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 cultures 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.
- During the O.J. Simpson Trial, the prosecutor says that Nicole said to O.J for the last time, Hasta la vista!
- A radio announcer says of Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, Yknow, hes not exactly the Arnold Schwarzenegger of world leaders.
- CNN announcer comments in a story on women leaving the military college The Citadel: Schwarzenegger could not have lasted longer.
- L.A. Times article on HIV research: Every time the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of science have the virus in their sights for destruction...
- A paragraph in Electronic Engineering Times is explicit about its metaphor: "The SCSI interface has a lot in common with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Its powerful. Its hard to understand. And its terminator keeps coming back, even after youre sure its a dead issue."
- NBC News, Los Angeles, 11/10/92, In a story of the problems of Latinos having to change their names, Elizabeth Pena says, "They were able to memorize Arnold Schwarzenegger."
- A Newsweek, 11/26/90 article on male pectoral implants states, "...maybe it's a sign of the Schwarzeneggerization of society" (p. 72).
- In an ad for Bally's health spa, Shari Belafonte states, "I can get on the same machine that Arnold Schwarzenegger can get on."
- In a New York Times review of the 1991 Grammys: "M.C. Hammer's record might be compared in quality to an Arnold Schwarzenegger film [i.e., it is a commercial success but not a quality production].
- The Sperminator: name given by media to an infertility specialist in Virginia who impregnated women with his own sperm (1993).
- At a talk in Los Angeles on computer file recovery: "It's like Arnold Schwarzenegger it's destroyed, it won't be back."
- In a Los Angeles Times (7/11/91) article on police chief Daryl Gates: "Even Arnold Schwarzenegger pales in comparison to Gates' cybernetic tenacity."
- Robin Williams, talking about Dr. Oliver Sacks whom he portrayed in the film Awakenings, said he was a combination of Schweitzer and Schwarzenegger" (USAir Magazine, March 1991, p. 52).
- In an L.A. Reader headline (7/12/91) about the attempts to oust Los Angeles chief of police Daryl gates: "Terminating the Terminator."
- Robin Williams, in an ad for the movie Toys, calls himself the "Toyminator."
- In a Newsweek article on who the Democrats will pick for their presidential nominee, Michael McCurry laments that "Arnold Schwarzenegger is taken" (7/22/91, p. 23).
- In an L.A. Times articles on an Olympic weightlifting hopeful, the large man is said to "dwarf Schwarzenegger" (7/20/91, p. C1).
- Los Angeles Times Magazine: "The Dodge Viper is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of sports cars" 9/8/91, p. 46).
- On the television show Law and Order, it was commented that you would have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger to pick up a big piece of equipment" (10/91).
- In a Los Angeles Times editorial about former Klansmen turned politician David Duke: "David Duke transforms himself from klan wizard to racial moderate and champion of the dispossessed as easily as Arnold Schwarzenegger's evil 'Terminator' metamorphoses into a noble android in 'Terminator II'" (11/3/91, p. M2).
- Los Angeles Times article on the Landers earthquake described on man's home as looking like "it had been trashed in a 'Terminator' movie" (6/29/92, p. A7).
- In two children's videos, one on construction equipment and one on trucks, powerful machines are given an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent.
- Campaigning for president, Bill Clinton called a George Bush's administrator, "The Terminator" because he ended jobs and then added that we don't need a Terminator 2 (10/25/92).
- "The Terminator of telecommunications is the automated telephone dialer" (New York Times editorial, 11/5/92, p. A1).
- In a statement at a Congressional hearing on medical fraud: "It's like sending Bambi out to meet the Terminator" (7/19/94).
- On the Today show, the father of one of the hostages taken in Iraq comments that if he were Arnold Schwarzenegger, he would go in himself to rescue the hostage (7/17/95).
- "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).
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