EYEBALL-TO-EYEBALL WITH ARNOLD S.
by Myriam Miedzian
My fantasy life is as rich as the next person's, and after spending endless hours watching the non-stop violence in films such as Terminator and Conan The Barbarian, I was, to put it mildly, no fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the thought of launching a frontal attack on the mighty muscleman never entered my mind. Yet there I was, by a twist of fate, at a small town elementary school stepping forward from the crowd of journalists at a press conference starring "Conan, the Republican," former President Bush's spokesperson for Physical Fitness and Sports.
Overcoming my anxiety, and with encouragement from my husband, who kept whispering, "do it, do it," I stepped forward and said in a strong voice: "Mr. Schwarzenegger, I'm the author of this book, Boys Will Be Boys (I held it up for him to see) and my research reveals that there have been over 235 studies done in the last 40 years on the effects of viewing TV and film violence. The overwhelming majority of them show that viewing violence encourages violence...I think that raises the question as to whether you are fit to be the spokesperson for physical fitness because violence is very bad for your physical fitness. Over 326,000 Americans have been murdered in the last fifteen years."
If a furious glare could terminate a person, I would not be around to tell this story. Mr. Muscles was clearly not prepared for verbal attacks, but he retained a veneer of politeness. "Thank you very much," he said continuing to glare at me. "When I come by and promote my movies, we can talk about that issue. Right now I am just here talking about fitness and not about my movies because I want to keep these two things separate." That was it. He was going on to the next question.
My ears soon perked up as I heard a journalist's voice assert: "Mr. Schwarzenegger, you need to do something through your movies. Since you are a role model, shouldn't you be trying to reduce the level of violence?" Arnold's answer left me incredulous: "No, again, like I said, these are two different issues. What I do do, since movies have a tremendous impact, if you saw Kindergarten Cop for instance, the original script ... did not have any exercise program whatsoever...and I insisted...that we put in around five to seven minutes of exercising as a means to get those kids in shape. I don't have to tell you what power for instance just a movie like Saturday Night Fever had. I mean, the whole world was disco dancing after that movie came out..."
I happen to have spent most of my life teaching philosophy, but one hardly needs a Ph.D. in the field to understand that if you assert that physical fitness scenes in Kindergarten Cop encourage children to exercise, and that disco dancing in Saturday Night Fever had the whole world disco dancing, it follows that killing and maiming people in Terminator and Conan The Barbarian (and all his other incredibly violent films) encourages people to kill and maim.
I wrestled for some time with Mr. Schwarzenegger's contradictory assertions. Perhaps, I thought, he really is all brawn and no brain. Or perhaps he knows he is both contradicting himself and encouraging violence, but doesn't care as long as he can get away with it. Then I came across a Rolling Stone interview in which Arnold boasts of his distaste for intellectual analysis: "I always say to people, 'Don't think.'" He prefers to stick with instinct most of the time, he explains. The most likely interpretation, I concluded, is that his shrewd business instincts tell him that there are tens of millions of dollars to be made in violent films while his antipathy to thinking protects him from dealing with their negative impact.
If he really wants to have a positive influence on children (and I don't doubt that he took very seriously his role as spokesperson for physical fitness) then his future movies must reflect his statements about the awesome influence of films, as well as his awareness that his is one of the major role models for America's children.
Mr. Schwarzenegger: If you really want to do something "a little ballsier," as you put it when you bought your Humvee, why don't you take the leading role in moving American boys and men away from violence. That would be really ballsy, unlike driving a Desert Storm military vehicle around L.A. which just makes you look silly.
Unthinkable? Impossible? Not at all. If Mikhail Gorbachev can admit that 70 years of communism was a big mistake and become a world-wide hero, than surely you can admit that the extraordinary level of film violence of the last 20 years (not just in your films by any means) was a big mistake and remain a worldwide star. How about some real adventure films? How about some exciting thriller centered on rescuing people from erupting volcanoes, imminent tornadoes, or devastating snow slides?
I fervently hope that you will heed my advice, but I must warn you that if you don't, you had better be careful, because "I'll be back!"
Myriam Miedzian, author of Boys Will Be Boys, Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence, lectures frequently on violence in the media and its effects on children.