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From _SF Weekly_, July 10, 1991, pp. 13-14, copied w/o permission…

Arnold = Messiah! by Andrew O'Hehir

Part classical demigod and part modern tycoon, the Terminator is destined to save America (and pump us to the max, besides)

Whisperings about Arnold Schwarzenegger's political ambitions have become standard fare for all those who grind Hollywood's rumor mills. But Arnold - the most conspicuously "successful" figure in contemporary America - surely isn't interested in the pork-barrel parliamentary peristalsis involved in acquiring and holding a U.S. Senate seat, or in the paperwork, endless conference calls and jet lag that are the Secretary of State's stock in trade. No, sir. As he has done throughout his extraordinary career, Arnold's going to the top or he ain't going.

Of course, there's a minor constitutional impediment when it comes to the presidency. Only U.S. natives can be elected to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was born - at least in the technical, biological sense - in 1947 in the scenic Austrian village of Thal, a few miles outside of Graz. Now, as anyone familiar with his career would surely agree, Arnold has been born and reborn many times in many guises, like the Buddha. And it seems patently unfair to judge someone who partakes so fully, in body and spirit, of the American essence - who verily exudes America from his aggressively healthy pores - by accident of geography, history and genetics.

No, we will clearly need a new category for Arnold. What does this Nietzschean _ubermensch_, who has already worn the crown of "Mr. Universe," want with our enfeebled, bloated and corrupt system of checks and balances? Democracy flounders on the sands of time like a beached whale - helpless, pale and flabby. But the harsh sunlight of a new day approaches! We will need a new title for our Arnold, just as (dare we broach the subject?) the great German nation of 50-odd years ago chose a new title for another self- made Austrian possessed of drive, vision and charisma. Look around you at this society, swinging off its moral hinges like a broken storm door. We are nearly ready, are we not?

In 1977, when his principal fame was still as the most successful bodybuilder in the sport's history, Arnold discussed his future with the German magazine _Stern_: "When one has money, one day it becomes less interesting. And when one is also the best in film, what can be more interesting? Perhaps power. Then one moves into politics and becomes governor or president or something." Something, indeed.

Yes, we are nearly ready. But not quite. Not everyone is prepared for a bulked-up, newly confident, totally Arnoldian nation. Right now it's easiest for those of us with unusually acute cultural vision. Keeping faith with Schwarzenegger as he rises inevitably toward Caesar's throne is one of the few causes that could build a coalition between _Soldier of Fortune_ subscribers and university pop-culture critics (although the two camps diverge on Madonna's role in the utopia to come - target practice or high priestess?).

Much of America, and the rest of the Western world, must still be convinced to shed the couch-potato carcass of 18th century egalitarianism for the buffed, hard-bodied new world order. But this week's box office receipts for _Terminator 2_ tell the story: The plan is on schedule.

Let the cynical eggheads smirk at the man they still see as a muscle-bound Teutonic country bumpkin. Intelligence is what you make of it, and nobody in Paraguay or Nepal has ever heard of David Letterman. Is Arnold qualified to discuss foreign policy? That depends on what you mean; he is conceivably the most recognizable individual in the world. When this month's _Premiere_ magazine ranked the worldwide box office appeal of Hollywood's biggest stars, only Arnold and the noted Australian sheep rancher and Latin-rite Catholic, Mel Gibson, carried a 100 percent rating, meaning their projects are guaranteed a profitable presale in virtually all nations, irrespective of directors, other stars or subject matter.

A bedrock conservative ever since arriving in the United States - and the son of a onetime Nazi Party member - Arnold worked hard for the 1988 George Bush campaign, donating large sums of money and campaigning extensively in the American heartland. But Schwarzenegger has not emulated Frank Sinatra's sycophantic relationship with the Kennedy and Reagan White Houses. Arnold has nothing to hide, and needs no protection from the powerful. (And he already has his own piece of Camelot - wife Maria Shriver, a JFK niece.) Instead, he is studying a role model, much as, by his own admission, he studied legendary English bodybuilder Reg Park before surpassing him, or as he studied Clint Eastwood's film career before blasting Eastwood into the territory of the has-been action star.

