Clint Eastwood, the Empty Chair and the Psychotherapy of a Scared, White Nation

While Clint Eastwood’s Republican National Convention argument with an empty chair confused and amused many, some American mental health practitioners probably recognized it as a classic tool of Gestalt therapy: the Empty-Chair technique.

Gestalt therapy was invented by a German psychiatrist named Fritz Perls, an associate of Wilhelm Reich (who found fame – some would say infamy – as the inventor of “orgone therapy”) and refugee who fled his native land in the wake of the Nazi Party’s rise to power. In South Africa, Perls, along with his wife Laura, developed the basics of the practice: an emphasis on healing the whole self and recognizing the social environment of the patient for its impact on his or her development.

In the Empty-Chair technique, a patient is instructed to imagine a person sitting in the chair with whom they have difficulties. The patient then speaks to the seated “person”, expressing his or her frustrations and fears. During this conversation he or she is encouraged to talk for the imaginary person as well, with the goal that through this process the patient will be able to recognize the projection as part of him or herself and articulating and resolving deeply-rooted emotional conflicts. It is important to note that the Empty Chair doesn’t always have to be occupied by a specific individual: The therapist can direct the patient to imagine it is occupied by an object, idea or stereotype.

With this in mind, Eastwood’s confrontation of the empty chair can be understood in terms of mass psychology. Eastwood, once the very image of the tough, independent white male, but who is now noticeably in decline, stands in as a surrogate for the fear of the overwhelmingly white, male Republican Party. In doing so, he addresses their fear of the youthful black President and what he represents: a change in social order that will eventually erode and overcome the established face of power–much like time has replaced the once-rugged Man with No Name with the cranky old veteran of Gran Torino, besieged on all sides by a youthful, non-white culture on the rise.

104 Comments on "Clint Eastwood, the Empty Chair and the Psychotherapy of a Scared, White Nation"

  1. Amaboskcus | Aug 31, 2012 at 5:06 pm |

    So appropriate this crap appears on a website called disinfo. 

  2. BrianApocalypse | Aug 31, 2012 at 5:50 pm |

    I like the way part of his strategy of attack was blame Obama for wars that Bush started. The idiots in the audience laugh and clap as Eastwood asks Imaginary Obama why he didn’t check with the Russians about fighting wars in Afghanistan. Unbelievable.

    • How so?  Obama is just a black Bush.  If you think there is any difference between the two parties you are part of the problem.

      • Anarchy Pony | Aug 31, 2012 at 6:32 pm |

        Well, you know, one of them wants to brutally fuck you in the ass and tell you that it’s your fault, and the other wants to brutally fuck you in the ass but is polite enough to lube up first.

        • MoralDrift | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:11 pm |

          actually…i have to disagree. Whispering sweet nothings wont do anything to ease the pain of the collective butt-raping and democrats havent even tried to lube up since jimmy carter left office….

          • Anarchy Pony | Aug 31, 2012 at 11:04 pm |

            I concede to the representative of the Great State of Internetsylvania.

          • MoralDrift | Sep 1, 2012 at 12:23 am |

            i like it!

          • The Seventh Rapist

            You’re different
            From the others, i can tell right away.
            How strange:
            Soft delicate kiss on the back of my neck
            As upon me your conquering body you lay,
            Meeting my terror and fear
            With a tentatie tongue on the lobe of my ear.
            What kind of a rapist is this,
            Who commences his rape with a kiss?

            You’re different:
            You don’t start with the pain of a savage attack
            But with feelings of warmth from your chest on my back.
            From the heat of your thighs on my sensitive ass;
            And your cock not inside but on top of my crack
            As you wait for my desolate sobbing to pass.

            You’re different.
            Now soothing you whisper, with head next to mine:
            “I’ll take it real slow, we got plenty o’ time.
            It may hurt you at first, no denying the facts,
            But things will go better if you can relax.”
            As you nibble my ear, sending chills down my spine,
            How I wonder that rapist so gently attacks!

            Are you different?
            You wait til i’m quiet,
            Then enter real slow,
            Holding me down with your arms as you go;
            A sharp stab of pain as i struggle in vain to escape from your battering-ram.
            Then you soothe me once more
            As i’m pierced to the core
            And impaled on the flesh of a man.

