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From the November 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 11)

Eye on the United States

Terminator 3 in California

Daniel Lak, Nepali Times (independent weekly), Kathmandu, Nepal, Aug. 15-21, 2003

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger  in "Terminator 2" (Photo: AFP/Getty Images).
It’s a time of year known in the Northern Hemisphere as “the silly season.” This is the mediacentric view that assumes people are tired of the staples of their news diet—violence in Israel and Palestine, violence in Africa, violence in Iraq, and so on. It’s summer up here after all. So our purveyors of popular taste turn to the bizarre, the wild, and the exotic to enrich our lives on the nightly news, and on the front covers of our newsmagazines.

Well now. In a development sent from middlebrow media heaven, this week’s big story is the candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor of California. Never mind that he can blast or decimate any other living creature and almost every machine known to moviedom.

Arnie, of course, is no stranger to politics. He’s married to a member of the Kennedy clan but is proudly Republican, right of center to the core. Just what you’d expect from a do-it-yourselfer who teased his 90-pound weakling body into a Mr. Universe title then movie stardom as a lone vigilante of truth, justice, and kicking the other guy’s teeth down his throat. Never mind that he speaks English like a bad character actor plays Dracula, or gives off the hard-edged persona of someone who’s spent far too long on steroids. Arnie is in the race for governor of California. And the media—that includes me, since I’m writing about it—are gaga. Finally a summer story worthy of our word processors and cameras.

To begin with, I’m not against movie stars running for political office. How could you be? So many of them already have, and not just in America. Famously, Amitabh Bacchan, M.G. Ramachandran, and N.T. Rama Rao enjoyed political careers in India. The last two gentlemen were hugely more successful than the first, but he’s a far better actor. And far wiser too, as he confines himself to the screen these days, enjoying respect and influence long past retirement age.

Here in Nepal, democracy has barely had a chance, so we had a fictional movie star contesting an election in [Nepalese] Manjushree Thapa’s [debut novel] The Tutor of History. Ronald Reagan is by far the most successful film star to hold high office anywhere in the world. His two terms as U.S. president in the 1980s are loved and loathed with equal intensity, depending on peoples’ political affiliations. Reagan used his acting abilities to deliver some memorable speeches and to charm almost everyone he ever met. Whatever you may say about the man’s intellect or his losses of memory at crucial times of scandal, the sight of President George W. Bush delivering his one-liners at a press conference pales in comparison.

Hollywood has long been political in America, largely at the liberal end of the spectrum, well to the left of the mainstream polity. Top filmmakers, it’s widely felt in the United States, spend too much time on issues like the death penalty, poverty, the danger of nuclear weapons, and evil practices by big corporations. Whether you agree with the spirit of that statement or not, it’s plain that right-wingers are indeed correct about the biases of Hollywood. Artists in general are left of center, and movie-making tends to be dominated by people like this.

Not Arnie. He’s done his fundraising for the Republicans, and though he’s vague about his political ideas, he’ll be a right-winger, that’s for sure. The voters get a chance to decide on that in October, and you’ll not find me arguing against democracy. Not in this column.

What I will say about Schwarzenegger and Reagan and all the rest is that there is one crowning virtue to having the odd movie type in politics. And it’s one we might wonder about here in Nepal if and when democracy ever comes back: Movie people aren’t professional politicians. They’re from a difference caste.

So maybe, just maybe, there’s hope of a broken mold or two, some thinking outside a badly discredited box. Let’s see how the Terminator does in California, before we start pushing for someone similar here.

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