’s a great accomplisment, too.
    Alexandria Sage


  7. From a marketing, or endorsement point of view, Clint’s speach was pure brilliance. Funny, serious, great applause lines, A1 quality personality, entirely on message. Brilliant move, by the RNC and Clint himself.


  8. nice post R.A. It was an eventful convention….and Clint’s act stood out for me. Unfortunately, a lot of the media “pundits” ridiculed the tone of the act and ignored the depth of its content. The metaphorical message underlying Clint’s words were not only bipartisan but also universal. I am a pro-choice supporter of the right and found myself relating to the speech. Here is a post I wrote, analyzing the key aspects of Clint’s address. I think you might enjoy reading it and I look forward to your thoughts on it. cheers πŸ™‚


  9. Great post. This desperate attempt to embarrass President Barack Obama shows how afraid the Republican Party is. My prediction is a quick knockout: Romney falls faster than McCain. You heard it here, first. Congrats on the Freshly Pressed.


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  11. No wonder we want to go to Mars so bad; Perpetual peace of mind from the pony shows. Lets just hope NASA comes up with the technology to transport us “thinking” humans to another planet soon. Next thing we know our president will start talking to empty chairs as well.


  12. Very well-written and enjoyable post. Partisan politics make me want to wretch more than doddering old conservative and liberal white dudes trying to discuss birth control. I wish I were a political writer – such an extravagant buffet to choose from this year!


    • Too true. Any political blogger who’s staunchly committed to either side should have no shortage of writing inspiration for many months to come. I’m a little envious of them in that regard. (Only a little.)


  13. Great article! I love your writing style!

    While channel surfing, I accidentally caught the speech somewhere in the middle and saw Mr. Eastwood keep looking to the right and making comments. I missed the chair completely and at first take I thought, how sad to see an old and obviously forgetful man being used for his star appeal. I continued to watch, more out of curiosity about how bad off was Clint? Eventually I figured out that he was actually talking to an empty chair. I wonder whose idea it was to use that staging? I suspect Clint aka director Clint Eastwood.

    I have to say, having Clint do an endorsement was better than past Hollywood endorsements simply for the fact that Clint is also a politician and has been for many years. He was the Mayor of Carmel, California and also served several terms as vice commissioner for the California State Park and Recreation Commission under Governor’s Davis and Schwarzenegger.


    • Ohhh, yeah, I keep forgetting about his Carmel years. I wasn’t aware that he’d served in other offices in California, either. He’s even more of a multi-tasker than I thought. Maybe he was still exhausted from working on that upcoming baseball film?

      And thanks for the kinds words. πŸ™‚


  14. This was great to read.. Although I did not watch the Oscar winning performance of “The Chair” I learned enough here to know I did not miss anything.. Oh the perils and ploys of politics..
    Much enjoyed this and Congrats on being FP..well deserved!!!


  15. Regardless of the content of the speech, some speechwriter had an eye/nose/ear for what would go viral — and go viral, it did…

    Welcome to the new political landscape: Where “How many times will this be meme-ified?” is the central consideration…



    • I remember the good ol’ days when it was all about the soundbite. Back then, at least you were treated to an entire memorable sentence from the candidates — maybe even two sentences in a row if they spoiled you. Now soundbites have been replaced by memes. You don’t even need a complete thought, just a memorable image, or a pair of oddly matched words.

      I miss those complete sentences.


  16. Well Said.
    I did something out of character and actually responded to a post shaming both Clint Eastwood and those who cheered him and the Empty Chair. My comment: “I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president anyhow,because they’re arguing both sides of the issue.” ~Eastwood. πŸ™‚ Did he not realize Romney has a law degree, or did he simply not care? He took stabs at Romney, as well…but it seemed the R’s in the room largely failed to recognize that. I still don’t understand what reason, besides the Name/Fame factor, and his recent endorsement of Romney, prompted the party to invite him to speak.
    It was an interesting, if not ambivalent, improvisation. Eastwood is hardly representation for the GOP, he’s a libertarian, and has been all over the political board with his support. He’s pro gay marriage, ecology, and abortion..yet fiscally conservative…but then again, he’s not running for office this time around. (because I might vote Eastwood if he were). That said, the disrespect and dirty politics continue, on both sides of the aisle, and I strongly believe there’s a waking faction of citizens who are sick and tired of it. I know I am.


  17. Thanks to the fact that we go goo goo gaga over things of little importance than the ones that make a real difference. No wonder why TV networks can fill us up with mindless and trashy so called reality shows.


  18. Finally!!! Someone else who thinks the way I do! I was so confused when that empty chair first started showing up all over my Facebook wall. It didn’t make any sense to me, and it still doesn’t. I could care less about politics in general, and I will be so happy when the election is over just so tv commercials and my Facebook feed will return to normal. I have yet to watch the video you posted, and at this point, I probably won’t. I could honestly care less.


  19. Some people fail in understanding such words of Clint were not aimed at
    ( aimed the apt word as within his movies Clint let the gun do the talking ).

    Why did he not go into politics in early life ?. In doing so he could have
    become president. The answer he could not lie / cheat people as being

    the way of the political arena thus Hollywood’s benefit as the people’s in
    a much more honest way than ever done /via the corrupt political arena.

    The point being made Clint is a good soul / whom through many lives in
    living /each life he having tried his best when faced with circumstances
    that being bad yet one can’t change / where but doing the best one can.

    In speaking at Republican National Convention / Clint t’was not speaking
    as a Republican or a Democrat he was speaking as a human being and
    as a human being he was addressing every american also every human
    being in the world /reminding / that politicians are the servants of people.

    Not as having become where through decades of political corruption as
    govt 24/7 media brainwashing / politicians have reversed the situation it
    the people whom now been made the servants of politicians / politicians
    whom rather protect the people’s rights / they stripped them of all rights
    a political situation now so corrupted / politicians are bought as sold by
    whom own the wealth /politicians serving the wealthy to bring their own
    private agenda / leaving a dire situation where one’s vote but worthless.

    The bottom line Clint a good soul whom deserves our respect his words
    actions being in the most honourable intentions worthy of our applause.


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