Monday, August 11, 2003
Okay, I've been channelling Jonah Goldberg a little and came up with an angle on the whole Arnold business.
Terminator II was this massive, huge, mega hit action movie. But it was an action movie with the heart of a chick-flick. Sarah Connor has nightmares about nuclear war blowing up the playground. When T1 finally does come back into her life, he's the good guy. And, per young John Connor's instructions, he isn't allowed to kill anybody. There's that ludicrous scene at the lab where all the guards are limping away clutching their legs because Arnold has shot them in the kneecaps.
Now, I didn't like T2 as much as a lot of people did, but I don't want to knock it completely. The scene where Schwarzenegger reappears for the first time in the mental hospital where Sarah Connor has been held is wonderful. The liquid-metal T2 was silly, but a very effective special effect. The suggestion that the entire Terminator saga is a closed-loop in time - the only reason intelligent machines were ever built is because the Terminator was sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, and left his spare parts behind . . . but the only reason the Terminator existed in the first place was because of the rise of intelligent machines . . . and anyhow now that Arnie has sacrificed himself in the molten metal, there won't be any rise of intelligent machines, which means there's no father for John Connor, and therefore nobody to save Sarah Connor from the Terminator in the first place . . . anyhow, all that was fun.
But T2 was a landmark in 1990s refusal to accept "hard choices." Arnold wanted to be a good guy. If he's a good guy, then he can't kill people. Ergo, from no on, the Terminator will be victorious - over a more powerful enemy - without killing people. (He'll destroy lots of property, because that's fun, but no one will actually be killed thereby.)
It was also a landmark in Schwarzenegger's management of his career. He'd done a few comic hero roles (Twins, Kindergarden Cop) but T2 marked the completion of his transformation from villain to hero. This was a good career move; heros make more money, generally, than do villains. But it was also a good political move. Arnold wanted to be lionized and idolized, and he didn't want anything to complicate an idolizable image. An actor might have relished playing villains, but Arnold wanted to be a hero.
So, here's my question: if Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes the Governator, which are we going to get? The Arnold of T1, who cannot be stopped, who feels no pity, who doesn't care if he is hated so long as he is feared? Or the Arnold of T2, who is forbidden by "the children" (okay, a single child) from "terminating" anyone, and who arranges the script carefully to avoid having to make ugly choices that might cause someone to hate him?
California, if it votes for Scharzenegger, will be voting for the Arnold of T2: the good monster who never hurts people and outfights the slippery, sinister, liquid-metal Gray Davis with one hand tied behind his back. But the state needs the Arnold of T1, because the permanent government in Sacramento needs to feel fear. To cut spending enough to make a difference, and to rebalance (and cut) the tax burden will cause short-term pain. Ronald Reagan was not popular in 1982, but he was very popular by 1984 when the combination of disinflation and growth-oriented tax cuts kicked in to revive the economy. Let's hope the Governator is willing to be as unpopular in 2005 as Reagan was in 1982. Otherwise California is going to have a long, hard climb out of the ditch Gray Davis dug.