As they used to say in my hometown, Kal Penn knocked Clint Eastwood's dick in the dirt Tuesday night with a smart — and subtly smart-alecky — celebrity turn at the podium on the first night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
In contrast to 82-year-old Eastwood's aimless — and heartless — speech in support of Mitt Romney, Penn, 35, gave a focused, funny speech that, like the Harold & Kumar franchise, proved to be a lot smarter than it's stoner-targeted marketing campaign advertised. (Actually, I think there's an argument to be made that stoners are some of the sharpest cultural consumers on earth, but that's an argument for another day.)
What I particularly appreciated about Penn's speech was that it hit important DNC talking points without sounding like corny propaganda, and the actor struck an inclusive note that, I suspect, could sway some hawkish-yet-hip fringe voters to cast their ballot for President Obama.
And that was in a single sentence: “I’ve worked on a lot of fun movies but my favorite job was having a boss who gave the order to take out Bin Laden and is cool with all of us getting gay married,” Penn told DNC delegates. “So thank you invisible man in the chair for that.”
Duuuude! In a single soundbite, Penn, a former Associate Director for the White House's Office of Public Engagement, accomplished a remarkable hat trick: He twitted Eastwood's RNC performance; reiterated the administration's support for gay marriage and reminded us that Osama Bin Laden was taken out under Obama's leadership — a goal that, given America's post-9/11 fury, should have been accomplished during the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency.
Penn's reference to Bin Laden's death was particularly smart because it sent the message that the Democratic Party does not engage in facile stereotyping. Penn is Indian-American, but if he hasn't been singled out at an airport because his skin tone resembled the 9/11 terrorists', I bet that he knows a lot of people who've had that experience. When Penn plainly stated his support for Obama's silencing of Osama, I could hear a hundred Fox News-perpetuated stereotypes vaporizing with a satisfying sizzle.
It's not the first time that Penn has messed with the American public's pat view of good and bad in a post-9/11 America, by the way. He blew me away in 2007 when he played Ahmed Amar on 24. Penn's performance repeatedly defied my expectations — especially when he turned out to be the terrorist that, I assumed, he couldn't be thanks to my own internal stereotypes about political correctness.
Penn's decision to take that role at that particular time in American history was brave indeed, and that same year he told New York magazine that he'd almost turned down the part because "It was essentially accepting a form of racial profiling."
"I think it’s repulsive," Penn explained. "But it was the first time I had a chance to blow stuff up and take a family hostage. As an actor, why shouldn’t I have that opportunity? Because I'm brown and I should be scared about the connection between media images and people's thought processes?"
Penn blew stuff up again tonight — in the best way possible. President Obama was smart to use him as a convention opener. Check out Penn's speech below and please tell me whether you agree or not in the comments section below.
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