Last year, in a much-publicized photo opportunity for the White House press corps, Bush named Schwarzenegger the chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. But did George know what was coming? Arnold has designed a careful two-year itinerary that will take him -between movie shoots - to all 50 states for discussions with governors, legislators, school administrators, teachers and children. The ostensible subject of these meetings, of course, is improving physical education in public schools. And such methodical planning is typical of the obsessive, driven Schwarzenegger. But is the highest paid actor in the movie business flying around the country in his own jet to confer with local politicians out of altruism? Watch your step, George. And pump up that workout routine.

"The only fantasies I have are about my future," Arnold told _Playboy_ interviewer Joan Goodman in 1987. "Daydreams, I would say. I have a very strong power of vision… It's not something I do with a conscious effort at all. I don't say, 'Let me think about where I would like to be 10 years from now.' It just runs by, like a movie. The visions come in from somewhere, and then I go after those things. I may be guided by my visions more than by conscious decisions."

In both _Terminator_ films, Arnold played a superhuman cyborg - a mystical blend of the organic and the technological - programmed for mysterious purposes by a future society. In _Total Recall_ he was a common man with a history and a destiny he could neither fully understand nor erase. In the _Conan_ films that first made him a box office star, he played Robert E. Howard's sword-wielding hero-king, the strongman who unifies a primitive, warlike society. Recently, in _Twins_ and _Kindergarten Cop_, he has been a gentle giant who protects the innocent, showing a tenderness befitting a wise ruler.

Can these personas really be viewed as accidental fictions? It has been said that the movies are America's subconscious; just as Arnold, at each step in his career, has dreamed himself into the future, we are constructing our collective dream of him, piece by piece. When his true role is revealed, seamlessly knitting together all his "characters," Arnold may feign surprise, just as Doug Quaid in _Total Recall_ at first denies he has been a super-secret government agent on Mars. We will gaze up at him, filled with popcorn-fed awe, as he spreads across the screens of our retinas, larger than life. We will know the lines. It will all make sense.

Arnold's business acumen has not prevented him from communing with higher powers. And Arnold has suffered for us, suffered to transform himself into our gargantuan savior. He didn't mind; he loves us, in his own way. In 1985, he described his training regimen to Nancy Collins in _Rolling Stone_: "It was a very spiritual thing in a way, because I had such faith in the route, the path… Every repetition I did, every set of exercises, every hour I spent on it, was always one step closer to getting there. It was a wonderful experience to be taken by a higher force and just led there. I didn't say, 'Oh my God, the pain. The torture.' The pain is just something that gets you there. Besides, it was just a matter of time."

A gangly, intense youth with a history of minor behavioral problems, Arnold Schwarzenegger accomplished his first self-transformation in 1961, when he was almost 14. As Wendy Leigh writes in the unauthorized biography _Arnold_ (which Arnold eagerly tried to suppress; it has yet to appear in paperback) "he was already master of his own scenario." Arnold carefully orchestrated an opportunity to meet the then-ruling "Mr. Austria," who ran the only gym in Graz. Midway through his first training session in the drafty, primitive facility, Arnold turned to another bodybuilder and announced, "Well, I give myself about five years and I will be Mr. Universe." He was a little optimistic; it took six.

In his early career, Arnold quickly transcended the provincial environment of Graz, moving on to Munich and London before his inevitable passage to the New World in 1967. It was on an initial visit to London that a British promoter asked Arnold about his ambitions, expecting a list of the titles he hoped to win. "I want to be the richest bodybuilder in the world," Arnold responded. "I want to live in the United States and own an apartment block and be a film star. Ultimately I want to be a producer."

Molding his physical body into the ultimate extreme of what it could become, while obviously important to Arnold's career in a literal sense, was perhaps most significant to him as a metaphor, as a triumph of the will over compliant nature. He has repeatedly said that the ceaseless conditioning required in bodybuilding prepared him for other fields of conquest. He applied the same unremitting energy and confidence to leraning English, to mastering the intricacies of finance and real estate (he was a wealthy entrepreneur before entering films, and holds a legitimate business degree from the University of Wisconsin) and the treacherous labyrinth of the motion picture industry.

Reigning over the bodybuilding world from 1967 to 1975, Arnold gave that oft-ridiculed sport its first legitimacy; he remains, 16 years after his retirement, the only bodybuilder known to the general public. His star turn in the pseudo-documentary _Pumping Iron_ - most of the film, shot at and around the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition, was carefully scripted - did more to popularize bodybuilding than any amount of television coverage ever had. More to the point, it presented him, despite his almost grotesque physique, as a credible, comfortable and even charming leading man.

