The following are excerpts from a presentation at the 1992 conference called Body Image: A Cross-Cultural Perspective Symposium at the UCLA Center for Pacific Rim. This was a multimedia lecture/performance entitled: "The Arnoldian Body: Schwarzenegger, Mass Communication, and the Global Image of Perfection."
The conference consisted of about 20 scholars who were supposed to find ways to bridge the study and practices of dance with the social sciences and humanities. The social scientits each read one hour papers to a seated audience without allowing questions. Their dance counterparts performed dances without any analysis. Our job was to literally and theoretically bridge the two. The following presentation took place halfway through the conference, right after the social scientists and right before the dancers.
Plastic barbells were passed around to the audience (conference participants and others invited to view this presentation) as they were seated waiting for the presentation to begin. They were encouraged to pump iron before we started. Most of the audience participated by pumping the barbells a few times.
PART ONE: A BRIEF PLAY
Arnolds Left Pinky
A Play in Two Minutes
SCOTT: Michael Blitz
VERONICA: Louise Krasniewicz
Veronica and Scott are dressed as seedy film noir detectives.
My partner SCOTT Paget and I (my names VERONICA Tobey) were puzzling a case out in the office late one night. This is Los Angeles. Were just a couple of squishy dectives in this muscle bound metropolis.
There was a knock at the stenciled glass door. I went to open it but there was no one there. On the floor at my feet is a package in plain brown wrapping. I picked it up.
(lounging in a chair)
Who is it?
(turning the package over and shaking it)
Its a package.
What kind of package?
Theres something written on it.
It says: To a couple of girlie detectives.
(sitting upright in chair)
Girlie Dectectives! Us?
Im gonna open it.
Are you sure we should do that?
Well, get up off your chair and look.
Oh my god, its a-
It is a-
SCOTT and VERONICA
Its a FINGER!
We put the finger through an elaborate series of complicated and preposterously verbal tests. We discovered much to our horror and fascination that it was Arnold Schwarzeneggers left pinky. Quickly leafing through the notebook that we had kept from the beginning of this case, SCOTT found the entry that read:
Arnold spoke at the Los Angeles Knights of Columbus and told the crowd of Knights something horrifying.
Each of us has an imperative to improve, to make ourselves fit and prepared for whats to come. Each of us has something, at the very least one thing which needs improvement, or which needs to be changed.
One of the Knights without considering the consequences, blurted out
Whats your flaw?
Not at all perturbed, Arnold held up his left hand and looked at it as he turned it this way and that.
You see this hand, it looks perfect, no? Its not. Its gotta flaw. The same flaw that all mens hands have. The pinky. And as Im right handed, the left pinky is particularly useless and effeminate. I could improve this.
We stared at one another with the realization that we were, for whatever reasons, the recipients of the one flaw Arnold had but couldnt improve, his left pinky. He had had it removed. How? The incision line was clean. beautiful by some standards of amputation. The severed end of the bone had been cleaned and polished by Japanese flesh beetles. The nail was trim and manicured. This was the work of an artist. But why us, we wondered, why us?
PART TWO: A MULTIMEDIA PRESENTATION
The following material was presented verbally as well as with video and slides. Below are the notes used for the pewsentation.
The performance of the play and the presentation evoked strong reactions from the other two anthropologists in attendance. One of them, livid and red-faced, argued loudly that, among other things, we were ruining anthropology and that we had no data to back up our claims that we were living in a prosthetic culture in which humans and machines have merged.
We have been asked to provide a bridge between theory and practice, between ideas and actual moving bodies, between Saturday and Sunday, between what might be and what is. We are going to build this bridge out of Austrian Oak. Austrian oak has peculiar characteristics. It is strong and firm and grows everywhere. It is instantly recognizable and terribly versatile. The species of Austrian oak we will use is called Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A major concern of every cultural scene is bodies-- body sizes, body looks, body sculpture, body torture, body destruction, body decoration, body reduction, body supplements, body manipulation, body purification, body healing, body extensions, body control, body control, body control. And there is no one who epitomizes BODY like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the kind of body Arnold epitomizes is not merely one that carries the bulk and strength of overdeveloped muscles. It is a body that proudly carries the new world order to both the New and Old Worlds.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is big. Some men are physically larger. Some people are richer. Some have more power to influence events. Perhaps a few are more ambitious. But scarcely anyone is as recognizable or as familiar. Only a handful of others are as well known by only their first name--and this despite the fact that it is his last name which is most distinctive.
