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January 31, 2013

STAWAR: Take a seat


Of course, where you’re seated and the nature of your chair also says something about your status. People seated at the head of the table generally have the most power. It is said that Merlin created King Arthur’s Round Table to avoid quarrels among the knights as to who had the highest status, although they still probably squabbled over who got to sit closest to the king. 

Chairs took on a political dimension last year at the Republican National Convention, when Clint Eastwood delivered his monologue to an empty chair, intended to represent President Obama. Obama’s re-election team countered by tweeting out a photo of the president sitting in his cabinet room chair, and saying “this seat’s taken.” 

These theatrics may not have made much difference in the election, but addressing an empty chair is a time-honored technique in Gestalt psychotherapy (another ’70’s phenomena). It was used to help patients resolve “unfinished business” with others, or even among different aspects of themselves. 

Writing in the online Magazine Jacobin, design student Colin McSwiggen says that sometime in the Stone Age, between 6,000 and 12,000 years ago, people of high status began sitting on raised platforms containing some sort of backrest. He wrote, “This was an effective way to signify elevated status among people who otherwise sat on the ground.” 

Throughout history, the elevation, size, composition and expense of a seating device has conferred status. Even today many companies have strict policies on who can order different kinds of office chairs. Some only allow high backed “executive chairs” for employees above a certain rank in the hierarchy. On “Star Trek,” it’s obvious that the captain has the only decent chair and view of the wide-screen TV.

Having a designated seat also is related to status, like having a personal parking place. Arthur’s Round Table had one special seat with a chair that was marked “Siege Perilous”— which means “the dangerous or perilous seat.” Only the singular knight who was destined to find the Holy Grail could sit there safely. If was fatal for anyone to try. 

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