January 14, 2005

Winning By A Landslide

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In analyzing a news photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I think the rules are different. 

This is because Schwarzenegger refuses to identify himself as just another politician.  Whereas most “cross over” Hollywood figures identify themselves as politicians who happen to be actors, Arnold turns it around; he’s the actor who just happens to be a Governor.  It’s audacious how he does this.  He takes every opportunity he can to invoke his Hollywood persona, including reusing lines he’s spoken and reprising characters he’s played.

According to the terms he has established, it is impossible to observe the Governor conduct business and not consider he is also acting.  Consequently, the media coverage acquires an added dimension.  For example, what would typically be a standard photo op becomes indistinguishable from a photo shoot.  And, what would typically be considered news coverage or photojournalism also becomes cinematography.

So, how does this play out in real life?  Well, say California experienced a series of severe winter storms which caused a fatal landslide.  In order to demonstrate his diligence and concern, the Governor’s production team might set up a scene in which the Governor hops in a helicopter to survey the cataclysm.  If you intend to run an administration as if it were a movie studio, however, you had better pay pretty close attention to your staging and your sets.  For example, you probably wouldn’t want to be discussing the intricacies of the disaster with an earplug in your ear — even (or especially) if it was hard to hear.  And, if you’re mantra involved always demonstrating maximum deference to your constituents, you probably wouldn’t want a big emblem of the state of California blocking the view of the houses (especially if you’ve already got a big state emblem right on the front of your bomber jacket). 

I think playing with character is profoundly risky.  The danger is, if you can’t keep your audience entertained, they can always conclude you were never real in the first place.  You know how movies can create the impression that an actor is in a moving car?  I believe it’s called a “process shot,” in which an actor is filmed in front of a screen on which a background scene is projected.  Thinking about the way Schwarzenegger insists on playing it, I had a strange impression.  For a second, I imagined that the window Arnold was sitting next to was not a window, and that he was only sitting in a piece of a helicopter.

(Image: AP/Robert Galbraith in YahooNews)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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