On numerous occasions, in a variety of contexts, his name has become the noun used to define something big or significant or powerful: "The spawn of a pair of intellectual Schwarzeneggers..." from a review of a book about a bodybuilder whose parents were well-known scholars. (LA Times book review, 3/3/91). "I'll have the Schwarzenegger du jour," actor Peter Ustinov is quoted as saying in a New York restaurant. He was not referring to a real menu item but used Arnold's name as a code for "Austrian mussels, glazed to perfection" (Newsday 4/25/91 p. 79). "The Dodge Viper is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of sports cars" (LA Times Magazine, 9/8/91) shouts an automobile sales pitch.
Hey Arnold, wheres your muscle you big white faggot? The perceptive fan shouting this at a screening of Terminator 2 noticed something very important-- for all his bigness, Arnold was physically getting smaller and smaller. Since his championship bodybuilding days and his early Conan movies, Arnold has lost both bulk and weight. But as many people have noted, the smaller Arnold gets, the bigger he gets. How is this possible? Arnold Schwarzenegger is just not that big anymore, especially compared to the steroid-pumped monsters produced in the last decade. Lee Haney, the current Mr. Olympia (holder of the title more times than Arnold) has achieved a bigger body, something Arnold once said could never be done. But when Haney, a black man, achieved his remarkable and measurably larger-than-Arnold body, the significance of the achievement had already been rendered irrelevant.
To enable himself to grow into the unprecedented enormity he would achieve through his most recent, and most colossally expensive film, Arnold had to get smaller. As he explained in Columbus, Ohio, at the Third Annual Arnold Classic Bodybuilding competition, he had been too big for the film-frame and needed to reduce his size in order to fit into the larger-than-life scale of cinema. The reason he had to do this is because there is a coming together of film and reality which requires the smaller body. The earlier, "fantastic" films (Conan, Hercules, Red Sonja) demanded mythically proportioned bodies. His more recent films demand that he be more in keeping with his actual public persona. He had to transform himself from being a stellar-sized body to being a stealth-body.
Affectionately known in Japan as Shuwa-Chan, Arnold has been appearing regularly in television and print advertisements for a Japanese vitamin drink and for Cup O Noodles. In the United States, he only appears in ads for body building paraphernalia.
It seems odd at first that Schwarzenegger would have become a hit in Japan. One Japanese magazine described his body as grotesque and claimed that Japanese prefer things that are cute. But Arnolds body in Japan is not the same as Arnolds body in other places. It is manipulated and de-emphasized in Japanese ads. It is foreshortened, missing limbs, seen at odd angles. This type of body is consistent with the Japanese concept which one researcher had called reductionism. In Japanese reductionism, objects and bodies are pared down, packed away, folded, compressed or congealed for either aesthetic reasons or to make the object/body more functional (Lee 71). Thoughts can also be compacted and concentrated by assuming an attitude which focuses actions into a single form and time into a single moment (Lee 57). The No masks of Japan demonstrate this with their presentation of a single expression that can be read differently in different lights and at different angles.
Arnolds success in Japanese advertising (the products increased sales 30-40% in a month) is due at least in part to a compatibility between Japanese concepts and Arnoldian ones. Arnold, by compressing his body, is actually illustrating a type of self-control or self-surveillance in which we learn to be socially, morally and politically fit by learning to fit our bodies into designated places. We learn to be efficient, eliminating extraneous movement and speech and thoughts.
As chair of the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness, Arnold is officially in charge of locating, paring down, and fitting our bodies intimate ways. Arnolds shift from body building to fitness is a shift to the stealth body, one that appears innocuous to our personal radar screens, the ones that screen bullshit and danger.
