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Politics as Entertainment

12 Oct, 2003 By: Kurt Indvik

You can always count on California to bring a little entertainment into your homes every evening, if not through the TV programming and movies produced out here in “la la land,” then through its politics.

The recent election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor in the recall of Gray Davis captured the attention of the entire country and, as you'll see in this week's issue of Video Store Magazine (page 40), at least helped to keep sales of Arnold's videos moving along after the release of T3. I can't help but think that Schwarzenegger's own continued references to his movie personas could not help but fuel sales a bit.

Of course, we have been down this road before with Ronald Reagan, but no one can argue that Reagan's 60+ films, such as Knute Rockne: All American (from whence he got his nickname, The Gipper) or his critical success in Kings Row, ever put him in the same realm of fame during his Hollywood years as have Schwarzenegger's “Terminator” films or other efforts. To be sure, Reagan's terms as president, spanning 1981-89, likely had little impact on the rental or sales of home videos of his movies, coming as they did during the early years of the home video business.

Voters had begun to learn about Reagan while he honed his political chops as two-time president of the Screen Actors Guild, then as a reborn Republican who took the governorship of California before moving on to The White House. No need to watch Bedtime for Bonzo to try to understand what sort of president he would make.

This time around, however, voters in California and those around the nation following the election here had no such background on Arnold from which to try and figure out what sort of political leader he might be. And his reticence to engage in but one public debate (and a few interviews on “Larry King” and “Oprah”) gave voters little real substance as to his specific views or what he would do as governor.

Nope, Schwarzenegger, it can be argued, took advantage of a bizarre moment in California political history to leverage his fame, moderate Republicanism and Kennedy clan connection (through his wife, Maria Shriver) into winning the popular vote in an angry voter backlash recall election. My guess is no small percentage of voters retained images of Arnold as the indestructible Terminator — who can “clean house” with a swoosh of his formidable arms — when they punched their chads. My bet is Arnold's staff continues to keep the “Governator” in controlled media circumstances, and the electorate will be kept at arm's length as Arnold and staff struggle with California's fiscal problems.

It's that curiosity factor that likely will continue to draw a stream of people back to Schwarzenegger's videos seeking, if only jokingly, to get some idea of how he will govern in the next three years.



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