The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg is usually fairly astute, and often enjoyably snarky. Now, though, he's following the Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign, and after he gets off a few barbs about Tinseltown grooming standards, he begins to make it clear that he has a bit of a crush on Arnold:
Schwarzenegger emerged and headed for the rope line. He looked like—well, he stood out from his surroundings like no other political candidate I’ve ever seen. He fairly popped out. He looked like a vanilla sundae topped with raspberry sauce. His hair was a rich shade of red that is seldom encountered in nature, and never atop the head of a fifty-six-year-old man. The tan of his skin veered toward orange, and it was dark enough to show through his shirt, which was of the finest, whitest, thinnest cotton voile, delicately ribbed. The cuffs were rolled to mid-forearm, showing a huge Rolex studded with buttons. His trousers were soft and cream-colored. His sneakers were Nikes. His boxy head loomed.
Hertzberg's been curling up with Schwarzie's old bodybuilding books and films, and where you and I might see a gap-toothed bell-bottom-era hedonist who had chosen to turn his body into a triangle, Hertzberg sees an ubermensch:
What comes through above all, however, is a sense of Schwarzenegger’s indomitable will. That will is manifested not only in his spooky ability to sculpt his own body and in his outlandish (at the time) vision of himself as a man of destiny but also in his total, and apparently effortless, psychological domination of his fellow-musclemen—the way he intimidates and tames them with his charm, his confidence, his humor, and his obviously superior intelligence. And this domination is not simply instinctual. It is strategic. Everything Arnold does to advance himself (which is to say, everything Arnold does) is carefully thought through by an analytical mind that always looks many steps ahead and is acute and coldly realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of everybody in the game, himself included. Megalomania usually leads to hubris, but not in Arnold’s case. Not so far.
Schwarzie is distinguishable from lesser men by details great and small:
Even the fact that...he retained his name is a marker of his powerful will. By doing it his way, he made it thinkable for others with “funny” names to do it theirs: no Arnold Schwarzenegger, no Renée Zellweger.
I bet that would be news to Art Garfunkel, or Engelbert Humperdinck.
Meanwhile, in The Nation, Katha Pollitt reviews Schwarzie's past as a groper and gangbanger -- a good column, though there's not much in it you don't know. Needless to say, she's considerably less impressed than Hertzberg. She makes a good point -- that a hypothetical Democrat running for governor of California with this bio would be hounded mercilessly for it by right-wing media banshees -- then goes an interesting step further:
And if that Democrat was a woman? Forget it! A rich, egocentric, freaky Hollywood diva whose naked photos were plastered all over cyberspace, who waves away questions about her program ("details, details!") would have no credibility in the first place. Angelina Jolie for governor of the fifth-largest economy in the world? Are you out of your mind? But even if she were a Rhodes scholar, a four-star general and a churchgoing mother of six, that woman would be finished the minute the media turned up so much as the femur or tibia of a sexual skeleton among the power suits in her closet.
She picks Angelina Jolie, but why not the obvious choice -- Madonna? Consider the similarities. Here's Hertzberg:
“I was always dreaming about very powerful people—dictators and things like that,” [Schwarzenegger] soliloquizes at one point in the original film [Pumping Iron]. “I was just always impressed by people who could be remembered for hundreds of years or even, like Jesus, being for thousands of years remembered.” In “Raw Iron,” he recounts another dream: “Me being a king and standing on top of a mountain—and there was no room left for anybody else up there, O.K.? Just for me.”
Compare Madonna in 1983, when she had just one hit record under her belt, telling Dick Clark on American Bandstand that her ambition was "to rule the world."
Would anyone ever take Madonna seriously as a gubernatorial candidate? Would they discuss her candidacy with a straight face on CNN and in The New Yorker?
No way. And that's probably the right response. But, by contrast, can you think of anyone in the media who doesn't take Schwarzenegger very seriously?