Saturday, September 1, 2012

Eastwood's Empty Chair Is Filled With Meaning

Clint Eastwood has directed some great movies, but who knew he was a gifted, satirical performance artist?

On the last day of the Republican National Convention, he pretended to debate President Obama, but Obama was represented on stage by an empty chair.  This was a nearly perfect visual metaphor for the entire convention -- through their various lies and misrepresentations, the convention speakers were describing an Obama that does not exist.

The distortions and deceptions told during the convention provided much fodder for The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, bloggers, fact-checkers, and news outlets.  The most startling was perhaps when the website for Fox News, where Republicans are treated rather kindly, posted Sally Kohn's "Paul Ryan's Speech in 3 Words," in which she said the "speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech."

In "Republicans vs. straw men," writer Irin Carmon described the strange dilemma of a reporter engaging with people (speakers and convention delegates) who are opposed to positions no one holds, to policies that do not exist.

In the study of rhetoric, there is something called a "straw man" argument.  Thanks to Eastwood, I think we have a new name for this type of argument: "the empty chair."

At least this chair can talk back.
The "straw man" is an opponent of your own creation whom you argue with and easily defeat.  The straw man is your creation because you have taken your opponent's argument and misrepresented it into something your opponent has not said and does not believe.  You are no longer truly debating your opponent; you are debating an imaginary opponent.

It might as well be an empty chair.