One of the touchstone traits of manliness is that the true man is what he seems. There is no deceit about him: no hidden agendas, no artificial props, no “image” or “cover” designed to suit the public’s imagined wants and hide the actual man’s real character. It is undeniable that such an uncalculated manliness often offends: in its lack of political correctness and its plainspoken confidence. “Why does he always think he is so right? Hasn’t he read the latest opinion poll?” We used to call this manly virtue integrity: literally, of being whole and undivided, of being the same throughout. What you see is what you get. Integrity enables another virtue: frankness or candor, that is, saying what you believe and is on your mind without dissimulation or contrivance. For this reason one of the Founding Fathers’ most lauded virtues was candor. After all, these great men proclaimed their Independence by submitting facts to a “candid world.” This virtue of integrity, which now goes by the opaque moniker “transparency,” was better understood in the age of the Western hero. The characters played by John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and, for that matter, Ronald Reagan, did not say much. But what they said they meant, and they would back up what they said with their very lives.
But we do not live in the age of the Western. Those of us in our thirties and forties grew up in the age of the action hero. The action hero is the figure who does not do the merely human things well but performs superhuman deeds that defy the imagination. He does not simply draw a gun faster than another man. Instead, he races through explosions on a motorcycle and dives out of planes without a parachute and yet invariably emerges from the ruins unscathed. Of course, the action hero has half a dozen stunt doubles and computer graphics and millions invested in the movie to pull it all off. But it’s all worth it: for the illusion, for the moment of suspended disbelief. When you meet the actual man who plays the part, though, you find him pretty underwhelming.
If Ronald Reagan is the political figure who stands for the age of the Western, of simple integrity, Arnold Schwarzenegger is most assuredly the political figure who reveals the lie behind the action hero: that he is not what he seems. Arnold’s whole career has been built around lies. The first lie is his body. Yes, he lifted weights. But what really gave him the absurd title of Mr. Universe were the steroids that changed him from a muscular man into a comic strip. The second lie is the part he played—for there was really only one part, that of impossibly muscular kick-ass guy. It was never human. In his most famous film, Terminator, he did not even pretend to play a human. Only in the later comedies did Arnold join the ranks of the human. The problem with the action hero is that he is not really a hero. A true hero must face death and failure. He must fight for the good and be capable of losing it. He must risk being hated for doing the right thing. John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart played heroes. The first Rocky movie was about a hero. Conan and Terminator are essentially video games on screen. The adolescent audiences do not think for a moment that Arnold will die; they just want to see the cool action scenes. The third lie was Arnold’s political career. He came into office as not just a conservative but with the rhetoric of a fiscal libertarian. Yet when the very first unions stood up to him, he failed to use his fame and considerable political capital. He caved. Ronald Reagan, you will remember, stood up to the airline traffic controllers when they threatened a strike. On the way out of office, Arnold gave silly exit interviews about how everyone expected him to be the “Governator” rather than just an ordinary governor. The expectations were just too high, he complained. But our memories aren’t that bad. We know that the promise of a “Governator” was what got him into office in the first place.
And finally we come to the lie of his marriage. For years we have had Arnold and Maria, with the help of the press, flaunt this impossible marriage before us: the staunch conservative who marries into the Kennedy clan and maintains his political views, but who just can’t do without the love of this woman. There were rumors during the first campaign: about inappropriate comments and groping directed at almost any attractive woman he was around. But he was an actor, after all, a sex symbol. We should excuse him. And now the truth be told: a love child with an employee of the house.
The just complaint of Maria Shriver is, interestingly enough, the complaint that countless women in this nation also have right now. It is the complaint that the Tea Party is fueled by. “Give us a man who is what he seems,” they say, whether referring to a husband or a political candidate. “Give us a fellow who is in good shape but not hopped up on steroids. Give us a political candidate who is not the creature of a slick campaign manager. Give us a man we can trust. Give us a man who won’t say one thing to get us to marry him (or to get into office) and do just the opposite when he has gotten what he wants.” In short, give us a man.
Published on bighollywood.breitbart.com May 21, 2011