            You’re different;
            You cover me,
            Motionless bodies we lay,
            Until i relax
            As the pain ebbs away;
            Whispering comforting words in my ear,
            Telling me how i have nothing to fear;
            Waiting for this one to slowly adjust
            To being a slave for your masculine lust.
            When i am calm
            It’s your warmth that I feel
            As you cover my body from shoulder to heel,
            Protectively keeping the next one at bay.
            I compare your concern
            With their merciless thrust
            And i suddenly want you to stay!

            You’re different —
            So you’re filling me now with your masculine power,
            The seventh to rape me in less than an hour.
            The difference is this:
            You don’t treat me like dirt;
            Your body makes love where the others make hurt.
            So i don’t mind your vigorous fucking so much,
            But mentally dwell
            On the feel of your touch,
            On your maleness inside me,
            On being possessed,
            On the feelings that girls have, and all of the rest.
            –When finally your passion ascends to the height
            And you lunge and you kiss me and squeeze me real tight
            And you shudder and groan and you fill me with cream,
            I know i’ve been caught
            In your sexual dream.

            You are different!
            You whisper: “I want you to be
            My own punk!
            I’ll keep those jocks off you,
            Don’t worry no more;
            You’ll be in my cell, babe,
            And sleep in my bunk,
            And if anyone hurts you, I’ll even the score.”
            Relaxing beneath you,
            Flesh still in my hole,
            I consider your offer,
            Ponder my role.
            It’s clear now: the difference is really your goal:
            The six took my body,
            You’re taking my soul.

            –Stephen Donaldson, in prison, July 12, 1981

          • Calypso_1 | Sep 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm |


          • TennesseeCyberian | Sep 2, 2012 at 4:56 pm |

            God, it would suck to have Donnie the Punk as a cellmate.  Every day, it’d be, “But don’t you want to put me in my place?”

            No, Donny.

            “Oh, you’re just not man enough to overpower me.”

            Ok, Donny.

            “I’m getting Tyrone in here to show you how it’s done!”

            Sure, sure, Donny, you do that…

          • So you’re saying he wasn’t legitimately raped?

          • TennesseeCyberian | Sep 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm |

            I’m not sure what “legitimately” means, but Donny was certainly raped.  Here’s how he describes it:

            “There were times when I felt like I was paying for all the sins of the white race. There were times when I had very religious feelings, it was like this was God Almighty, to which I could only surrender. God was represented by this eternal big black dick…because there’s just nothing left to defend. You just give yourself up to the will of God, basically, you know, ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit’ and all that. And that was a very religious experience.”


            Wait, how the fuck did we get on this subject?

          • In your previous comment it seemed like you were saying he asked for it.

          • TennesseeCyberian | Sep 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm |

            I can see that, but that’s not what I meant.  He just seemed to develop a taste for it.

      • I am part of the problem, and plan to continue to be so.

      • BrianApocalypse | Aug 31, 2012 at 8:01 pm |

         I thought there would be a response like that. I didn’t express my support for Obama, merely my disgust at the hypocrisy of Republicans.

        • Matt Staggs | Sep 2, 2012 at 9:48 am |

           That’s the problem with our rah-rah sports team political mentality. You can’t say anything about Red or Blue team without their fans assuming you’re a support of the other side.

          • Amen dude. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to spell out carefully that my revulsion toward group A is not some kind of blanket pardon of group B. As soon as you drop the hammer on whatever sacred cow is dear to some folks…they lose their fuckin minds.

          • TennesseeCyberian | Sep 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm |

            No doubt.  We are all prone to defend our own, and there aren’t very many who can get past self-interest or groupthink–even fewer who can admit it.

            Objectivity is a scarce commodity, and difficult for even the best among us to sustain.

          • Jesus Borg | Sep 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm |

            I think its more a case of going after low hanging fruit. Its actually complicated. Obama aproves drone strikes, escalated ther War in Afganistan, didn’t close Guantanamo Bay, has a history of meeting with elite think tanks, like the CFR, unananswerable to the democratic process. He has an economically Neo-Liberal cabinet. He’s approved legislation that takes away citizens rights and seems to be furthering the creation of a Police State. Early on, he compared himself to Reagan. Regan was arguably a Spokes Model for certain interests occupying the executive branch, and not an actual president.

            So that might be a very telling comparison on his part.

