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Clint Eastwood's 'Invisible Obama' fires up social media

Clint Eastwood's debate with an empty chair before 50,000 fans at the Republican National Convention has become much more than the strangest campaign incident in modern history.

It is also a bona-fide social media phenomenon, spawning an Invisible Obama Twitter page with nearly 50,000 followers, scores of tweets questioning the Hollywood legend's sanity and a viral video of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow pronouncing that moment "the weirdest thing I've ever seen if I live to be 100."

For several minutes Thursday night during the tightly scripted RNC, Eastwood, 82, pretended to have a conversation with an imaginary, transparent President Barack Obama. The rambling performance, right before Sen. Marco Rubio was to introduce Mitt Romney, showed just how quickly new media has changed the response to an embarrassing mistake.

Within minutes, someone created the Twitter page @InvisibleObama, kicking off with a message reading "Someone should tell Marco Rubio he's standing on my foot right now."

Before the last delegate could leave the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Obama campaign had posted its own retort to Eastwood's taunt on Twitter and Facebook: a picture of the seated chief executive from behind, his trademark ears and a plaque on the back of the chair reading "The president", with the message, "This seat's taken."

By midday Friday, that image had been retweeted nearly 40,000 times on Twitter and liked by nearly 400,000 people on Facebook.

A reporter for the website BuzzFeed posted a photo of four empty chairs sitting in his workspace, calling it "A visit from the Obama family." Scores of people have posted photos of themselves pointing at and lecturing empty chairs, coining a new term with their hashtag: #Eastwooding.

In an essay for Newsweek/Daily Beast titled "The Creepiness of Crazy Clint," liberal documentarian Michael Moore wrote that future generations "will know about the night a crazy old man hijacked a national party's most important gathering so he could literally tell the president to go do something to himself."

Daily Show host Jon Stewart tweaked Eastwood Friday during a taping at the Straz Center in Tampa, calling his outburst a "fistful of awesome" which revealed more extreme conservative ideas the RNC tried to downplay.

"He spent 12 minutes on the most important night of Mitt Romney's life yelling at a chair," Stewart said.

Eastwood did seem a little befuddled while asking the empty chair about Obama's promises to close the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his advance declaration of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

"What? What do you want me to tell Romney?" he deadpanned at one moment. "I can't tell him to do that to himself."

Eastwood created a moment that eclipsed the GOP presidential candidate's triumph in Tampa, turning a hefty part of Friday's news cycle into "the search for who thought this was a good idea."

The New York Times uncorked a story noting many of the candidate's top aides distanced themselves from the decision to allow Eastwood onstage without a rehearsal or a detailed script, and top Romney adviser Stuart Stevens described Eastwood's remarks as improvised. According to the story, Romney himself asked the actor to speak at the RNC after Eastwood endorsed him earlier in the year.

Initially, the Times reported, there were no plans for Eastwood to take a chair onstage. But at the last minute, he asked the production staff if he could use one without explaining why.

For a convention shortened by weather and limited by its scripted inevitability, the RNC found media-fed dustups provided its only unpredictable spice, fed by social media chatter like gasoline poured on fire.

Clint Eastwood's 'Invisible Obama' fires up social media 08/31/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 1, 2012 1:53am]
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