Everyone now knows what everyone long suspected: Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t the monogamous type. Who knew that this former bodybuilder who spent his formative years and professional career moving between the gym and the movie set would enjoy sleeping with a lot of women he wasn’t married to.
We love reading about the collapse of Arnold’s marriage and his public image because we love to see the mighty humbled and brought back down to our level.
But the fact is that even though Arnold’s affairs were an open secret since he proposed to Maria Shriver, they are only emerging now in a way that affects his image because what Arnold used to represent in the public mindset is now no longer relevant. Arnold is a spent force. For the first time in 30 years, he is no longer useful either as a bankable box office icon or as a rags-to-riches Republican poster child.
Schwarzenegger was the perfect 80’s icon. His exploded musculature encapsulated the strength-through-overwhelming-force mantra of Reagan era politics and defense spending.In his films, utterly forgettable action films that bordered on the fascist, Arnold battled the twin forces of government corruption, permissiveness and softness on the one hand and the crime that flourished in its shadow in the other. Justice was meted out directly, brutally, and usually from the barrel of a gun.
He was perfect. That is what the mainstream wanted at that time. No subtlety, no complexity. Everything was simple. Bad guys are bad, and good guys can do whatever they want to punish the bad guys, because they system is too soft to do it. In the 1980’s, the worst thing you could call a presidential candidate was “wimp.” Arnold didn’t look like a wimp, he didn’t act like a wimp in his movies, so America embraced him. In his action films, the characters he played were interchangeable, shallow, and emotionless, save for corny one-liners he delivered before dealing the crushing blow to the enemy.Arnold’s films made money because he allowed American men to vicariously live out every macho fantasy they felt was being stifled in the real life era of feminism, tolerance, and multiculturalism.
Of course it was all a sham. When Generation X grew up in the late 90’s and Schwarzenegger became an ironic figure to be lampooned and caricatured, he followed his now middle-aged audience from the 80’s into the domain of talk radio and late night politics. In those fora, he could continue to peddle the politics of democrats-as-socialists and “tough-on-everything” without any criticism. And at a time when California state politics seemed mired in bi-partisan bickering and financial mismanagement, Schwarzenegger seized an opportunity to be the Hollywood hero coming to save the day once again.
And throughout all this, whatever he did in his private life wasn’t a secret so much as it seemed inexplicably not to matter. Schwarzenegger was the first choice Reagan’s ambassador of physical fitness, even though everyone know (and he freely admitted) that his physique was the product of steroid use. During the production of Terminator 3, some gossip outlets picked up on rumors of Schwarzenegger groping and manhandling female members of the crew. But those rumors went nowhere, because with a hundred million dollars of box office on the line, no one is going to mess with the money.
So now Schwarzenegger finds himself as a public figure with no public. No one wants to see Raw Deal 2 or his 60+ yr old physique. That time has past. No one but the fringes still believe after 8 years of the Bush presidency that Republicans are the party of small government and fiscal discipline and Democrats are “tax and spend liberals”.
Schwarzenegger is a spent force, and everything he represented has been cast aside and replaced by new mythologies and new icons. What you are seeing play out now is Schwarzenegger being flushed from the American psyche once and for all.