          • Jesus Borg | Sep 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm |

            I might submit some stuff, and then no doubt take a lot of crap for it in the comments if approved, but it might be fun, so thanks.

          • Matt Staggs | Sep 2, 2012 at 11:10 pm |

             Totally part of the fun. Get in touch with me and we’ll talk.

      • How simple of a notion? Kinda like jesus died for your sins.

  3. the Empty-Chair technique” would have been a good explanation if Obama wasn’t the status quo in bed with big corporations.  Realistically the Repugs are just variations of the Demos – same scam.  Some times a cigar is just a cigar.

    • No, the Empty-Chair technique is dependent on the one doing the talking, not the imagined other in the chair.  It would be a good explanation even if Obama didn’t exist at all, and I agree with your assessment of Obama.  Far from all Republicans realize their conception of him is a part of themselves.  The same is true of Democrats and Bush.

    •  It is really sad and pathetic that the GOP choose to try and exploit an old guy like that because they thought they could gain a few more votes doing so.
      Let’s never forget actors, act and writers write. Writers write the great speeches, writers write the great stories, writers write the great parts and directors tell the actors how to present what the writers and written.
      Let actors have a free hand without their PR flunkies or writers telling them what to say, and don’t be surprised when it bombs.

    • Jesus Borg | Sep 2, 2012 at 8:09 am |

      Yeah, I agree and I’ll also say the racial slant is Bullshit, unless of course movies are real life and Clint Eastwood is really a Polish guy living in Chicago surrounded by Hmong.

      Of course I can’t blame Matt Staggs for wanting to be Rosa Parks. Too bad he’s white and 50 years too late. But that’s a common theme. If 60 years ago it was considered brave to oppose the Nazis, then it must be just as brave to oppose them now.

      • Matt Staggs | Sep 2, 2012 at 9:44 am |

        I’m a little more complicated than what you’re projecting onto me, but I don’t fault you for that: You’ve only got a handful of words from which to build some sort of idea of who I am and what I believe. That’s the problem with the internet. That, and the inevitability of someone coming along and Godwinning comment threads.

        Edit: If you’re interested in writing your own perspective on the RNC, or just about anything else, you’re more than welcome to get in touch with me at to see about submitting your own material.

        • You’re his Empty-Chair, Matt.

          • Matt Staggs | Sep 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |

            I have to admit that your comment made me laugh, but I honesty don’t understand it. Can you explain?

          • Jesus Borg is projecting onto you as Clint Eastwood projected onto the chair.

          • Matt Staggs | Sep 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |

             Gotcha. Need more coffee. Jesus Borg, this chair isn’t empty, come and sit on papa Matt’s lap.

      • Psst…living in Detroit. (Sorry dude…my Michigan-love requires me to reclaim credit for the location.)

  4. Fransisco Person | Aug 31, 2012 at 6:37 pm |

    Are you race baiting Matt?    How can you blame a person for defending themselves after they’ve been punched in the face.    Oh, he’s white, that’s why he defended himself.    Only whites can be racist. 

    Maybe I read something into your comments that aren’t there?   If not, fuck off matt, I hope you’re the first son of a bitch that gets thrown to the sharks.

  5. Clint Eastwood is dead to me now. 

    • Anarchy Pony | Aug 31, 2012 at 8:11 pm |

      What am I gonna do with all these spaghetti westerns?

    • Monkey See Monkey Do | Aug 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm |

      I know, this isn’t just good or bad, this is ugly. He directed million dollar baby and mystic river for christs sake, I love those films. next time I watch those movies it’s gonna be hard not to look for some right wing messages he might have slipped in there.

  6. Hadrian999 | Aug 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm |

    I can’t believe eastwood would help the gop after all the times it has attacked him in recent years…..but he didnt really help much, maybe it was a stealth attack

    • TennesseeCyberian | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:03 pm |

      Tried Googling “GOP attacks Eastwood,” but the first pages didn’t show anything older than a day.

      What did they attack him for?  His astounding fecundity?

      • Hadrian999 | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:28 pm |


      • Hadrian999 | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:28 pm |


      • Hadrian999 | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:29 pm |


      • Hadrian999 | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:29 pm |

        wow holy maintenance spaz out

      • Hadrian999 | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:39 pm |

        they attacked him after million dollar baby as well as after letters from iwo jima for being unamerican because he portrayed japanese soldiers as human beings

        • TennesseeCyberian | Aug 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm |

          I’ve noticed that a lot of “patriotic” Americans have a hard time humanizing anyone who doesn’t share their values.  Which shows a tremendous lack of imagination. 

