Recently, one of our cultural icons Clint Eastwood once again said some strange things. He said it from his perspective of the world, as a wealthy, older white male. As a liberal, I just laughed, even as I winced. Clint as a bigot is a lightweight compared to the intrinsic, casual prejudice that was the touchstone of so much of my youth. He would not even draw attention were he to reappear in the places of my upbringing; he would be using training wheels in the geography I once called home. My dad, for example, idolized Clint; he omitted the lofty aspirations of Eastwood’s characters and focused on the indifferent violence. As many of us do with our own idols, my dad cherry picked his perceptions of Clint Eastwood and the characters he portrayed.
I wish Clint were of the same expansive ideology as me. I think that might be the case for most of us as we look out at the world and listen to people who express such an incredible spectrum of thought. We root for those things that make our soul shine and light up our minds with the ‘what if’ in our lives. Hopefully, we can ignore those things that irritate us. (My best examples are those of Mother Teresa, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. These figures did or believed some truly crazy things, most of which are overlooked or rarely mentioned – and certainly not taught about in school. Don’t’ twist my words here: they dedicated themselves to achieve some lofty things – but they did so as imperfect human beings.)
Eastwood earned his place as an icon. His good looks and charisma carried him far. His ability to make, write, or direct movies encompassing the breadth of what we aspire to and share in common is uncanny. I find it hard to imagine a critic so harsh as to attempt to discount the contribution that Clint Eastwood has made to our society.
I have a large painting of Clint Eastwood in my living room. A great local artist painted it for me. It’s not there because I idolize him or appreciate his politics. I fundamentally disagree with the spirit of his recent comments. When I look at that painting, I can easily recall the best of the attributes of the characters he brought to life – without focusing on the things that would make him lesser. Clint connects me to an imaginary safe place in my past. He would be the equivalent to Superman or Captain America, had I been a fan of comic books. The painting doesn’t represent the ‘real’ Clint at all. It’s a reminder of the things we identify with.
If I were to eliminate all the people and places that carry a hint of bigotry, misogyny, or exclusion, the hallways of my memories would be only inhabited by a few solitary and forlorn ghosts. Take a moment and inventory your friends and family. I’m certain that several of them differ from you so drastically in thought that it is a miracle you co-exist at all, much less have strong relationships that you cherish.
Each of us has at least one person, I think, who makes us wonder what in the world was so wrong with the world that someone could come out of it so fundamentally misguided about race, justice, or privilege. Even as we love them, we wonder.
The surprise of our relationships is that we can overlook racism and prejudice in some cases. We can laugh, cry, and embrace people who represent the antithesis of what we ourselves find value in.
Clint Eastwood is an example of someone who has worked hard to express himself and share it with us. Unfortunately, some of it is ridiculous nonsense. Luckily for us, however, some of it is not. Even as we shake our heads in bewilderment that one of our icons can think like someone from the early 19th century, we must continue to figure out a means to separate what we find valuable from that which we find objectionable. Clint is the embodiment of many of our family, friends, and acquaintances.
Many believe as Clint does. I don’t. Clint is akin to one of my grandparents, someone who I hold close to my heart, all the while knowing that his ideas aren’t defensible or a part of my identity. I would never defend those ideas for which he is drawing the wrong kind of attention.
Perhaps nothing I’ve said here will resonate. Or worse, that I’ve once again communicated so badly that I’ve conveyed the opposite message from that which was intended.
It’s okay to laugh at Archie Bunker, if only because we know he embodies the thoughts of many with whom we share the world. It is okay to love some parts of Clint Eastwood’s films, even as he uses his intelligence to express ideas that are wrong to us. He’s our grandpa, sitting on our collective porch, yelling at those who pass by. His time will come and go, just like the rest of us. We can only learn from one another and choose the best parts to carry forward. Clint has given us some incredible memories, too. Let’s focus on those, if we can.