Thursday, September 20, 2012

Today in Idiotic: The invisible Obama effigy

THE BURNT Orange Report, a blog on Texas state and political affairs, published a story Wednesday about the latest spin on the Clint Eastwood empty chair incident at the Republican National Convention. It seems that a postmodern strain of racist idiocy took hold of a homeowner in northwest Austin, Texas, when he hung an invisible Obama effigy — an empty folding chair — in his yard for all to see.

Burnt Orange editor Katherine Haenschen reported that when she called the homeowner to complain, out of civic concern, “[h]e replied, and I quote, 'I don't really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not. You can take [your concerns] and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don't give a shit. If you don't like it, don't come down my street.' "

Haenschen reports that, “[i]ronically, the homeowner in question, Bud Johnson, won 'Yard of the Month' in August 2010 from his Homeowners Association.

“The man has since added an American flag to the chair,” she reported in an update today.

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In her story, Haenschen smartly puts this dumbass neighborhood prank into historical context with a cogent snapshot of the state’s history of lynchings:

“Lynching was a horrific and commonplace act in Reconstruction-era Texas and continued until the mid-1940's, spurred on by Ku Klux Klan groups. Texas is third amongst all states -- behind Mississippi and Georgia -- in the total number of lynching victims between 1885 and 1942. Of those 468 victims, an overwhelming number were African-American.

“Perhaps the most well-known and horrific lynching in Texas occurred in 1916, when Jesse Washington was accused of raping and murdering a woman near Waco. He was sentenced to death, and lynched in front of a crowd of onlookers, after which members of the mob castrated him, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire. Pieces of his body were sold as souvenirs. The gruesome event became part of the NAACP's anti-lynching movement.

“Most recently, in 1998, James Byrd Jr. — for whom the Texas Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named — was lynched by being dragging behind a vehicle in East Texas.”

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WITH THAT for context, it’s hard to entirely make light of Bud Johnson’s folding-chair exercise of the First Amendment. In a sinister, subversive way, it feeds into the corrosive, utterly racist Obama As Other meme that conservatives and extremists have constructed for the president since before he took office.

But at the same time ... look at it. Like Eastwood’s bizarre performance art in Tampa, the power of the hanging-chair effigy derives solely from one’s imagination. In many ways, the sting of Bud Johnson’s protest can only be implied. Without the direct visual component of a facsimile of the intended target, without the searing, historicizing emblem of a noose, it’s a gesture as empty as the chair itself. An effigy of an effigy.

There’ll be calls for the chair’s removal, and much outrage and complaint. But end of the day, who cares? Stupid is as stupid does. Let this hanging matter hang. There’s too much else — in the campaign, in life in general — that's important to think about.

Image credit: Chair: Burnt Orange Report.

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