By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Illustration by Robbie Conal
Once upon a time, Hollywood was the most influential force in shaping people’s attitudes about hot-button issues. Think Gentleman’s Agreement (religion), The Man With the Golden Arm (drugs), The Defiant Ones (race), Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (sex). Politics came a distant second. Now, in the Schwarzenegger candidacy, there’s a confluence of both cultural catalysts. Just one problem: The Running Man and the media are walking away from this historic moment. Whether Schwarzenegger is made to publicly account for his past behavior may turn California’s recall election into a national test that decides once and for all if messy private lives are off-limits as campaign issues.
It’s not shocking that sex would surface in this post-Clinton gubernatorial recall election — especially given the movie star’s penchant for baring his butt and simulating coitus for the camera. After all, we remain fixated on everything in the entertainment industry that’s most sensational or scandalous because it’s the unifying prism through which we view the world, from Britney tongue-kissing Madonna, to Denzel’s and Halle’s Best Actor Oscars, to Robert Downey Jr.’s addiction saga.
But what is surprising right now is the continuing way that the media coverage remains muffled about each new explosive Arnold revelation. Not just the political bomb that he boasted about a gangbang and drug taking in a 1977 Oui magazine interview. It’s also the orgy he described in a 1981 Penthouseinterview, the groping and fondling ascribed to him by a 2001 Premiere magazine interview, his Nazi father’s real wartime activities unearthed by the Los Angeles Times last month, the broken campaign promises he made in recent weeks, and then, last weekend’s report of alleged racist statements.
All of this smacks of celebrity worship or semicollusion with Schwarzenegger’s Republican campaign (demonstrating just how monolithic Big Media’s POV really is despite the FCC’s recent claims to the contrary). It’s also a case of squeamishness on the part of men (who don’t see a gangbang as any big deal whereas for women it’s another minefield in the Mars/Venus battle of the sexes). Certainly it’s not stupidity deserving a pass (especially since the same forces snuffing out Arnold’s 25-year-old outrageous past are fanning the flames of Cruz Bustamante’s long-ago collegiate affiliation with MEChA).
What’s going on here is easy to explain to anyone familiar with Hollywood: The Schwarzenegger campaign is the replica of the worst kind of movie junket, replete with the same media manipulation, controlled access and make-believe message. No wonder the only debate Arnold wants to join is the one that submits all questions in advance. That’s a comfortable setting for an actor accustomed to memorizing lines.
On Fox News Sunday, Schwarzenegger’s skin-mag admissions were not discussed. Meanwhile, ABC News reportedly is delaying an on-camera interview with a former Mr. Universe, now a Caribbean newspaper publisher, accusing Schwarzenegger of making insensitive racial comments years ago, like “If you gave these blacks a country [like South Africa] to run, they would run it down the tubes.”
This week, Gloria Allred was booked on MSNBC’s The Abrams Report, but only to talk about the Laci Peterson murder and not to repeat the R word (“sounds as though it was a rape”) she expressed to the L.A. Weekly last week about the gangbang. “The press for the most part is reducing it to a footnote,” Allred complained on Tuesday.
And, one day after he denounced California’s Democratic Party chairman, Art Torres, for raising the P word (“sexual predator”) during a screaming match on KNX radio with Schwarzenegger campaign chair, Representative David Dreier, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews — broadcasting from the left coast through the October 7 election — could deliver no better qualified Californian to discuss the recall than, get this, ex-Nixon cohort and Ferris Buehler bit-part player and game-show host Ben Stein.
And that’s not even counting all the hours upon hours of local right-wing talk-radio time whose suck-up interviews (yes, KABC’s Larry Elder and KFI’s John and Ken, we’re talking about you) Schwarzenegger has used like paid advertising. While in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, even just the semblance of a debate has been ripped out of news reporters’ hands and relegated to the marginal turf of columnists.
Then there’s what Hollywood likes to call the “character arc” that’s written into the best scripts. So this recall could be a referendum on how much of a “work in progress” voters will tolerate in their candidates, especially one that’s a movie star. Supporters argue that Schwarzenegger’s flip-flopping on the issues is merely part of his maturation process. But that doesn’t explain going back on pledges not to take special-interest money or attack his opponents personally. It also doesn’t excuse remembering, then forgetting, then remembering again, giving that 1977 Oui magazine interview.