Politics & Policy

California Dreamin’

Arnold's Hollywood story becomes Hollywood entertainment.

The producers of See Arnold Run, premiering on A&E January 30, are fond of calling their new film “a fun roller-coaster ride” tracking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s run for governor of California–intercut with flashbacks from his body-beautiful years in the ’70s. I’d say it’s less a roller-coaster ride than an enjoyable wallow in yesterday’s news, which in the TV-movie version now has the glow of nostalgia mixed with kitsch, along with some enjoyably corny lines.

”OK, OK, so this running for governor may be harder than I thought,” Arnold (played by German actor Jurgen Prochnow) admits when his campaign hits a speedbump, as bossy Maria Shriver (Mariel Hemingway, looking uncannily like Maria) yells, “This is a fiasco!”

Remember when Barbara Walters asked a pumped-up Arnold on Today whether she could feel his biceps? (“Oh, it’s soft! Now it’s hard!”) And when candidate Schwarzenegger jokingly implied to Arianna Huffington he might like to dunk her head in the toilet, just like he did to the evil lady robot in Terminator 3? (Comedian Nora Dunn does an amusing impersonation in the movie version, although I think the original Arianna remains more comically over-the-top.)

It’s all here in See Arnold Run, complete with bizarre accents and speech tics, along with other noteworthy news blips–as well as perhaps a few that the public never got to see. The movie shows Arnold terrifying his aides by saying he was going to tell Arianna during the debate, “Stop trying to prove yours is bigger than mine and get back to the kitchen where you belong!” Not hard to believe.

My favorite real-life recall moment was when a naked picture of California’s top gubernatorial candidate, circa his Pumping Iron days, was posted all over the Internet–and the effect on his campaign was exactly zero. Granted, that full-frontal view of the whole Schwarzenegger package was old news to Arnold-watchers; still, it’s something when pictures of a politician’s privates causes nary a ripple. (But then, a weird footnote of the recall race was that it included not one but two porn candidates: performer Mary Carey and mogul Larry Flynt.) Arnold has always had an amazing ability to shrug off bad publicity, though, even when it was as concentrated as the disapproval from the Los Angeles Times.

The paper’s distaste for the recall–and puzzlement about the popularity of its prime candidate–wasn’t exactly invisible. Times headlines during the campaign could be remarkably condescending, regularly dismissing Schwarzenegger as “Actor,” e.g. “Actor Names Economic Team,” “Actor’s Team Sprints…” and (my favorite) “[Gray] Davis, Actor Go Head to Head.” This media distaste was resurrected at the See Arnold Run press conference, when someone accused A&E of producing “a lollipop” to Schwarzenegger, and another question (actually, like many TV press-tour questions, this was really more of an answer) suggested that the film’s producers were “helping [Schwarzenegger] enormously by making him an even more entertaining figure.”

“I don’t look at it as ‘a lollipop,’” responded executive producer Matt Dorff. “I look at it as a character study of someone who has a tremendous life story.”

That pales, I suppose, to the reporter who shouted out from the back of the room during TV Land’s Murphy Brown session, after a discussion of how the fictional Murphy Brown news team would have handled the Rathergate memos and President Bush’s National Guard service: “They framed a guilty man!” (I always enjoy collecting these what-liberal-media? press-tour moments.) But anyway, fictionalizing the Schwarzenegger campaign into Hollywood entertainment so soon after the real thing–which was itself something of a Hollywood product–brings up the pressing question on all the networks’ minds these days: How can they get the all-important youth demographic to stop tuning out the news?

Turning a political campaign into a cheesy two-hour TV movie is one way to do it, and See Arnold Run is actually a pretty good outline of California’s movie-star candidate and his personal backstory. If you spent the recall sitting slack-jawed in front of some computer game instead of reading about the adventures of Arnold and company, you’ll probably learn something from the movie. It goes down easy, just like a lollipop.

But you wouldn’t have any notion that the recall involved issues other than possible groping and some vague glitches in the California dream. For the record, I’m pleased that Arnold won; or at least, pleased that Gray Davis is out. But I voted for Tom McClintock, who (unlike Arianna) was a serious candidate, got a respectable number of votes, and (also unlike Arianna) concerned himself during a state campaign with state issues, not foreign policy.

You wouldn’t have any idea from See Arnold Run that McClintock was even in the race, though. He doesn’t appear in the film, although someone playing Gary Coleman does. Gray Davis himself is only here for a moment, when Prochnow-as-Scharzenegger sees him on TV and mutters, “I’m bigger, stronger, greater!” Perfectly true, as it turned out. But there was more to the recall than that.

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.

Catherine SeippCatherine Seipp had been a frequent contributor to National Review Online prior to her death in 2007.

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