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Opinion

Filler: Clint Eastwood's empty chair routine thrilled delegates, but lost the Twittersphere

It might surprise people who were watching the Republican National Convention at home Thursday night to hear this, but when Clint Eastwood addressed the eager, even enraptured audience at the convention center, he made their day.

The experience of watching this type of event in person is totally different than catching it on your television or computer screen, and so are the impressions you come away with.

Attending a ballgame, you may perceive the cheerleaders as being a much bigger part of the show than the folks at home do. You can become fascinated with how bored the second string looks on the bench, or notice that the crowd at the stadium screams “Go home, loser” every time a particular player is up to bat.

And at a political event, you might heartily enjoy a speech the audience at home classifies as a bomb.

In Tampa, Eastwood walked out to thunderous applause. He looked a bit wispy and frail, and at times his voice was low and difficult to understand, but when his message got through, it really got through.

The crowd loved his antics with an empty chair that, in their imagination, was holding the president. They ate up his harsh indictment of Obama, his slam on lawyers and his suggestion that it might be time for a businessman, specifically nominee Mitt Romney, to take the job.

When he exited, after having been coaxed by the audience into a call-and-response version of his trademark “Dirty Harry” line, “Go ahead, make my day,” he did so to probably the loudest, most visceral stage sendoff of the three-day convention up to that point.

But on television, viewers got a very different picture.

Almost as soon as the 82-year-old Hollywood icon left the stage, the blogosphere/Twittersphere/Facebook world blew up with the impression that Eastwood, unscripted, seemed confused, angry, rambling and incoherent.

And that wasn’t the only aspect of the evening that played differently in living rooms than on the convention floor. At least three times during Romney’s speech, members of Code Pink, an organization that opposes the Republican Party platform’s support of a total abortion ban, interrupted him by shouting out condemnations. Each time, the crowd began chanting “USA, USA,” to drown the interruption out, and security workers quickly hustled the offenders out of the arena. From what I’ve been told, this was far less evident on television than in person.

And the enthusiasm level for the speakers in general was apparently read a bit differently when experienced remotely.

In the convention center, there were times when the only people really cheering wildly were small groups in front of cameras. There were also moments, particularly just after Romney’s speech and during the balloon drop, when the delegations on the floor were going nuts with glee but people in other sections, particularly in the upper levels, were much more subdued.

So if all you saw at home was what the cameras showed you, you got a very selective view — just as you will at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week.
I’ve always heard that when you change the way you look at the world, the way the world looks changes. That’s definitely true in the age of scripted political theater and targeted television coverage. And buff cheerleaders.
 

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