Friday, May 27, 2011

Dope Island: Hey Arnold! (not to be confused with a now-forgotten Nickelodeon cartoon)

By Charles Cassady Jr.

It’s looking a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger is the kind of guy Tiger Woods can look at and say, “Dude, what were you thinking?” (and I’ve been deliberately avoiding so no one can accuse me of stealing obvious lines which those skanks probably used 900 times by now). The current sex scandal and the imminent end of the Schwarzegger-Shriver marriage does mean a few good things. Now Sandra Bullock has apt second-husband material (you can tell I don’t think much of actors). And those folks during the 2003 election campaign that brought Schwarzenegger to the California governor’s mansion can say “I told you so” over a momentary sex scandal during the race, charges that the bodybuilder-turned-actor took certain liberties with females.

Schwarzenegger survived that tempest, of course, only to land in the headlines now like something out of a Jackie Collins novel. Allow me to humbly suggest a home-viewing assignment to accompany this latest celebrity-personal-life train wreck.

It’s HOW ARNOLD WON THE WEST, a 2004 nonfiction feature distributed on video by those left-leaning folks at the Disinformation Company, who obviously had the Republican Schwarzenegger in their sights as a corporate tool (so, in a minor sidebar, did the better known documentary ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM). A revisit to the bizarre tabloid sideshow of the political climate eight years ago, it was made by English journo Alex Cooke, who tut-tuts and tsk-tsks her way through a momentarily enjoyable but ultimately shallow recap of the surreal 2003 California gubernatorial race. It began with the recall of an incumbent conservative-Democratic governor Gray Davis, This, of course, led to 135 west-coast mutants and publicity hounds bidding to be the new office holder. From a field of campaigners that included porn star Mary Carey, the late sitcom actor Gary Coleman and some guys just trying to hype their beverage business (actually begging citizens not to elect them), it was champion body-builder, movie-action hero and Kennedy in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger who emerged as triumphant, on the Republican side.

While explaining curiosities in California legislation that made the whole fiasco possible, Cooke rather simplifies the anti-Davis feeling in terms of a right-wing "coup d'etat" by Darrell Issa, a tainted security-systems tycoon-turned-Republican Congressman, who wanted the governor’s seat for himself but saw the popular and flamboyant Terminator win the throne instead.

No matter, Schwarzenegger is still depicted by Cooke as a Bush Administration flunky, never mind his divergence from neoconservatives on issues like gay rights, church-state separation and stem-cell research. Now it’s for posterity to decide if Gov. Schwarzenegger indeed did to the state what he did to his housemaid. But the overall tone of HOW ARNOLD WON THE WEST is a fashionable European view, as valid now as it was then, of the USA as a circus of idiots. A circus of idiots who vote. Adding to the melancholy of seeing Gary Coleman again, the documentary lens captures the reaction of another bemused Californian observing the election, and this guy too came to a rather scandalous end: David Carradine.

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