THRESHOLDS AND PENETRATIONS
More than any other person in any time, Arnold Schwarzenegger lives and thrives and breeds at the threshold of multiple worlds: the celluloid of Hollywood, the me-consciousness of self-help and health, politics, entrepreneurship, technology, and all the other arenas in which he has become a major player. It is not just that he has transformed himself from bodybuilder to businessman to box office monster. Rather he is simultaneously and impossibly everywhere in the mass culture-- films, television, political fundraisers, special Olympic, magazines, real estate, restaurant and club ownership, fitness industry, bodybuilding competitions, and advertising. BUT-- we want to argue that to end the analysis here with the claim that he is present everywhere is to ignore the larger roles he plays in shifting the boundaries of innumerable cultural scenes--the boundaries between entertainment and politics and the military and human fitness and violence and masculinity.
We can see this by showing how Arnold is everywhere including in your body and in our bodies and in our dreams.
Did you tape our conversation in which I told you about the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Maria Shriver dream? I am painfully unable to recall some of the details I want.
Why do you keep losing things about Arnold? What sort of Freudian hole are they slipping into? Yes, I have the dream on tape. In the dream Arnold comes to your door and says "I hear you are doing a book about me." He then tells you that Maria thought that she could find out about him by peeling away his layers like an onion. But he says that the only way anyone will find out about him is by breaking him into little pieces.
Taking Arnold's dream advice seriously, we "broke" him into little pieces. We collected every tidbit of information we could-- from academic archives, pulp magazines, Arnolds blockbuster motion pictures, tabloid news programs and governmental publications. We exchanged nearly 400 electronic mail computer messages that documented our own, and our cultures, encounters with Arnold. We experienced nearly 40 [now 137] dreams about Arnold and recorded them faithfully. We attended the Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition, paid $50 for a Polaroid with Schwarzenegger, and began our own simple but enlightening weight training programs.
By the time we were one year into our research, we noticed that when we mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger to anyone, we inevitably prompted an Arnold story. We collected these stories from everyone and from everywhere because it seemed Arnold was everywhere, at the same time, if only in peoples thoughts. Parents, friends, students and strangers relayed their own personal Arnold encounters as did newspapers, comic strips, muscle magazines, and late night talk shows. Hotel waiters recalled serving Arnold dinner; real estate agents recounted showing him Southern California property; students punctuated their class discussions with dialogue from his films.
While looking for the Arnolds unauthorized biography in a Madison Avenue bookstore, we were told that they didn't have the book, but that Arnold had walked by the other day on his way to a Kennedy family funeral. At a photo processing shop, a woman notices our images of Arnold shot on the set of Terminator 2 and says she has always wanted to photograph Arnold nude for her book of portraits. We turned on the television in Columbus, Ohio just as a story about a boy with cerebral palsy begins. "I want to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger," he says. The voice over says, "He hasn't yet realized his limits." Friends and students have reported seeing Arnold at movie premiers, working out in the gym, walking on the beach, eating at southern California restaurants, dancing at New York City clubs, buying a baby snowsuit in a tony west LA boutique or buying nipple clips in a West Hollywood sex shop. One student is Arnolds caterer. One of us nearly hits Arnold at an LA intersection as he aggressively tries to pull across traffic. One of us is in a store buying sunglasses. A man puts on a pair, turns to his female companion, and, in a mock German accent, says, "Look Maria, I am the Terminator.
In the standard practice of biographers, we ought to try to reassemble these pieces of Arnold into a coherent picture of his life. But we are not biographers in the standard sense of the word. We are not writing Arnold's story as much as the story he has stimulated in everyone else's life. Everyone has an Arnold story, some way that they use him as a common point of reference in a society that is increasingly complex and fragmented. We collected and analyzed these stories because Arnold can best and only be understood as the most crucial component of this larger cultural scene. He has somehow made his way into our grammar books, our etiquette books and our school books; he has made his way into our jokes, our news reporting and our dreams; he has made his way into the White House, into every Governors mansion and into the Simon Wiesenthal Holocaust Center; we want to know how and why.