Although Arnold would have pumped his way to movie superstardom somehow, he nonetheless owes a great debt to John Milius, the eccentric, militaristic director who cast him as _Conan the Barbarian_, which became the summer blockbuster of 1982.

A self-described "zen fascist" who has occasionally required his film crews to greet him on the set with the Nazi salute, and who openly relishes the pain and dirt of action filmmaking, Milius obviously identified a kindred spirit in Schwarzenegger. Milius saluted his discovery with an appropriately heroic line from Nietzche he adopted as _Conan_'s epigraph: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Arnold expressed much the same sentiment in a _Boston Globe_ interview: "Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength."

Arnold was not the first muscleman to shoulder his way into show business, but he was the first to succeed on his own terms. Virtually weaned on the Italian-made "Hercules" films of the late '50s and early '60s starring Steve Reeves, Reg Park, Alan Steel and other lummoxes of the period, Arnold grasped that his destiny must be different from those underpaid oafs, whose principal failing was not a lack of talent (hardly an insuperable obstacle in the movies) but a lack of vision.

Trivia buffs will note that Arnold's film debut came in just such a sword- and-toga picture, 1969's _Hercules Goes to New York_, in which he was billed as Arnold Strong and his dialogue dubbed. But the error was never repeated. Arnold didn't need to play an ancient hero; he was destined to become a fully modern one.

Try to imagine Steve Reeves commanding $12 million per picture (Arnold's reported salary for _Terminator 2_). Or fellow bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno (TV's _Incredible Hulk_) yachting with the Kennedy's of Hyannisport. Arnold the policeman's son, who grew up in a house without indoor plumbing, has transformed himself not just into a celebrity and a millionaire - those are coarse goals, after all -but into a tycoon and a patrician, and without losing the all-important adulation of the masses. (Calling Sylvester Stallone: How's the weather in Siberia?)

Arnold's qualifications to rule us can be understood through Jungian intuition, not Cartesian reasoning. (How else did we pick Ronald Reagan?) He is no 19th-century statesman, but rather a melding of profound archetypes, both primeval and contemporary. As I have suggested, his film roles and improbably physical properties connect him to an ancient cross- cultural lineage - the demigod warrior-king, half man and half myth - that ties the Pharaoh Akhenaton to Zeus' son Herakles to the many-eyed Celt Cuchulainnn.

To these icons of antiquity, Arnold has added the pure fervor instilled by the private enterprise system. He has Horatio Alger's ambition and work ethic, Andrew Carnegie's immigrant survival instinct, the deal-making acumen of a prelapsarian Donald Trump and the photogenic marketing genius of a Michael Jordan. We will choose him the way the converted choose the Calvinist God: belief, surrender, salvation.

With this paragon of capitalist initiative as our leader, it will no longer be a question of competing against the Japanese. Surely that great nation's warrior caste, for too long enslaved by the trappings of the _petit bourgeoisie_, will arise and join us, forming the new transoceanic state firmly anchored in Arnold's spiritual-materialist vision. Unified Europe, eager to follow its native son into a new era, will not lag far behind.

For while Arnold has often extolled the virtues of America as a land of limitless opportunity for wealth and personal transformation, some of his personal values are pleasantly Old World. Perhaps in atonement for his father's errors in political judgment, Arnold has become a major benefactor of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, even calling himself "an honorary Jew." But in many important ways, Arnold is just a chip off the old block.

Like his father, Arnold forbids his wife to wear pants in his presence. (We may look forward to the day when this refreshing return to tradition is enshrined in the legal code.) And his philosophy of personal achievement comes as a comfort to those of us who find the current U.S. government's efforts to restore the nation's moral fiber irritatingly half-hearted:

"I look down at people who are waiting, who are helpless… I didn't want to be like everybody else. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be part of the small percentage of people who were leaders, not the large mass of followers. I think it was because I saw that leaders use 100 percent of their potential… I was always fascinated by people in control of other people." When you lay your head on the pillow tonight, Arnold, dream about us.

[Valuable research for this article was conducted by Lawrence Levi, who is massively pumped for Arnold.]

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