In the 1998 Woodie Allen film, Celebrity, a character states what has become the accepted wisdom on our exaltation of stars, the glamorous and the notorious: our choice of celebrities says something about the society that picks them. While this seems common sense, there is often more to celebrity than just a mirror held up to our desires, fears and concerns.

Not every celebrity is given the same accord, and certainly it is a small number who have penetrated the collective unconscious so deeply and thoroughly that they can be said to have truly turned the tide of a culture’s inclinations and activities. Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, JFK come to mind as contemporary icons who serve as persistent reference points for our evaluations of love, hate, sex, power, death and the other necessities of life.

While it is impossible in most cases to trace a one-to-one cause-effect relationship between a celebrity and a cultural shift, it is possible, in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, to show both the breadth and depth of his penetration into the cultural psyche. If it is the case, as we argue elsewhere in this project, that narratives, metaphors and language are in constant motion in a culture, defining, refining, challenging, structuring and deconstructing all at the same time our sense of who we are and how we make sense of the world, then the reference to a celebrity in everyday, common usage language, metaphors and narratives points to the significance of that entity in shaping our actions, decisions and focus.

This whole argument, of course, is predicated on the notion that something like a “collective unconscious” and a “cultural psyche” exist, or that they are at least useful terms for talking about the structuring of decision making and social relations for such a diverse “culture” as that of the United States. Indeed, these terms have been wholeheartedly discarded by most of the social sciences and humanities even as they were embraced in the less academic regions of the culture. In addition, the definition of “culture” has been at the heart of the field of anthropology since its inception and still raises violent discussions among anthropologists. Nevertheless, we want to use them in very narrowly defined ways that will help make the point that Arnold Schwarzenegger has woven a uniquely intense network of associations that we all to some degree are subject to.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, both the name and the man, has been used as an adjective, a metaphor, an adverb, and a simile. He has contributed speech patterns and sayings to our everyday language, and has often dominated the minds of those trying to talk about things big, expensive, powerful, violent, tough, and successful. He is quite simply an easy-to-use reference point or example that is immediately understood and recognized. If language helps construct our reality, then the place of Arnold Schwarzenegger in our language points to his significance as an influence on our cultural activities and actions. The following are examples of Arnold as a generator of cultural idioms or as a reference point for the culture. These and many other examples will be analyzed in a future, expanded version of this essay.