Like the more advanced liquid metal terminator in T2, Arnold is able to become the substance he touches. But what does it mean for you when you are the substance touched by Arnold? What does it mean for your body when the terminator decides to replicate and eliminate your body?
DREAM February 1, 1991
Arnold and I were talking about women bodybuilders and he wanted to show me what it would look like for me. We were standing in front of a big mirror and Arnold had on his competition trunks. He stood facing the mirror with his hands on his hips and his legs apart. He tilted his head all the way back so that he looked like one of those amusement park displays of bodybuilders that you put your head on and get your picture taken. I put my head where Arnolds used to be and then I put my arms under his and out front like he was a ventriloquist dummy. We laughed.
In the past five years, overseas revenues for Hollywood films have doubled. In the next five years, Hollywood should expect to earn more overseas than it does from domestic sales (Fortune 12/31/90: p. 50). This means that Hollywood films now have to appeal to a global rather than a domestic market. This could mean that films will become more homogenized as they can play in both Peoria and Peking.
As the worlds most popular movie star, Arnold will be a major part of this global homogenization through films. Granted that no film is read or interpreted the same in every culture; however, every film limits its possible interpretations and it is here in this definition of a films borders that homogenization will take place.
This year everyone at the Academy Awards thanked their teachers and thanked films for teaching them. Is this an apt metaphor for how films work? What is it that films in general, and Arnolds films in particular teach us?
DREAM February 23, 1991
Arnold is filming Terminator 2 at UCLA. The setting is some rolling hills on campus--not any spot that really exists. It reminds me of two scenes-- the park from the movie Blowup and the hills from Kent State where the protesting students we shot by the National Guard. I am watching the filming and decide to take off my makeup with a cotton ball. As I rub off my makeup, it turns gray on my face and gives me an aged, alien look. I leave it on. The director comes over and asks me to be an aline in the movie in a bar scene reminiscent of the one in Star Wars. The bar is huge and oval-shaped and there is nothing in the middle-- you just face other patrons. I look in a mirror and I no longer have my own face because they have put a rubber mask on me. I am told that I have the major alien speaking part in the film. Cut suddenly to me in my poststructuralism seminar and I am telling my graduate students about this dream. We are sitting at a set of childrens desks that are in the same shape as the bar-- in an oval with a space in the middle. Suddenly Arnold pops up in one of the seats facing me across the room. His face is a caricature. I say to him, I am the major alien in your movie.
Arnolds films instruct us on fitness and the coming border wars. One major battle his films fight is the one concerned with gender sorting, a reshuffling of the codes of gender identification.
Boys have penises and girls have vaginas, a little boy informs us in Kindergarten Cop. This, however, is kids' stuff compared to the categorizations worked out by Arnold.
In many Schwarzenegger films, males appropriate birthing rights and activities from females.
Arnold's films become women's films-- concerned with controlling bodies and personal relations. They are adventure/action only superficially. Arnold is a pussy. Hulk Hogan can kick his ass. If Arnold is a pussy, does that mean his body has changed? Has he taken on the bodily attributes of a woman?
Maria Shriver appeared on the Tonight Show after the birth of her first daughter and told how Arnold taught her how to give birth. He was shown how to do this by the Lamaze coach who put his legs up, put a doll between his legs and told him to push.
Arnold has taught us to (con)fuse ourselves with films to the point where it is difficult to see ourselves except in a filmic manner.
Arnold is preparing us for the mass exodus from bodies that technoculture has required.
Arnold is the organic embodiment of machine information.
Arnold has removed himself from the human realm by disembodying himself in films he is in a scary collusion with the technology of virtual reality.
Arnold refuses to be limited by his body.
RUMORS OF BODY WARS
We have heard rumors that bodybuilding is the favorite sport of the middle east, especially of Syria. We can find no evidence to support this in academic or popular journals but do note that the Gulf war was really a war about body building and Arnold was one of its architects:
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