          But then, most people seem to have a hard time humanizing anyone who doesn’t share their values, unless they are able to somehow convince themselves (or others) that some politically expedient Other somehow shares their values.

          • Simiantongue | Sep 1, 2012 at 3:14 am |

             Lack of imagination is an interesting euphemism. Back in the day we just called them Bigots.

          • Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 1, 2012 at 4:03 am |

            Republicans use their ”imagination” to think of black people as white people, helps them not be bigoted.

          • Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 1, 2012 at 4:06 am |

            No need for patriotic in inverted commas, you just gave the defintion of patriotic in that first sentence.

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 1, 2012 at 11:23 am |

            “We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. We are ready to hang, electrocute, or lynch anyone, who, from economic necessity, will risk his own life in the attempt upon that of some industrial magnate. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that she will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations.”- Emma Goldman

            written 70 years ago, but just as accurate today. says something about the ‘modern’ state of the world.

          • So bored with the B.S. | Sep 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |

            Or, maybe someone who does not LOOK like them, either.

            Hmmm… going to be a very interesting election.
            So many people call themselves patriots, and have never been in a war,  or even left their own back yard.  I guess if you just take your assault rifle and protect the perimeter of your home, or blow up office buildings, killing innocent children, you can call yourself a patriot. Timothy McVeigh called himself one.
            JUST STOP THE MADNESS AND VOTE!  Do what is right for you.  Do your research on all of the candidates; don’t listen to the B.S. on the commercials; research their political stances and make your choice that way.  Don’t be a lemming and follow who is in front of you.  Because you will only go over that cliff with them and start blaming others once again.

        • Ironaddict | Sep 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm |

          I re-call a black man called spike, spice, or spike Lee angry at Clint because, Mr. Eastwood did Not show any blacks fighting at Iwo Jima, and not showing a black man raising the American flag at Iwo Jima.

  7. DeepCough | Aug 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm |

    This is isn’t any different from the Arnold Schwarzaneggar speech from 2004, except it’s more ridiculous and less comprehensible.

  8. Looking on the bright side, they did get half the hologram to work, sort of.

  9. TennesseeCyberian | Aug 31, 2012 at 9:57 pm |

    While I do not share the sentiments of “Fransisco Person,” I do think that the “white nation” business is a bit overboard. 

    Of all the angles to cover from this faltering speech–employers and workers, politicians and property owners, hawks and doves–you chose to emphasize what is arguably the most superficial and irrelevant topic: skin color.  As opposed to the topics I listed, Eastwood never mentioned race.  But you did.

    Are you filling the chair with someone Eastwood does not see?

    • MoralDrift | Aug 31, 2012 at 10:31 pm |


    • Hadrian999 | Aug 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm |

      race is always part of conservative politics, taking into account the demographics of the gop as well as it’s zenophobia, anti immigrant politics, and ethnocentric world view race is always a factor.

      • TennesseeCyberian | Aug 31, 2012 at 11:39 pm |

        I certainly wouldn’t claim that race isn’t a factor in electoral politics or culture in general, but I’m not seeing more than a projected connection to Clint Eastwood’s speech.

        So far as xenophobia, anti-immigrant politics, or ethnocentric sentiments go, I would strongly disagree that these are exclusively white or even predominantly white characteristics.  Not that you said that–you didn’t–but these qualities can be found in every racial group.

  10. Boo niggas! (and by niggas, I’m talking to black-fearing white folk)!

  11. Ironaddict | Sep 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm |

    Being an outsider looking in, because I have no skin in the game.
    I believe Mr. Eastwoods performance will be a highlight in american political history. Here is the symbology I saw in Mr. Eastwoods performance.
    The Empty-Chair symbolizes Barack Obhama’s lack of leadership. The Empty-Chair also symbolizes Barack’s absentee as president of the united states.
    The joke that Mr. Eastwood told was brilliant.
    When Mr. Eastwood asked president Obhama, what should I tell Mr. Romney?
    What? Mr. Romney can’t do that to himself, Mr. President.
    Mr. Eastwood able to tell an off colored joke at a political convention, and on prime time T.V. without being censored. Of course Mr. Eastwoods performance went over most americans heads since most americans need a curse word in the joke to make it funny.

