Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Pseudo-Psychodrama as Rhetoric

Originally posted on August 31, 2012

It pained me to see Clint Eastwood using the “empty chair” technique in a way that was absolutely not the way it was meant to be used in his speech at the Republican convention. Even if you’re for Romney, Eastwood’s misuse of this little dramatic technique was appalling. It’s hypnotic, you see. People kept “hearing” the President of the United States lower himself to speak—implied through Eastwood’s answers— in a fashion that was fantastically distorted. President Obama may or may not be doing a good enough job—I confess that I think Romney and those he would gather about him—especially the latter— would do far, far worse—but cheap shots—-and this was really cheap—expressed the shallowness and disrespect not just for Obama, but for all those who were laughing with glee. It was embarrassing to see our political representatives lose their gravitas so completely, to see them so taken in by elementary dramatic caricature.

I’m a psychodramatist and I use the empty chair. The key is to have the person having the dialogue change parts and try his or her best to answer the questions, to give the most thoughtful response. The goal of the exercise is to expand the consciousness of the main player and the audience, not to reinforce simplistic prejudices. Imagining that the person in the chair is a one-dimensional villain or a buffoon defeats the point of the activity. At present, whether or not you agree with Obama’s actions, to treat them as if the answers were obvious betrays a level of simplicity that insults the country. These are not simple problems: Politics is often a choice between the bad and the dreadful. Anything that is done will be open to speculation that it might have turned out better, but doing nothing or doing the opposite might well have as many negative consequences. Eastwood’s little game denied this mature predicament.

Come on, people, life’s problems are complicated. Raising a teenager is complicated. Do you let ‘em go or tighten the reins? Either way is risky. Ditto with many ordinary problems of life. Appeals to the idea that these are easy decisions that are interpreted as wrong—and therefore the decider lacks deep value, integrity, or brains—is a projection: Simple people cannot imagine a good person making a choice that doesn’t clear up the problem. Daddy would’ve! Poof, all better. But life is not simple, and treating politics as if it were degrades the art and is simply demagogic. Those who fell for it were degraded, too. See a similar article by Jonathan Moreno, the son of the man who invented the “empty chair” technique. Here’s another comment by my friend Karen Carnabucci saying sort of the same thing.

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