Clint Eastwood, Hollywood, and Conservatives

In case you missed it, Clint Eastwood talked to a chair. The chair was empty. Presumably, Eastwood knew that, but he decided to have a conversation with it anyway. Now, To be fair to both the empty chair and Eastwood’s decision to speak with it, that chair demonstrated more substantive knowledge of public policy than all the other speakers at the Republican National Convention.  If Eastwood had to choose between talking to Rick Santorum or the empty chair, then he obviously made the wiser choice.

After watching and re-watching Eastwood’s performance, I have become slightly enamored with it.  The way in which it produced a squirmingly uncomfortable feeling amongst many in attendance (VP candidate Paul Ryan most noticeably) made me think of Andy Kaufman’s comedic style.  Had Mitt Romney then followed Eastwood by lip-synching to the Mighty Mouse theme song, he could have earned my vote.  Actually, the main chorus from the Might Mouse theme song, Here I come to save the Day, was pretty much Romney’s message in a nutshell. Unfortunately, he did not deliver that message by lip-synching the Mighty Mouse theme song, thus he did not earn my vote.

Eastwood’s appearance and slightly Kaufman-esque performance at the Republican National Convention raised a few eyebrows. Many non-Republicans were disappointed that a screen idol such as Eastwood would so publicly endorse Mitt Romney. Yet Eastwood’s politics, through his personal actions and his films, should not have been a secret.  Even if he does not waive the Republican flag in the same way the George Clooney whole heartedly has embraced the Democratic party, Eastwood has been a Republican.  So a Republican speaking at the Republican convention should not surprise anyone.  Yet Eastwood’s status as Hollywood royalty creates the assumption of political leanings that do not nor did not exist.

Any honest analysis of his films would indicate a deep strain of Randian thought.  While I might find the politics disagreeable, Eastwood, unlike Ayn Rand, is capable of and has produced good art. In an earlier post, I discussed these various themes in Eastwood’s films, many of which posit that strong, white men need to lead the rest of us who are incapable of governing ourselves.  Structural inequalities do not exist in Eastwood’s film, or if they do then they can be overcome by simply putting your back into it.  Changing one’s class status comes about through the sheer dedication and will that Hilary Swank displays in Million Dollar Baby (2004). Those who do not exhibit such a bootstrap mentality are stupid, lazy, and unethical and have only themselves to blame.

And this is where I find the linkage between Hollywood and “liberal” curious.  While some big name Hollywood types (Clooney, Spielberg, etc.) donate heavily to Democrats, the institution of Hollywood is as conservative as any other institution.  It is an enormous machine that seeks to generate profits and capital and will undercut workers whenever it can. The products it produces echo a right-wing politics; American exceptionalism, individualism, the military industrial complex, and obscene wealth are constantly celebrated while collectivism is often derided.

One needs to look no further than the two biggest grossing films from this summer: The Avengers (2012) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  Both films impart a message that democracy, an actual democracy in which all citizens have voice is worthless at best and dangerous at worst.  A democracy might put decisions into the hands of lesser men and women, when in actuality society’s important decisions should reside with the Bruce Waynes, Tony Starks, and Nick Furys. Democratically elected representatives, constitutional law, and human rights simply interrupt the necessary duties that such great men do for all of us.  And of course, we, the people, need to thank them by either constructing statues in their honor or imitating their likenesses.

In many ways, Iron Man and Batman are oddly costumed versions of “Dirty” Harry Callahan, Eastwood’s most enduring and legendary character. Callahan did not need mayors or police chiefs telling him what to do, and if everyone would just shut up, sit down, and leave him be, he could get to work and save all of us from ourselves.  The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises should play right into the narratives of contemporary conservative thinkers.

Yet it seems as thought the political right in the U.S. would rather embrace the films of Kirk Cameron than the films of Clint Eastwood.  And that is depressing on many levels.  On one level, Kirk Cameron makes films.  That should be bad enough, but unfortunately the right in the U.S. has moved so far right that Kirk Cameron-style drek becomes the only acceptable conservative message and narrative.

I guess the Kirk Cameron-ification of the American right is why Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention was so surprising.  His politics have not changed much in forty-plus years, yet the political team that he supports would now rather celebrate Kirk Cameron. Such a proposition is sad and exceedingly scary.

Pure Presidential Material

So Eastwood roots for a team, the Republicans, that he can barely stand and in which he is deeply disappointed.  I can sympathize with him; I support the Mariners.  Watching and hoping Romney wins an election is similar to watching Mariner’s utility man Chone Figgins bat.  Trust me, no one doesn’t hit Major League pitching like Chone Figgins doesn’t hit Major league pitching.  Well, actually Romney probably hits Major League pitching worse than Figgins does.  But Figgins can probably speak and campaign better than Romney can.  Actually, there is a solution for these problems.  Eastwood should convince the Republican National Committee to nominate Figgins as their presidential candidate.  I will no longer have to watch Figgins play in a Mariner uniform and Eastwood will not have to watch Romney campaign.

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About Todd Hunter Starkweather

Todd Starkweather is an Assistant Professor of English at South University-Richmond. He has a PhD in English Literature from the University of Illinois-Chicago; his interests include film, Victorian studies, sport, and post-colonialism.
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4 Responses to Clint Eastwood, Hollywood, and Conservatives

  1. Well played, that’s kind of how I felt about it too.

  2. Ted says:

    Ironically, “HEREAFTER”, “INVICTUS”, “LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA” and “FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS” are unpalatable to most conservatives. They are thoughtful, moving, progressive and humanist. There is no doubt in my mind that Mandela’s story is a parable meant to reflect the newly elected black American president; “FLAGS” is a critical assault on the Pat Tillman/ Jessica Lynch propagand foisted on us by the military; “GRAN TORINO” is a tract for immigrant tolerance. The Eastwood I saw on stage was the guy I disliked my whole life before 2000 when he became my favorite American director with the best oeuvre in the past 15 years,

    As always, well written by Todd.

  3. Citizen Tom says:

    Todd and Ted are correct, it should be no surprise that Eastman spoke at the RNC as he has been a conservative Republican all of his career, but like Ted said it also reminded me of the man I could not stand before his current decade of film making. I guess the most surprising thing is how good some of his more recent films really are.

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