    • Matt Staggs | Sep 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm |

      “Mr. Eastwood able to tell an off colored joke at a political convention,
      and on prime time T.V. without being censored. Of course Mr. Eastwoods
      performance went over most American’s heads since most Americans need a
      curse word in the joke to make it funny.”

      Do you sincerely think that the viewing audience wasn’t clever enough to get the implied “Go fuck himself”?

      You interpreted Mr. Eastwood’s performance in the way in which he intended it. Nothing wrong with that.

    • Calypso_1 | Sep 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm |

      “will be a highlight in american political history.”……….

    • So tired of the B.S. | Sep 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm |

      Actually, I didn’t think it was funny.  I thought it was sad.  If you think it was such an intellectual speech that went over almost everyone’s head, and YOU liked it…. I’m sad for you, too.

      But you were correct, it was OFF colored.  

  12. Infvocuernos | Sep 2, 2012 at 5:58 am |

    Are we really going to have to see this shit all the way until the election?  Seriously, can we just get on with zany weird stuff and forget about the politics.  Its pretty clear most everyone here thinks the political system is broke, that we have “two evils” to choose from, that its only going down hill from here, so either shut the fuck up or start the fucking revolution already.  

  13. Jesus Borg | Sep 2, 2012 at 2:59 pm |

    Well, you are probably much more complex then I give you credit for. I guess my point is that on the left there seems to be this trope that, All the bad guys remain the same and wear the same hats, for decades, decades and decades.
    But really when people first point out injustice and stand up to it, they are going against the status quo and majority opinion. 50, 60 years later, the same sentiments are more like “recieved opinion” from liberal acedemia and so forth. For example, at one time the KKK was composed of Police Cheifs, Business leaders, and pillars of the Community. So standing up to them was a big deal that involved great personal risk. Now its basically a bunch of toothless inbreds. They are an anochranism and the majority is against them. The same could be said for Nazi Germany. In Germany in the 30’s it took more balls to oppose them. Now there there have been a zillion holocost movies, its no longer risky, its majority opinion.
    I don’t think anything is ever totally equivalent in History. But I think today there are movements opposing injustice that aren’t recognized yet. Now they are considered fringe and crazy, and even ignorant. But if truth prevails history will bear them out.
    So from my perspective, for example people unwilling to ask questions about 9/11 are equivalent to people unwilling to oppose Hitler in the 1930’s. Its a polite society type thing. Its not polite, and shows lack of breeding to question the official story of 9/11
    My take on Clint Eastwood, having lived in Monterey when he was Mayor of Carmel, is that he is a Libertarian type Republican, not a reactionary, not a Rick Santorum type.

  14. I am a little weary of the Eastwood bashing. I love the guy unashamedly. One of the best directorial minds to somehow express itself in this era. I don’t agree with him on any number of things, but I like him just the same. He went live, no prompters or cues, extemporized…and rambled a bit…but the points were there. They were just woefully inadequate and unrealistic…which really is a strange parallel to the modern GOP. I have to admit I like the irony…because every time a GOP player shoves his or her foot right into their mouth while looking for ways to curse the DNC…they inevitably bring up topics that have a lot more to do with GOP policy choices. What makes it less hiply ironic and more incredibly sad and horrifying…is that for the most part…they DON’T  KNOW THEY’RE DOING IT! The inability to connect dots, the willingness to shut down and keep the blinders on for the sake of party orthodoxy…the near absence of any historical context…even when the ‘history’ involved is mere months or weeks or even days old…it would all be great comic fodder…if it wasn’t the partisan state of mind that literally characterizes the way most Americans process politics…in either party.

    And all that before we even scrape against the irony of one of the last members of the GOP who still thinks independently from the pack and eschews social conservative stances…introducing a pair of candidates cheering on a platform that differs 100% from Eastwood’s personal views. I hope his speaking fee was astronomical….because at least that would make sense.

    • Hadrian999 | Sep 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm |

      i can’t figure out why he was doing it, he has been a punching bag for social conservatives for years and they own the gop. i really wonder what this is going to do to his new movie

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