As anyone knows who’s ever tried to make an idea or a piece of content go viral, it’s almost impossible to manufacture the conditions for the perfect cultural storm. There’s a special magic required for the organized chaos that erupts when a single moment gives voice to a gathering undercurrent of social consensus. And last night at the RNC, Clint Eastwood had that special magic. Just probably not in the way that the Romney campaign had anticipated.
Surprise guest Eastwood was reportedly given three minutes to speak, but spent the better part of fifteen minutes of prime-time coverage ranting at an empty chair that was supposed to be an invisible President Obama. Pain was visible on the faces of candidate and campaign operatives alike as it became clear that these confused ravings of the famous octogenarian were going to be the stand-out performance from an otherwise carefully orchestrated week.
And that it is. Within moments of Eastwood’s start, @InvisibleObama had a Twitter account with a picture of an empty chair. By the end of the speech, the chair had almost 17,000 followers. It now has 48,000.
#Eastwooding is obviously headed for a new definition in the urban dictionary: taking out frustration on in animate objects.
Celebs and commoners alike have been posting pictures of empty chairs from all over the country claiming to have had encounters with the Invisible President.
Even the president got in the fun when his Twitter account posted a picture of the back of the president sitting in his chair, with the tag line “This seat’s taken.”
But why this moment? Why not one of the other surreal and enraging examples that daily flood our airwaves and inboxes?
In my opinion, the most succinct and spot-on insight came from a Jamelle Bouie tweet, “”This is a perfect representation of the campaign: an old white man arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama.”
In an electoral climate where candidate can lie without conscience and fact checkers are neutralized by the campaign’s ability to buy the airwaves, having an honest conversation about the state of play has come to feel like having an economic symposium in the memory ward of an assisted living facility.
Though there’s nothing mentally deficient about most Romney supporters, there is a demonstrable stream of lies and deceits combined with a strategic effort to make the president fit some archetypal mold of a villain that confuses the debate to the point of futility.